Monday, May 28, 2007

The Wonky Tourista, Part II

Walking out to the balcony for a closer look at the majestic Red Sea and Gulf of Aqaba from my hotel in Eilat, I read a subtle sign: "Opening the Balcony Door Turns Off the Air Conditioning". How smart is that, especially on a day like that one, with the thermostat was pushing 40C? Israel is a small country with no fossil fuels to generate energy; all is imported, except for the roof-top solar water-heating. Israel has ratified the Kyoto treaty and throughout my time there I noticed clever strategies to reduce consumption while still maintaining a high standard of tourist comfort. Likewise on our next stop, Greece, I observed how far the European Union is ahead of us in energy efficiency and conservation. Israeli environmentalist Alon Tal stated flat out, in a lecture on Israeli ecology: "Sorry guys. For innovation and best practices, we look to the European Union, not you in America." Indeed the Old World is the now the New World as far as dealing with climate crisis and energy design.
Hotel rooms in Israel and Europe have a feature new to us but so widespread that they don't bother to orient guests when checking-in, key-card activated electricity. Nothing happens when you hit the lights. Instead you insert your key card into a slot by the door, and that turns on the room's circuit. When you leave, you remove it (if you forget, you'd have no key, so compliance is high) and that turns off all the electricity. One of our accomodations had a different version. Opening the door itself shuts off the electricity, in addition to the swipe card. This is very clever, except that being unaware of it, I returned to our room when my husband was in the shower. As soon as I entered the room, my husband was shouting from a completely dark bathroom, "Turn the lights back on!" Since I had no idea that I had inintentionally turned the electricity off, it was fortunate that the lights went back on when I closed the door! It takes a little getting used to, but one adapts very quickly.
One of our hotels had a clever dispenser of a product called Alphamousse, a European all-porpose cleansing lotion which can be used as shampoo or bath gel. Think of how much shampoo and soap is wasted, along with their individual packaging, by guests who use them for one day and toss the balance. The dispenser is simply refilled, and you withdraw whatever you need. Quite brilliant, and much cheaper and resource efficient. Another strategy (which is no longer uncommon in the USA, I am happy to report) is including instructions for towels and bedding. These are all changed and laundered daily, an immense waste of water, soap, and electricity since often the towels are unused, and the guest is perfectly happy to sleep in the same sheets if staying multiple nights. If you don't want your sheets changed, you leave the sign on the bed. You leave towels in need of laundering on the floor. All the lamps and fixtures I observed utilized CFL's. The hallway of our hotel in Athens was not noticeably dim, but when we exited the the elevator, suddenly the corridor lights brightened. Such motion-activated controls are obviously well within the technological capabilities of American construction, but I have never seen them. These are all simple changes which decrease energy and resource consumption (and the hotel's overhead expenses) while in no way degrading the lodging experience. Win-win.

In Greece one notices immediately how much smaller cars are. The rare American style SUV's there look like clumsy behemoths, ridiculously unsuited to their surroundings. SmartCars were evident throughout Athens, little cars which perch with ease in tiny spots on narrow streets. On a wider street, they can be parked perpendicular to the curb, since their LENGTH is the equivalent of the WIDTH of a typical car. We saw many motorcycles and were particularly intrigued by a three-wheeler cycle with a roof and open sides. The Athens metro, expanded for the Olympics, was state of the art, cheap, and simple to navigate. Public recycling receptacles were plentiful, the neighborhood's largest siutated by the metro stop. That makes sense!

Our last stop, as on most trips, was the Athens Airport. One would not expect an airport to be notceably green, but this one is. The escalators are stationery, but as soon as you approach them, they activate. It is so subtle you don't notice it unless you're paying attention. We were there when foot traffic was very light. Probably at busy times of day they almost never stop. Once you see this it seems obvious, but I've been taking escalators all my life without ever registering that it's pointless for them to run without any passengers. There were recycling containers throughout the airport. And to my amazement, the airport featured an Environmental Center. I checked it out and it was a full room of displays analyzing the present state and future goals for the eco-foot print of the airport itself, with charts, maps, and analysis in numbing detail. That's what happens when you live in a Kyoto-committed country!

We all know what we need to do, and these countries are already doing it. What are we waiting for?


Donna said...

I'm really enjoying your posts about Israel. But I got really excited when I saw the mosaicked recycling bins in
Tel Aviv. Can I blog a reference to your post [and I'll credit everything] and use your photos?
The best in being green AND mosaics!

bpt said...

Sure, and please leave a link to your blog for me.

Donna said...

You can find the blog post at .