Swiss Sustainability: What Others Can Learn From Them

swiss sustainability

Sustainability is the backbone of Swiss local culture, so much so that the term Swisstainable is being used to promote the country as a sustainable travel destination. It’s ingrained into most aspects of people’s daily lives, from recycling plastics and paper to sustainable farming and public transportation.

Switzerland is continually increasing its sustainability efforts, in an attempt to combat and minimize the consequences of climate change. I’ll talk you through all the different sustainability practices that are in place in Switzerland, from household recycling and waste disposal to renewable sources and government plans for the future.

Swiss Sustainability: Facts & Figures

Spring in Switzerland
Spring in Switzerland

In 2022, Switzerland ranked eighth on the UN Sustainable Development Goals index. That’s actually a poor result for the country, which ranked fifth in 2016 and 2017. Zurich even ranked first on the list of sustainable cities in 2016! But it’s still a fairly impressive result, and it’s due to the many sustainable practices that exist in Switzerland.

It all starts in Swiss households. Recycling has become an integral part of living in Switzerland, to the point that most people who’ve lived there for several years do it without even thinking about it. Everything gets recycled in Switzerland, and the items that cannot be recycled are used for energy production.

The country also has an excellent network of public transport that makes it easy for people to be less reliant on personal vehicles. The Swiss trains are often faster and cheaper than cars, and there are even villages throughout the country that are entirely car-free and can be accessed only by train.

Eco-friendliness is ingrained into the lives of the Swiss, and the strong connection to nature that many of them have increased their desire to care for the environment and simply live more sustainably. It’s no secret that the majority of Swiss people enjoy nature and spend their weekends and free time outdoors, whether it’s hiking, skiing, mountain biking, or camping.

After all, the country is home to the oldest national park in the Alps, and it was decided more than a century ago that roughly a third of the country’s surface area should be kept as woodlands.

Sustainable Practices in Switzerland

Recycling and Waste Management

recycling in switzerland
Recycling in Switzerland

Household recycling is obligatory in Switzerland, although it’s worth noting that it’s regulated by individual cantons so the rules and regulations for waste management vary from one region to another.

The gist is that everything that can be recycled must be recycled, and residents can either sign up for waste collection programs or dispose of the waste at designated locations throughout the cities. The waste that cannot be recycled is taken to incinerators and transformed into energy.

Those who don’t separate their trash properly or dispose of it incorrectly can be fined up to 300 CHF. Police in Switzerland have been known to track down people just to fine them for improper waste disposal, which just goes to show how serious the culture of recycling is in Switzerland.


Zurich train station
Zurich train station

Switzerland is famous for its fast and punctual trains. The country has an excellent public transport network, so much so that residents will often choose to ride public transpired instead of their personal vehicles because it’s cheaper and more efficient.

You can get virtually anywhere in Switzerland by train and bus, and you can easily reach even the remotest rural areas in the mountains. Some Swiss villages are entirely car-free and can be reached only by public transport.

Additionally, many locals in Switzerland prefer to use bikes and e-bikes to get around instead of cars, and some towns and villages have only electric vehicles for public transportation.

Renewable Energy

Renewable energy sources in Switzerland

Switzerland is big on renewable energy sources and has made significant progress in the past couple of decades. Today, the country’s production of electricity is almost entirely free of carbon; approximately 56% of electricity in Switzerland comes from hydropower, some 35% is produced by nuclear power plants, around 6% is from incinerating waste, solar energy, and wind turbines, and only 3% is from the use of fossil fuel.

The main goal for Switzerland is to abandon the use of fossil fuels and nuclear power plants entirely. In fact, the Federal Energy Act of 2017 banned the construction of new nuclear power plants, putting into motion the country’s complete withdrawal from the use of nuclear energy.

One area in which the Swiss aren’t yet excelling compared to other countries – but are trying to improve – is the production and use of solar energy. In 2021, the federal government allocated approximately 450 million Swiss Francs for various investments in solar energy.

The money should help fund the construction and installation of solar PV, tax deductions for homes that use renewable solar energy, and subsidies of roughly 30% for installations of solar PVs done by Pronovo, Switzerland’s official agency for enforcement of renewable energy.


wild camping switzerland
Camping in Switzerland

Switzerland Tourism is an organization that operates on a federal level, tasked with promoting the country as an excellent tourist destination. One of their most recent campaigns promotes the country as a sustainable travel destination and calls for Swisstainable travel.

The campaign invites tourists to discover the natural attractions of Switzerland, mingle with the locals to gain a deeper understanding of local culture and traditions, and try authentic Swiss products.

Take advantage of the excellent public transportation network to get around the country and discover all of its hidden gems. Eat local dishes prepared with local ingredients of the highest quality, and drink water straight from the tap instead of purchasing plastic bottles because Switzerland has some of the highest water quality in all of Europe, if not the world.

Choose camping instead of a hotel; it’s significantly cheaper, and it will allow you to stay in the country longer on the same budget, as well as get in touch with nature and breathe in fresh air. Visit the country’s excellent nature and regional parks, discover the best hiking areas, and don’t be afraid to jump into a body of water when you see it. Switzerland truly is one of the best countries in the world for sustainable tourism, and there’s a lot more to it than expensive restaurants, high-rise buildings, and overpriced tourist traps.

Written by Ashley Faulkes
As a twenty-year resident of Switzerland, I am passionate about exploring every nook and cranny of this beautiful country, I spend my days deep in the great Swiss outdoors, and love to share these experiences and insights with fellow travel enthusiasts.

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