SUSTAINABLE PRACTICES IN LECH ZÜRS AM ARLBERG
Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow.
Sustainability. A wonderful word. These days, you often hear about sustainability when big brands want to show off their ‘green side’. Or when well-meaning initiatives want to change the world. But what if sustainability was more than just a hollow phrase? What if it’s a value. A way of life. A matter of the heart. And what if you could start thinking about tomorrow today? Because such thinking already started yesterday! For many decades already, Lech Zürs has been a pioneer in sustainable development to the benefit of both mankind and nature. This brochure helps to explains our rationale and underscores what drives our motivations.
The miracle of nature
Quality before quantity: This guiding principle has been a hallmark of Lech Zürs since the 1960s. Our aim is and remains the preservation of the village’s unique character and protecting the environment in the long term. To this end, strict building regulations and thorough planning help to carry this vision forward. One thing remains true: less is still more. By limiting ourselves to just 10,000 guest beds, Lech Zürs is committed to consciously promoting quality tourism. In doing so, we conserve resources, maintain the natural landscape and promote agriculture. It’s nice to know that miracles still happen in the lofty heights of the Arlberg: The miracle of nature.
ENERGY FROM NATURE
Lech biomass heating plant
Regionally sourced wood chips: This renewable energy source fuels the biomass heating plants in Lech, Zug, Oberlech and Zürs, producing enough energy to supply almost 100 percent of all households and businesses with warm, cosy heat. The root of this concept, which is admired nationwide, actually date back to the previous century.
This vision began to take shape in 1997 when the biomass heating plant in Oberlech, which smoothed the way for other such plants in Vorarlberg, was commissioned. The second heating plant in Lech followed in 1999 and the third in Zug in 2007. In 2009, the Oberlech heating plant was expanded and now produces 45 megawatt hours of green electricity per year by means of the photovoltaic system on the façade. Then, in 2010, the fourth plant was built in Zürs.Together, the biomass heating plants save around 7.75 million litres of heating oil or 24,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually. The 2010 Vorarlberger Holzbaupreis award was further evidence that that energy efficiency and building culture are not mutually exclusive.
The “Blue Fleet ” and the “Green Garage”
Lech Zürs’s public transport system has been future-ready since the 1990s: Lech’s local bus system kicked off in the summer of 1997 with four buses on two lines. Just two and a half years later, the “Blue Fleet”, which is now a part of the fabric of the town, had already transported more than one million passengers. To this day, this comfort-oriented service continues to shape the village’s mobility. As a result, more and more locals and guests are leaving their cars at home and instead using the free ski bus. Lech Zürs has also been at the leading edge of electromobility. E-bikes and escooters were available for rent from the summer of 2011. One year later, the first e-filling station opened its doors. The 2018/19 winter season was a groundbreaking milestone: In cooperation with BMW and Vorarlberger Kraftwerke AG, Europe’s first fully electric “Green Garage” for electric vehicles was constructed. A year later, electromobility came full circle as the “Blue Fleet” first tested an electric bus for public transport. All aboard! The future of mobility in Lech Zürs is emissions-free.
100% renewable energy
Nature’s gift: A wealth of energy that is constantly renewed. Hydropower is the most important and most valuable domestic energy source. When it comes to this environmentally friendly form of power, Austria is exemplary in terms of technical pioneering achievements and innovations. This applies in particular to "illwerke vkw AG.” This Vorarlberg company offers the future of green energy with its 100% Austrian hydropower product. They generates electricity with pumped storage power plants such as the Kopswerk II, which was the world’s most modern when it was completed in 2009.
Since the spring of 2020, Ski-Zürs-AG has been relying entirely on this renew - able energy source and operates all cable cars, chairlifts, mountain restaurants, snow-making facilities, etc. with 100% TÜV-certified green electricity, i.e. pure Austrian hydropower. With this clean energy solution, Ski-Zürs-AG eliminate around 1,265 tons of CO2 emissions and radioactive waste and makes an important contribution to protecting the environment and fulfilling Vorarlberg's aspirations for energy autonomy.
Travel from Lech to Oberlech in just 3 minutes via cable car
Traffic-free holidays: A utopian ideal? In Oberlech, this vision has been a reality since 1997 thanks to a concept unique in Europe: While winter guests float from Lech to Oberlech via cable car, the tunnel system whisks guests to the hotels. From December to April, this emission-free transport system ensures that the entire district is free from emissions and traffic noise. Moreover, goods heading to and from the hotels are transported exclusively by electric cars.
CABLE CARS & THE ENVIRONMENT
World View from the high alps
The first surface lift in Austria was built in Zürs in 1937. Such farsighted and technical innovations ultimately brought environmental protection to the mountains, long before concern for the environment became popular. From 1978 to 2000, experts were invited to international high-altitude environmental conferences in order to help lay the scientific foundation for a sustainable approach to Alpine nature. As a result, key initiatives such as the renaturation of high altitude areas, a model for programmes around the globe, and a targeted eco-audit for ski resorts were first tested out here.
Lech’s ski lifts are also innovative as they provide a useful bridge to high-Alpine agriculture. Since 2008, Scottish Highland cattle have been bred to graze on steep slopes and thus prevent avalanches. The Schottenhof in Oberlech, built at an altitude of 1,760 metres above sea level, is regarded as a model, ultra-modern Alpine farm showcasing future-oriented methods. Up here, the cycle of sustainability comes full circle as the meat of highland cattle is used in the local gastronomy.
The origin and conservation of the landscape
Since being settled around 700 years ago, this high-altitude region has been characterised by extensive grazing and haymaking practices. Here there are lush green landscapes and flowering mountain meadows as far as the eye can see. For generations and right up to the present day, Lech farmers have made a name for themselves with their labour intensive landscape management. Even the steep, rough pastures up to 2000 meters in elevation are mowed. As they are only mowed once per year and fertilisers are not used, the area is extraordinarily rich in species with over 60 fairly rare plants.
In summer, around 2,000 head of cattle graze on the extensive Alpine pastures, including cattle from the Klostertal valley, Tirol and Switzerland. The local restaurants and their guests appreciate the milk sourced from Lech. The same goes for yoghurt, cream cheese or the hay-milk ice cream made by the local baker. Whether as producers of regional delicacies or the management of protective & avalanche forests or the region’s characteristic cultural landscape, Lech’s farmers are probably the most impressive representatives of sustainability in action.
THINK GLOBALLY, ACT LOCALLY
Locally run bakeries are still in operation here
Award-winning chefs whose recipes for success are regional ingredients. Butchers and bakers who know their local suppliers by name. Alpine huts that cater to guests instead of trying to satisfy the masses. In Lech Zürs, sustainability is less about energy figures and emission values and more about how people meaningfully do business and meet each other. For decades, the phrase “think globally and act locally” has been more than just lip service: It is an attitude towards life.
And a state of mind: Nowhere is this more evident than the vo:dô (von:da) local trade fair, a truly tasty example of neighbourly solidarity as practiced in Lech Zürs. Every year at the beginning of winter, regional farmers and producers gather in Lech to showcase their typical Vorarlberg specialities. This uniquely local fair allows ideas to grow from old traditions and provides ‘More Space, More Time’ for development.
Projects & Awards
For more than 30 years, Lech has operated a garden with a special focus on native flora. About 2,000 trees are planted here every year. The seedlings grown are used, for instance, in reforestation projects or in private gardens.
A fully biological wastewater treatment plant has provided clean conditions since 1976. The same applies to the fully developed sewage system. With no exceptions and no compromises, all buildings, including the ski huts located far from the village centre, are connected to the public sewage system.
An expert was available on site to provide advice and practical assistance on energy and subsidy issues. His task was to support citizens in all relevant areas such as the replacement of heating pumps, the installation of economical shower heads and intelligent electricity meters, as well as the expansion of solar energy and photovoltaics.
Lech Zürs is a model for sustainability. But don’t just take our word for it. After all, this is what independent jurors say about us. A few examples: “Bergkristall award for a clean landscape” (Alpenschutzverband 2002); “Most beautiful community in Vorarlberg” (2002); “Most beautiful village in Europe” (Entente Florale 2004). As probably the most sustainable tourism community anywhere, the most satisfying form of recognition for us in Lech Zürs is the appreciation of our guests.
Projects & Awards
Along with the neighbouring community of Warth, Lech has operated as a model energy region since 2010. The package of measures included an LED campaign for tourism businesses and the switch to dimmable LED street lights. The latter reduced relevant annual energy costs almost by 75 percent!
Young people were also introduced to the topic of sustainability thanks to the “Klimaschule Lech” climate school project. Over the course of the entire 2014/15 school year, all classes discussed the connections between climate, energy and their own personal lifestyles. The aim was to apply learnings from everyday life in order to better recognise the effects of one’s own actions.
Turn to zero CLIMATE ALLIANCE.
As a partner of the “turn to zero,” the municipality of Lech has been carbon neutral since 2019. In addition to reducing the avoidable consumption of energy and resources, unavoidable emissions have been compensated for by supporting carefully selected climate protection projects. Regarding Lech in particular, CO2 emissions have been reduced by 100% thanks to an offset programme by the international climate protection project of the “myclimate” foundation Switzerland. The same applies to Lech Zürs Tourismus GmbH, which, as a climate-neutral company, has been an operating partner of „turn to zero“ since 2018.
Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow.
Sustainability never stands still. Especially when it comes to the sensitive high-Alpine region, foresight and a subtle touch drive us forward into the future. Thinking about tomorrow today: This philosophy is deeply rooted in our minds and hearts. It’s gratifying that our special places of power continue to maintain their allure, radiating the same energy yesterday, today and tomorrow.