Friday, June 13, 2014

Sustainability in Switzerland

I found that Switzerland has the most impressive public transportation system. They have trains, trams, and buses that work like clockwork.  I was told by one person that the public transit system was on time 97% of the time which was defined by being within 3 minutes of their published schedule. This matched my experiences of traveling by train across the country and traveling by train, tram, and bus in Zurich and between cities. I had one tram that was a few minutes late which meant that I missed my connection, but the next tram came by in less than 10 minutes. This incredible public transportation system and universal health care is supported with just an 11.5% federal income tax (that is the maximum and it drops as low as 1% for low-income households). Marcus (my Zurich Airbnb host) also introduced me to the Google Maps public transit search system. This allows you to search start- and end-points (or locate them on a map) and have its search engine suggest the best public transportation solutions. I used this throughout the city and outlying cities with great success. Marcus, did point out that Google Maps has a headquarters in Zurich which makes sense that their system works well there, but I have now tried this in other cities with success where the underlying databases where solid (it worked well in Zurich, London, Bergen, Berlin, and Edinburgh but not well in Athens).


Bicycles where more common than cars in the cities of Zurich and Bern (or so it seemed). Both cities had great bicycle storage facilities with long-term storage evident at the Universities and train stations. I also saw a number of smaller bicycle covered parking areas at apartment buildings. I would like to get something like this for ICS for year round bicycle storage for occasional use getting quickly to meetings on campus. I only saw one B-Cycle type of bicycle sharing station, but it seemed that everyone had their own bicycle so they might not have needed a bicycle sharing program in the cities. I also heard about a car share program in Switzerland called Mobility ( which has over 105,000 customers and is a cooperative business model. 

According to the visitor information, you could drink from the many fountains that were scattered throughout the cities.  I did try the water from a fountain in a small town in the L√∂tschental Valley in the Alps and at a church outside of Turin Italy. It is a nice idea to have public potable water that also makes up a nice architectural feature of the city.

Solar panels where fairly evident, although not ubiquitous. It seems that many countries or cities will have larger diversified solar grids when they provide tax credits for the systems. I did see solar panels on private buildings, larger public buildings, and some churches in Switzerland.

In the city of Bern, there was a terraced garden on the south side of a hill near the Munster Church which is the Terraced Gardens of Beatrice von Wattenwyl-Haus (in the foreground of the picture above). This was constructed in 1705 and is still an active garden, although I visited it in March and they were just starting to prepare it for the growing season.

Outside of Zurich are a series of allotments which individual plots where citizens of the city can rent a small piece of land to plant a garden.  These allotments usually have a small shed on them for storage and a safe haven in the case of inclement weather while out at the plots. One of my colleagues from Zurich has one of these allotments and they told me that there is annual fee of about 300 Swiss Francs (which is about $335). This is a very good deal for a small piece of property on the outskirts of Zurich and they said that they can even see the Swiss Alps from their allotment.

The Gurtenbahn Funicular Railway was first constructed in 1899 and has been renovated many times since then.  This is a very steep track with a 34% gradient with a cable that connects two cars.  I was told originally, they would load waste water on the top car and the weight of that would bring the car to the bottom while pulling up the second car to the top of the mountain. This funicular climbs almost 900 feet in elevation and gives you a great view of Bern which you can see in the background.

Many locations in Switzerland also have public art displays such as this sculpture located at the top of Gurten Mountain just outside of Bern. This sculpture located in the middle of the meadow at the top of Gurten is by Bernhard Luginbuhl.

This painted bear appears to be a public art display in the Bellevue district of Zurich similar to the painted fiberglass colts (2007) and cars (2010) that the Swope Museum organized in Terre Haute, Indiana. In our case a different company or person sponsored an artist to decorate a standard three dimensional figure and the artists included themes of their sponsoring company in their artwork.  In the case of this bear, it is sponsored by Velo Elsener which is a bicycle company in Zurich.

The cities of Bern and Zurich were extremely clean and after spending a few days in the cities I observed street sweepers and sidewalk cleaners actively cleaning in the cities. This was a nice change from Athens and Rafina which seemed to be much dirtier cities.

The two main grocery stores in Switzerland are Coop and Migros which are both cooperatively owned grocery stores with a long history in these areas. Migros was founded in 1925 and became a cooperative market in 1941.  Today 2 million of the 7.2 million Swiss citizens are member-owners of this cooperative market. Coop is Switzerland’s second largest retail store and had 1,437 stores and employed 48,200 people in 2007. It is also a cooperative market that focuses on sustainable practices in the store and sustainable supply chains for their food products. According to the Swiss Organic Producers’ Association called Bio Suisse, Coop sells about half of the organic food sold in Switzerland. In 2011, oekom research AG named Coop the Most Sustainable Retailer in the World. 

Recycling was common throughout Zurich from the individual household to large drop-off areas at the grocery stores.The one pictured above was at a popular transportation hub on the outskirts of Zurich where tram and bus lines met. I also saw a similar outside of the Coop Grocery Store in downtown Zurich.

1 comment:

  1. Well written post on Switzerland tours! Its dream country for thousands of people. It is also known as country of beauty. Nothing is better than this. :-)
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