As the first nation in the world, Norway has implemented a system where destinations can get environmental certified at a national level. But Norwegian sustainability goes beyond systems and certifications. Enjoying nature and the outdoors is considered a national pastime, and this is reflected in the people´s attitude towards conservation and use of the wilderness. As of August 2013 no less than 7 percent of mainland Norway is made up of 37 national parks, and all told almost 17 percent of mainland Norway consists of protected areas in one form or another, not counting Svalbard. This is in accordance with the goals set by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Access to protected areas is for the most part still allowed, however, due to Norway´s right of access-law that gives everyone the right of free access in the countryside.
The world’s first sustainable destinations
Sustainability is in the Norwegian genes
Vega, UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2004
The Norwegian law of access
Activities with little or no impact on local ecosystems
Environmental certifications in Norway
Much of the tourism industry in Norway conforms to certificates and standards of environmentally friendly conduct. These ensure that strict rules and regulations in pollution, recycling and energy use are followed, and make it easier for customers to choose to travel in an sustainable way. The green hotels and activities are qualified as environmentally friendly and have earned a certificate. They meet strict ecological and performance criteria within categories as waste, water, energy, purchase, chemicals and more. The green certifications are voluntary arrangements that include an independent control.
The certificate is the traveller’s guarantee for taking part in reducing impact on the environment through a more sustainable holiday.
The main green certifications travellers should look out for in Norway are:
The eco-label Nordic Swan
The certification is operated by the Foundation for Eco-labelling. This Nordic scheme provides the enterprises with strict, exact and high level environmental criteria within waste, water, energy and supplier chain. All criteria have to be met before certification is reached. The criteria are continuously improved. More information on ecolabel Nordic Swan.
The certification is a national scheme operated by the Eco-Lighthouse Foundation. A large amount of enterprises throughout the country are certified. Eco-Lighthouse provides both an environmental managing system and concrete actions for better environmental performance. Certificate is renewed after three years. More information on Eco-Lighthouse.
This is an international standard for environmental management. In Norway the standard is owned by Standard Norway. Six Norwegian companies are accredited to certify enterprises according to ISO 14001. This scheme provides the enterprise with a high quality environmental managing system for organizational performance on the environment. It is this management system that is certified. More information on ISO 14001
This is a national scheme operated by Innovation Norway that holds a high international level in ecotourism. The certified enterprise has to meet 100 strict criterias on environmental performance, host-role, local community integration and purchasing. Certificate renewed every three years if criteria and improvements are approved. More information on Ecotourism Norway.
With new label Sustainable Destination, Norway takes a lead in the international efforts to promote sustainability in tourism and destination development. In order for a destination itself to achieve certification as sustainable a broader set of criteria must be met. A consistent effort to plan for sustainable tourism and support and strengthen environmental programs over time is required, as well as working to preserve the destination's history, character and nature. In addition, certification places demands on the development of the destination's businesses and society following principles of sustainability.
The tourism providers and local authorities have to cooperate to have a destination certified, and so far four destinations in Norway have achieved the label "Sustainable destination":
Røros in Trøndelag
In 2012, Destination Røros received the prestigious Tourism for Tomorrow Award for Destination Stewardship at the World Travel & Tourism Council’s (WTTC) Awards celebration in Tokyo. The awards are among the highest accolades in the global travel and tourism industry, giving international recognition to best practice examples of sustainable tourism in action.
Destination Røros was also the overall winner of the Virgin Holidays Responsible Travel award in 2011. The jury commented: "This former mining town in Norway may have been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980, but it's been preserving traditions as a tourist destination for over 85 years. Attracting over one million visitors each year, the town of just 3,700 inhabitants maintains its sense of place through a 'local knowledge' programme run for over 90 businesses, local food safaris and much more." Read more about Røros.
Lærdal by the Sognefjord
The Norwegian fjord landscape is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Lærdal features dramatic mountain tops and lush, green surroundings that reveal a lively agriculture industry.
Borgund Stave Church - the best-preserved stave church in Norway, dating back to 1180 - is found in Lærdal, as is Norsk Villakssenter (the Norwegian Wild Salmon Center). The Gamle Lærdalsøyri Village is beautifully preserved, and is testament to the area's commitment to sustainability.
In January 2014 a fire struck Lærdal, and though serious this has not affected any of the attractions in the area, and all tourist offices, businesses and operators are conducting business as usual. Read more about Lærdal.
Trysil in Eastern Norway
Trysil is one of the most varied areas in Norway. From mountains to forests, rivers to lakes, and from summer to winter, Trysil can offer sustainable activities for almost everybody. In summer, white-water rafting, hiking, fishing and various wildlife safaris are sustainable activities that may appeal to many visitors. In the winter season there are activities like sleigh rides, skiing and ice fishing. Trysil is a prime area of Norwegian wilderness and has some of the country's largest populations of such wild animals as beaver, bear, wolf, lynx, wolverine, golden eagle, moose and deer. Read more about Trysil.
The Vega Islands
The Vega Archipelago in the county of Nordland consists of more than 6,000 islands, reefs and skerries. Many bird watchers make their way there, and not without reason: The area is full of eider ducks and 210 other species of birds, including sea eagles and various ducks, cormorants and geese. The Vega islands were made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004. According to the jury, "The Vega archipelago reflects the way generations of fishermen/farmers have, over the past 1500 years, maintained a sustainable living in an inhospitable seascape near the Arctic Circle, based on the now unique practice of eider down harvesting, and it also celebrate the contribution made by women to the eider down process." Read more about the Vega Islands.
Over 95 percent of all recycble plastic bottles sold in Norway today are recycled. When buying almost any bottle with potable contents, you pay a small fee, which is refunded when the bottle is returned to any grocery shop or supermarket. Most municipalities in Norway also recycle glass, metals, paper and cardboard, as well as plastics. In Oslo and other major cities, food waste is collected and used to make bio-diesel for buses, whereas elsewhere in Norway it is often composted privately or used to make animal feed. Methane from landfills is also sometimes burned to generate heat for homes in the surrounding area, saving energy and reducing pollution in the cities.
Transportation and power
Between cities in Norway, the most environmentally friendly means of transport is the train. Most trains in Norway run on electricity and are equipped with generators that regenerate power on downhill stretches and feeds it back into the system, making it available to other trains.
Due to an abundance of inland water, Norway is rich in hydroelectric power, which constitutes around 98 percent of the electricity used nationwide. This, along with powerful incentives like waived or reduced tax and fees, has made electrically powered cars more popular in Norway than anywhere else in the world. Many of the larger cities in Norway can also offer electric public transportation locally. In Bergen, electric buses have been part of the city scene for generations, and in recent years an electric metro has also been built and put to use. The numerous trams- and metro lines are all electric in Oslo, and many of the city's buses are running on low-emission natural gas or hydrogen fuel cells which emit only water.
Much of Norway is sparsely populated and maintains a well-developed network of public transport between smaller municipalities and settlements, mainly in the form of buses, trains and ferries.
Making the most of what is available without depleting natural resources is reflected in Norwegian food traditions. Many Norwegians catch their own seafood and some also hunt wild game along with picking berries, growing apples or running small farms. This gives many local restaurants around the country easy access to first-class ingredients for use in their kitchens, making quality control easier and more reliable. Restaurants and other eateries making Norwegian food from scratch using local ingredients can be found through the Norwegian Foodprints service.
Most hotels and resorts in Norway are making efforts to control energy and water consumption, as well as waste generation and recycling. In-room energy-saving devices such as automatic light switches, low-flush toilets, wash basins with sensors, as well as energy efficient dishwashers and washing machines and low dosing and eco-labelled chemicals for cleaning and washing up are now common. In many hotels bed linen and towels are no longer changed daily unless specifically requested by guests. Many hotels feature organic products on their menus. For example, Scandic Hotels have decided to say no to genetically modified (GM) foods and serve organic breakfast and fair trade coffee.
Many operators in Norway offer safe, nature-based activities such as dog-sledding, hiking, kayaking, as well as bird watching and wildlife safaris. Read more about Ecotourism providers in Norway.
Did you know?
Røros increased the income from tourists by 9% in the summer of 2013.
Innovation Norway has training programmes for the tourist industry, including a course in sustainable tourism.
Originally Norway´s right of access-law was an age-old tradition, but has since been set down in law. Even today, it is still based on a long-term respect for nature and wilderness that is prevalent in Norway.
Hanen.no provides an overview of local agro-tourism gems, with its listings of eateries, accommodation and activities in rural Norway. For an overview of places of special significance to Norwegian cultural and historical heritage, see Olavsrosa (The St. Olav's Rose).
Oslo´s Øya Festival is an environmentally friendly festival, with 100% organic food and green ethics
Launched in 2013, Harvest Web Magazine publishes stories, knowledge, interviews and reflections on nature and human relationship with the wilderness. An English version of Harvest will be available in spring 2014. See Harvest.as (only in Norwegian)
DNT, the Norwegian Trekking Association, has a network of 460 cabins throughout Norway, 400 of which offer overnight accommodation. Most of these cabins are located in mountain areas, and boast great scenery and is representative of the Norwegian sustainable lifestyle.
Norwegian philosopher Arne Næss (1912 – 2009), coined the term Deep Ecology and was an important intellectual and inspirational figure within the environmental movement of the late twentieth century.