Sail past Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria and Tenerife and only then will you meet El Hierro, the second smallest of the Canary Islands which sits out in the middle of the North Atlantic ocean. The island spans 268 square kilometres and is home to just over 10,000 inhabitants. Within four to eight years, El Hierro aims to become the first island in the world that is 100% sustainable.
To achieve this the island plans to power the entire island with 100% clean power making it self-sufficient in terms of energy usage; create an environmentally friendly tourism model; practice organic farming; and introduce a refuse strategy that incorporates zero waste. Currently 60% of its energy needs comes from renewable sources, though last summer, for 24 days, this percentage increased to 100. El Hierro has been regarded as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 2000. Its move towards sustainable living began in 1997 when its first sustainability plan was introduced, and in 2006 a review revealed that the island had met 82% of its policy objectives.
By building the Gorona hydroelectric power plant in 2014 (costing €82 million), this supplies around 60% of the island’s energy needs. Wind turbines have also been installed to capture wind and turn it into energy – as is generally the case on the Canary Islands, there is an almost consistent wind present due to their location in the Atlantic. Since 2015 greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced by 40,000 tons. In 2017, the Gorona power plant alone saved the island 6,017 tons of diesel which is equivalent to 40,000 barrels of oil.
Going forward, El Hierro plans to introduce wave power (which uses the energy generated by the ocean), photovoltaics (which captures energy from the sun with solar panels) and a battery bank (to gather surplus production which can be consumed at a later date).
The exquisite volcanic landscapes, forest hiking trails, unspoilt beaches and crystal clear seas, diving opportunities at the Mar de las Calmas marine reserve which is managed sustainably (only 12 divers are allowed at a time), and the temperate year-round climate make El Hierro the perfect destination for eco-minded tourists (of which there are only around 20,000 per year). For those planning to visit, La Restinga is a colourful fishing village and a popular diving spot which would make the perfect base to explore the island. Accommodation options include bio-shelters, eco-dwellings, agro tourist projects and camps, and the island’s only spa hotel, Hotel Balneario. Public transport when on the island is encouraged, if you must rent a vehicle, electric cars are recommended and charging ports are located at multiple locations around the island.
If you’re looking for the perfect remote escape, we think we’ve found it – just don’t tell anyone else …