Eco Islands – Sustainable living on Transition Islands

oliver General, Technology/ Energy Saving, The Green Deal

I was recently asked to take take part in a debate in Jersey about the creation of Eco Islands. Its a fascinating subject as it pulls together many ideas around communities working together with a common aim, and how working together they can overcome issues that are simply beyond the reach of individuals. These island communities in their own small way provide inspirational stories and models for larger nations and also a viable business case to be scaled up. But just why do these island communities care and why do they see the opportunities that many of us dont?

Being closer to nature and the environment as you are on an island, fosters a greater awareness and understanding of the need to respect it for future generations, because there is quite simply no other way (- there is no “out of sight out of mind” – as you may find in an urban sprawl such as London). It forces us all to take direct responsibility for our actions and take a much needed long term view of how we live our lives.

Many islands are now seeing themselves as models for both other islands but also larger nations – their scale, and containable sense of community making an environmental approach accessible, and importantly a rallying call to those that live there.


A great example is Waiheke Island in New Zealand. They have set up “WISE” – Waiheke Initiative for Sustainable Energy, founded in 2002. The only requirement to join this group is a love for the Island, a decision to establish the island as first in line to its own renewable source of electricity, and a desire to maintain Waiheke Island’s sustainability for future generations.

WISE seeks to secure a future of green, plentiful, and sustainable energy for Waiheke. In the past, Wind Energy has been a political issue, due to the costs involved in generation, compared to current carbon heavy sources. However with looming oil price increases, Wind Energy has become an affordable and realistic option.


 What I like about this island scheme is that they recognize the actions that they are taking go beyond simply reducing their CO2 emissions, but have tangible effects on commerce, industry, economics and importantly benefits to the community of the island – as you can see from some of the points they discuss; price stability – possible lower future electricity bills than those in the general market, increasing Economy and Employment on the island, increasing tourism, and helping New Zealand to comply with the Kyoto protocol through the displacement of thousands of tons of Carbon Dioxide CO2 emissions into the air.

They have also set up a proposal for Waiheke to become a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. These are not areas set aside to be persevered indefinitely in some ‘natural’ state. They are places that contain living communities who make a living from the land and are trying to do so in a locally and globally sustainable way. They are places of experimentation, and it is the close relationship between conservation and sustainable development that makes these types of reserves so relevant to Waiheke.

Another example is Gotland. This is the largest Swedish island with a population around 57,000. It is located in the middle of the Baltic Sea and is so isolated that economic growth is relatively low compared to other parts in Sweden. High costs for transports of energy, goods and labour have contributed to a slow growth of local economy.

Their goal is for “Gotland to become an ecologically sustainable society within the course of a generation”. As their energy needs are high, their solution was to turn to renewable energy.

They set a target of achieving 100% renewable energy by 2025. The vision is for the entire society to work together and share the ambition to create a sustainable and ecologically based island. The advantage of having a date specific long-term plan is that other short-term plans can become a part of the overall objective.

Some of the future plans for the island include; 95% of the island’s district heating to be supplied by renewable energy with 20% of the island’s electricity coming from renewable sources, Bio-climatic, sustainable buildings to be built as standard, energy saving measures to be implemented throughout, and Bio-diesel to replace fossil fuels in municipal fleets.

A little closer to home is the Isle of Wight – Eco Island. The idea is the brainchild of local enthusiast David Green, CEO of Eco Island. The goal is to help islanders reduce their energy bills by 50%, to eradicate fuel poverty and to improve the quality of life. He believes that by 2020, the Isle of Wight could be a net exporter of energy to the National Grid.


What is really exciting about this is the way the scheme is pulling community support together, so that all aspects of life and activity on the island are being addressed, from tourism, to food production, water and energy use. Who would have thought that an island that so many consider to be stuck in the past could be making such strong sustainable steps into the future?

The communities on the island are stimulating sustainable business using the Green Back card, supporting local green businesses and helping to fund further actions.

Tourism has been considered with green camping areas and activities taken to the fore at the Isle of Wight festival.

The island will become a test bed for a whole range of energy saving and sharing technologies.  Whilst none of these technologies are new, it is the first time that many of them will be connected together to work in unison with a smart grid system.

Energy created from renewable sources, including wind, tidal, geothermal, solar PV and energy from waste will be distributed throughout the community and supplied, to the National Grid. Extra energy will be stored in high tech batteries supplied by project partner Toshiba.

Meanwhile householders are being encouraged to insulate, improve their homes and fit solar pv panels

A large percentage of the islands water is currently imported to the island from the mainland. But with the help and participation of Southern Water, leaks on the island will be substantially reduced and increased efforts will be made to harvest rainwater, recover water from roads run-off and to reduce demand.

The Co-op, another regional partner, are helping to create a local food hub. They are collecting 300 food products from local producers, sorting and then dispatching it to shops, restaurants and hotels on the island.


ITM Power, the island’s hydrogen partner, will install several hydrogen generating units around the island. It will be used as fuel to power domestic, commercial and public transport. Hydrogen trials on the island aim at establishing the best technology and will run alongside electric and hybrid vehicles.

What we are seeing at the Isle of Wight is an Island that wishes to invest in itself, its environment and its people. Projects aim to use local materials, labour and supplies: once again regeneration activity is working in harmony with the environment.

Who would have thought that an Island such as the Isle of Wight can become such an inspirational model? But it’s clear that their vision is one that is set to provide them with a better future – cheaper energy, more secure financially and a happier more content community, who wouldnt want that?…… now we just need to get the rest of the world to follow suit!