Like many big cities, Paris is making a huge push to be “Green and Sustainable.” Those words are popular in today’s culture, but what do they mean for visitors to Paris? Following is a brief explanation for those who may be wondering.
What is “Green?”
“Green” has many different meanings to many different people. The general idea is to reduce human waste and consumption. It is also defined as being environmentally responsible (another term that means avoid damaging the planet). And, not to trivialize being green, but maybe it is simply the idea that humans stop working against nature and start working to help nature.
How is that done? Rather than doing things that hurt the planet or environment, do things that help. Work to reduce the human race’s effect on nature. In other words, try not to create a trash heap (read “mountain”) of your used plastic water bottles, plastic straws, aluminum cans, plastic bags, etc…. Try to avoid using cleaners made with toxic substances that run off into the lakes, rivers and oceans. Try to eat foods grown with the least amount of antibiotics, herbicides and pesticides. All of these man-made creations go somewhere once they have been used. And, generally it harms someone or something else down the line. So, cut down on all of it in an effort to be green. Most importantly, see how small of a trash heap you can leave behind.
What is “Sustainable?”
“Sustainable” is another word with many different meanings to many different people. Overall, it is a huge concept with even more far-reaching and global goals. Those goals include focusing on renewable energy, treating workers and animals ethically and conserving natural resources such as water, land and fuel. “Green” seems like the manifestation of what individual humans can do to help “sustain” the planet.
Although Paris is the subject of this website, it helps to have some American references for understanding sustainability. The United States Environmental Protection Agency states that, “Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. To pursue sustainability is to create and maintain the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony to support present and future generations.”
You may also be surprised to know that the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 committed the United States to sustainability. (Yes, that long ago.) The act declares it a national policy “to create and maintain conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.”
What Does the World Say?
On the world stage, the United Nation’s 1987 “Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future” notes that sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the well-being of future generations. (What were you doing in 1987 to promote the “well-being of future generations?” Using cans of ozone-depleting hairspray, driving 9-mile-to-the-gallon gas guzzlers and sucking down Big Gulps with long plastic straws????? I wasn’t using the hairspray, but count me in on gas-guzzlers and 7-Eleven straws.)
Ever broader definitions of sustainability continue to evolve in world politics. In 2000, the Earth Charter’s definition of sustainability changed to include the idea of a global society, “founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace.” Yes, that was already 18 years ago. But, the ideals remain extremely relevant and seem to be more universally accepted.
As a Visitor What Does it Mean, Green and Sustainable Paris?
Paris promotes its commitment to sustainability by providing locals and visitors with green opportunities. Without knowing it, you may be accidentally participating in green and sustainable initiatives! But don’t stop at accidentally. You can actively choose green options while in Paris.
What is Paris Doing to be Green and Sustainable?
The following are a few examples of how Paris is doing its part to be green and sustainable. At their core, these efforts seek to raise awareness for respecting the environment. On top of raising awareness, they encourage participation.
Photo “Champs-Élysées sans voitures” by Ulamm licensed under CC 4.0
The first Sunday of each month is vehicle free on the avenue des Champs-Élysées. That’s right – no cars! This green and sustainable initiative began in May of 2016 and is an incredible success. Now locals and visitors can take advantage of a new way to experience the famous avenue – right in the middle of the pavement!
Along with leaving one avenue vehicle free each month, the entire city of Paris is vehicle free for one day each year. Except for emergencies, taxis, disabled access, open top tour buses and some other necessary vehicles, the whole city is pedestrian friendly for much of the day. Can you imagine a car-free day in your town?
Want to visit urban green spaces while visiting? The Paris City Council has joined in the effort to be green with an app! Paris Eco Walks is the city council’s downloadable app that leads followers through urban green spaces to see plants and animals. It is a “go at your own pace” tour that will work for anyone interested in finding green spaces throughout Paris.
(Photo from paris.fr)
Along with the many parks in Paris that are vehicle free and easy to enjoy, you may even see community gardens on public land. These shared gardens, jardins partagés, can be found throughout the city. Paris’ Green Hand Charter, Charte Main Verte, is an initiative allowing these community gardens. Citizens work in the gardens and share in the produce. Not surprisingly, the community gardens are extremely popular. As well as vegetables and herbs, in some of the gardens you may even see beekeepers tending their hives. In addition to community gardens, bees are kept throughout Paris. Even on the roofs of landmarks. The Opera Garner’s hives produce honey that is on sale in its gift shop – great souvenir!
(Image from La Ferme de Paris Twitter)
Another interesting initiative is the organic Paris Farm. This fully-functioning farm in the bois de Vincennes is an outstanding testament to the pride Parisians take in promoting green and sustainable agriculture. Its entire operation is dedicated to respecting the environment using sustainable food production methods. See French cows, pigs, poultry, sheep, horses and other livestock, plus local crops in their green and sustainable habitat. (Ferme de Paris, 1 Route du Pesage, 75012, open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays.)
Paris does not use pesticides in its city parks, gardens or cemeteries. All of those green spaces with blooming flowers and plants are kept without using pesticides. Additionally, pesticides are prohibited from being used on home terraces and roofs. Pretty amazing!
Paris even has a compost program for clippings and cuttings from gardens! It is part of a comprehensive plan for Paris to reduce all forms of trash being generated by the people in in the city – residents and visitors alike.
How Can I Be Green and Sustainable in Paris?
Try to be green and sustainable at the hotel, around town, at restaurants, at markets and in choices to get around the city. That are a lot of opportunities to be green. Even if you think making your whole trip green may be too much of a commitment, try making one day a “green day” in Paris! You’ll have bragging rights for helping Paris work toward sustainability!
At the Hotel and Around Town
- Use soaps that are free of toxic ingredients
- Recycle plastic, glass, paper and metal
- Use the same towel during your stay rather than have the hotel wash it each day
- Reuse one water bottle during your entire stay in Paris
At Restaurants and Markets
- Choose locally grown products that are designated organic, free range or natural
- When eating out or shopping for food, look for Fair Trade products (PFCE – Plate-forme pour le Commerce Equitable) – that means, among other things, the producers have safe working conditions, pay fair wages and are trying to avoid damaging the environment
- Order appropriately – do not waste food
- Eat organic foods – look for the “bio” designation on the menu or at markets
Getting Around with Less Environmental Impact
- Fortunately, Paris is made for walking – a great way to be green
- If you do not walk, try to take electric or hybrid taxis, ride a bike, or take the Metro
- Paris is moving toward more efficient buses, so look for eco-friendly signs on buses
By taking even small steps, you can say, “I went to Paris and was GREEN!” Over 15 million people visit Paris each year. And, over 2 million people live in Paris. That many people have a huge impact on the environment in a relatively small space on the earth. Any steps you take to be green and sustainable while in Paris will help! Today, the visitor’s motto should be: Reduce, reuse and recycle.
Do you know if your hotel is committed to sustainability? Find out how to tell.