Life in Harmony with Nature – UNESCO’s Grosses Walsertal Biosphere Park (Leben im Einklang mit der Natur – UNESCO Biosphärenpark Grosses Walsertal)
In 2000 Grosses Walsertal was awarded the UNESCO "Biosphere Park" label, which makes it part of a global network of regions with a model function in terms of sustainability. Biosphere Parks have a triple focus: nature protection, sustainable regional development, and environmental education and research. The principle of using nature without harming nature calls for the involvement of all sectors and individuals and goes hand in hand with increased value added and identification with the region on the part of the resident populations.
The legal platform for the Grosses Walsertal Biosphere Park is the REGIO or association established by the Biosphere Park management in 2000. The task of the regional planning association of the six Walsertal communities that has been active in Grosses Walsertal since 1972 is to help shape future developments in this regional living space in ecological, economic, cultural and social respects in accordance with the objectives and mission statement adopted for the Grosses Walsertal Biosphere Park.
The REGIO has set up a Biosphere Park management to handle the operative side of Biosphere Park activities. They collaborate with the Vorarlberg regional authority’s Office for Future Affairs and Department of Environmental Protection, the administrative office of the district (Bezirkshauptmannschaft) and the Energy Institute. The REGIO works with subject-based committees with volunteer members, who are involved in the project implementation process. Plus there are project-related working groups. Co-operation with external partners in networks is also practised.
The objectives of the project: establishing a mountain valley as a model region for sustainable economy; quality assurance (how sustainable are we?) on the basis of a sustainability management system and key ratios for sustainability; identification with and pride in their region on the part of the local people; making the economy more economical and life more liveable in the long term; increasing and maintaining value added; establishing a sustainable tourism offering; creating jobs and maintaining employment levels; preserving the region’s natural and cultural assets; awareness building; promoting ecological management and eco-friendly behaviour in agriculture, tourism and the trades; making the people living in the valley more sensitive to its natural assets; making sustainability a direct and visible experience; improving the quality of life and preventing migration from the valley in the long term; making use of 100% renewable energy sources as a demonstration of eco-friendly behaviour; involving as many local people as possible in the process of shaping their future.
Projects relating to renewable energy, sustainable tourism, ecological agriculture and nature protection; awareness-building campaigns; creation of mission statements; introduction of an integrated sustainability management system for purposes of quality assurance; environmental education and awareness-building for school children, e.g. participation in the e5 programme for energy efficient communities; energy accounting; energy counselling; biomass logistics; energy excursion guide; bio-diesel and biogas feasibility study; public transport to mountain pastures; Mountain Timber Project (Projekt Bergholz); co-operative projects involving agriculture and tourism (e.g. mountain cheese, regional produce for the hotels and restaurants, farm produce box, farm excursions); tourism partners committed to the twenty criteria in the Biosphere Park philosophy; award of the environmental protection label to three schools and four hotels; Liveable Living Project (lebenswert leben) in support of the local availability of goods and services; Biosphere Park Adventure (environmental education); 2005 sustainability report.
Preservation of the region’s natural and cultural assets; increased value added and quality of life; public awareness for ecology strengthened through various individual projects; initial economic benefits (e.g. day-trippers and conference tourism); strengthened co-operation and voluntary involvement in actively shaping the future together; active involvement of the local people; greater emphasis on sustainability in the minds of the people living in the region; improved co-operation among the various communities in the region; joint positioning as a model region for sustainable economy (UNESCO Biosphere Park); numerous awards won by the Biosphere Park in national and international competitions relating to sustainability, energy, the environment and tourism; the mission statement developed by the resident population now in the process of step-by-step implementation; development of a sustainability programme and regular evaluation of activities in terms of their impacts and public awareness.