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A PROJECT WITH A FUTURE
Kathrin Ebenhoch

von Kathrin Ebenhoch

April 18, 2024

A PROJECT WITH A FUTURE

The Plateau Pioneers

In May 2022, the Plateau Pioneers group was formed in the Region Seefeld - Tyrol's Hochplateau. It currently comprises six hotel businesses, the Seefeld Tourist Board, and the Karwendel Nature Park, positioning itself as a pioneer in sustainably developing the region and significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. The Seefeld Tourist Board, also an active member of the group, has taken on the project management, with Habitat and Sustainability Coordinator Raphael Chrysochoidis at the helm. In the following interview, the Leutasch native reflects on the beginnings and the future of sustainability on Tyrol’s high plateau.

The eight of us were the first to lead the way, now we need more people to join us in creating a more sustainable future!

Raphael Chrysochoidis

Raphael Chrysochoidis

1) How are you connected to the topic of sustainability?

My parents farmed an alpine pasture in the Gaistal Valley, so I came into close contact with the topics of nature, tourism, regionality, and related issues from birth. Whenever the topic of sustainability came up, my father liked to use the Greek word for sustainable — it's called statheros. He translated it as "enduring". I like this variant — after all, acting sustainably means that everything we do should last for the future.

I started my career in the technical quality department of an industrial company. There, I quickly realized that I would like to develop our living space and thus my "homeland" so that we can offer future generations a wonderful home.

2) What is the background to sustainability in the Tourism Board?

Nobody starts from scratch, and here on the Tyrolean high plateau in particular, the topic is somehow already in our genes: We live in a nature-loving region among many locals who consciously think sustainably. Today we use terms such as biodiversity, social, ecological, or economic sustainability, climate protection, and so on. Basically, however, these terms express nothing other than what we learned from our grandparents: nature, regionality, tradition, and a conscious use of what we have at our disposal.

The Tourism Board has always paid attention to our most valuable asset—our nature, our living space. In 2020, Franz Straubinger was finally hired by the Karwendel Nature Park to consolidate all previous projects and efforts, give the whole thing a name, and try to set concrete goals. In 2022, I came on board as habitat and sustainability coordinator. His and my work ultimately led to our genuinely sustainable strategy and action plan in early 2023.

3) What are your tasks as Habitat and Sustainability Coordinator?

As Sustainability Coordinator, the topic is the program, and as it is currently on everyone's lips, my tasks and projects are wide-ranging. In principle, we as a Tourism Board are guided by the United Nations 2030 Agenda and its 17 SDGs. My core task at the beginning was to develop a clear action plan from the numerous projects, initiatives, ideas, and opinions, and thus ultimately our really sustainability strategy.

It was finalized at the beginning of 2023 and comprises our personal SDG compass and our four pillars of sustainability: sustainable management, social-ecological sustainability, economic sustainability, and mobility.

This strategy is my working paper or to-do list. It also involves constant dialogue with our team, as well as brainstorming and critical discussion with our partners and experts at network meetings.

4) When was the idea of the Plateau Pioneers born?

The idea for the Plateau Pioneers came about during the transition from my predecessor, Franz Straubinger, to me. A big thank you to Franz for this great idea.

Workshop Plateau Pioniere Seminar Seefeld 2024 (27)

5) How did the search for pioneers go?

The Board and we had a few pioneering companies in mind right from the start, of course. However, the project was then presented to all our member companies in 2022 and advertised openly. This meant that any company in our region could join.

The most important prerequisite was a willingness to change. Anyone who possessed this had already overcome the entry threshold. Together with an expert in sustainable development, we then took a step-by-step approach. The biggest challenge at the beginning of the project was that the existing levels of sustainability and the goals of the participating companies were very different. We had to hold many discussions to understand the individual expectations of the project. It was a long and sometimes rocky road, but that is precisely why we are now such a close-knit group.

The diversity of the group—ranging from bed and breakfasts to 5-star hotels and the Karwendel Nature Park—is now our greatest strength. Everyone can learn from the experiences of others. The nature park often serves as our corrective. As a Tourism Board, we are above all a coordinating body and motivator, organizing workshops and facilitating constant exchange. We also use our channels for active communication and marketing and, like all pioneering businesses, work on our own "sustainability construction sites."

6) What were the first specific steps?

  • May 2022: Foundation of the group and first workshop on the theoretical foundations of sustainability.
  • June 2022: Start of determining the carbon footprint of each pioneer.
  • October 2022: Workshop on biodiversity under the leadership of the Karwendel Nature Park.
  • December 2022: Workshop to define the SDGs to be addressed in the future.
  • January 2023: Workshop on the topic of food and beverage.
  • March 2023: Workshop on the topic of mobility.
  • Summer 2023: Creation of mission statements for each pioneer; award of the Austrian Ecolabel to the Seefeld region and two pioneering businesses.
  • March 2024: Workshop on the topic of communication.
  • April 2024: Launch of the communication initiative "Presentation of the Plateau Pioneers" by the Tourism Board.

7) In summer 2023, the Seefeld region was the first region ever to receive the Austrian Ecolabel for Tourism Destinations. What does this award mean for the group? What about the ecolabels for businesses?

You don't receive the eco-label for tourism destinations on your own, neither as a municipality nor as a Tourism Board. It is awarded to the region as a whole and only if all stakeholders work together. The project and the associated good cooperation between the Tourism Board and businesses were essential for the region to be awarded the eco-label for tourism destinations. We have really set a fast pace here. Receiving the Ecolabel in 2023 was a major milestone for us. It has shown us that we are on the right track and motivates us to continue pursuing it consistently in the future.

The results of the first two years of the Plateau Pioneers project are really good. The many pieces of the puzzle that everyone has worked on have led to two of the six Plateau Pioneers from the accommodation segment also being certified with the Austrian Ecolabel and the EU Ecolabel in summer 2023. The remaining four businesses submitted their application for certification in 2023.

Public transport and travel were focused on as a joint project in the region. The Tourism Board and businesses developed a joint communication package and special incentives for guests, which were very well received.

region-seefeld-2023-fruehlung-audit-pruefung-umweltzeichen-fuer-destinationen-echt-nachhaltig-22-10
region-seefeld-2023-fruehlung-audit-pruefung-umweltzeichen-fuer-destinationen-echt-nachhaltig-09-10
gruppenbild2-1

8) Give us an outlook for the future - what's next?

We have a detailed project plan for the next two years, funded by regional management. Based on the successes of the first two years, we are ready and already in the process of implementing the first concrete projects for the region.

One of these is the Plateau Potato. Together with five motivated farmers and our Plateau Pioneers, around 2.5 tonnes of potato seedlings were planted at various locations in our region in spring 2023. After intensive care over the summer, we were able to harvest for the first time in autumn 2023. At a joint taste testing dinner featuring excellent potato dishes, two favorites were selected from an initial five varieties, which will be planted again in 2024. Most of this year's harvest was purchased by the Plateau Pioneers and other regional businesses and served in special regional dishes. As there were still slight problems with the calculations and logistics at the start of the project, the Plateau Pioneers and farmers decided to donate an additional 800kg to the Innsbruck Dinner Club for people in need, in the interests of social sustainability.

Despite all the euphoria, we must not forget our main task for the next two years: We need to inspire more businesses to follow our path and recruit new members for our Plateau Pioneers group. The eight of us were the first to lead the way, now we need more people to join us in creating a more sustainable future!

BEHIND THE SCENES

Insight into the Seefeld Tourist Board

How can a holiday destination become more sustainable? Interview with the Region Seefeld in Tirol

You can find the facts in compact form in the fact sheet. Further information about the Plateau Pioneers can be found here.

INTERESTING FACTS AT A GLANCE

Brief information

AUSTRIAN ECOLABEL

The Austrian Ecolabel has been an internationally recognized seal of quality for ecological business since 1990. It is monitored by the Association for Consumer Information and awarded by the Federal Ministry for Climate Protection, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation, and Technology.

Tourism regions and accommodation providers have to fulfill strict criteria catalogues with almost 120 criteria in the areas of management, socio-economics, environmental and climate protection, biodiversity, nature, and landscape conservation, mobility, and culture. Energy and climate protection carry the most weight as an overarching theme.

More detailed information is available at www.umweltzeichen.at

GHG PROTOCOL

The GHG Protocol is the most widely used standard for preparing greenhouse gas balances. The development of the GHG Protocol is coordinated by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). The protocol categorizes CO2 emissions into three scopes. Scope one and two comprise the company's own emissions and emissions from purchased electricity and heating, respectively. Scope three includes all emissions generated by the production and transport of purchased goods, as well as the use of own products or their waste. In the tourism sector, this primarily relates to guests traveling to and from the destination. The Plateau Pionier:innen have committed to recording all emissions across all three scopes.

More detailed information is available at www.ghgprotocol.org

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS (SDGS)

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the 17 global goals for sustainable development that were adopted by 193 member states at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in September 2015 and came into force in January 2016.

The Plateau Pioneers are focusing primarily on the goals of decent growth in tourism (SDG 8), regional production and conscious consumption (SDG 12), active climate protection (SDG 13), and the preservation and promotion of biodiversity (SDG 15).

More detailed information is available at www.sdgwatch.at

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