By Terry Lee
There was a time when the mere mention of sustainable travel would conjure up images of people reaching for a green juice cleanse to sip on while sat on a rickety chair in a less than glamorous (but very low carbon-emitting) eco-lodge. But sustainability, especially when considering travel to one of Europe’s most cultured cities, Graz in Austria, is not simply about green travel. Instead it offers a different lens through which our travels can make positive impacts on a local community.
Consider this: years ago the slogan was “take away memories and leave only footprints” on beaches you visited. Today, travelling consciously can mean we can also look to make a positive contribution to the lives of the people living in the destination you’re visiting. After all, isn’t a significant part of why we travel about a positive exchange? Shouldn’t it have favourable impacts for the hosts as well as us visitors?
We are too, becoming increasingly aware of the importance of supporting local businesses at home. Shop local to save our high streets, eat local to cut carbon and save the planet are mantras that have become part of the landscape at home, so why not consider them too when abroad?
When we travel we have choices, not just who we travel with and where we go, but also how we travel. On a trip to Graz, Austria’s second city, recently, I took these good habits from back home with me and when I went shopping around the city’s trendy Lend and Gries districts, I sought out great local businesses that are helping bring about positive change to people who live there too. Here are some places you should add to your shopping list…
Where to shop
Pick up a piece of Tag.Werk
Since 1999, Tag.Werk, both a shop and workshop, has been helping disadvantaged young people in the city to find work. In their workshop, they recycle materials such as old 1980s style jackets and make a variety of products such as bags and all manner of accessories, as well as clothes. These products are then sold in the shop to an army of the city’s trendsetters. Best buy: A lovely, deep Tag.Werk shopper bag for all your Lend purchases.
A treasure trove
From ornaments to whole pieces of furniture, Offline Retail is a treasure trove of cute items made from reconditioned furniture, jewellery, clothing and more, donated to the shop by the local community. But the real beauty of this shop is that everything is made locally, providing work for people who have suffered from addiction. It was fascinating to see community-focused enterprises doing so well and in return giving back to the wider community and so enhancing the quality of life for all in Graz.
Take a slice from Pane’s positive action
This is a tasty initiative helping to feed local people while serving up delicious eats too. Pane sells day-old baked goods and bread supplied by Martin Auer, a major local bakery, at half the price with money raised going to local charities. The added bonus is that it cuts down on otherwise wasted food.
Grab a Gram
Across the River Mur from Lend, you’ll find Das Gram in the city’s Gries district. This bustling little store does a great trade in dried goods from spices to seeds, nuts and everything in between. Shoppers arrive with their own containers to fill up on produce, and you’re able to buy everything, quite literally by the gram – so if you’re baking a cake and need a little vanilla, you don’t have to buy a whole packet of pods and nothing goes to waste.
Journey to Peaces
Head to the city limits – out west to Penggau to visit Peaces Biomode, a clothing shop selling handcrafted shirts, skirts, dresses and sweatshirts, made from sustainable fabrics such as tencel, linen and organic cotton, designed by Suzanne Huber who incorporates themes of the nature around her into some of her screen prints, she said: “I take my inspiration from nature. The trees speak to me so I have to design pieces with them.” You can also order from their online store.
Where to eat
It’s not only shopping, but we can choose whether to dine at a restaurant that sources its produce locally. Here’s a secret: the beauty about travelling to Graz, Austria’s Culinary Capital, is a huge number of the city’s restaurants pride themselves on sourcing their produce from farms within a few kilometres of the city centre. All these are conscious decisions we make as travellers and those choices have real consequences for local businesses and the wider community beyond.
Real good coffee
Even a simple cup of coffee can help you do good in Graz. Pause from shopping in Lend for a coffee at Paul and Bohne, a shop which buys Fair Trade coffee beans from producers in Africa and South America, and roasts them locally.
Also, while you’re in Graz, grab yourself a Back Cup. This handy cup allows you to fill up on a take away coffee from any café, and then you can return it once you’re finished for it to be washed and used again. Saving countless empty coffee cups from being discarded around the city.
A hole in the wall soup
Bo Suppe is a wonderful lunch stop especially on a cooler day when one of Bo, real name is Arnd Hoffmann’s, warming soups will keep you fuelled. It’s a great example of a small business, which is meeting a local need and doing so sustainably. Every day Bo serves freshly made dishes made only from locally-sourced and seasonally available produce. He then serves these in glass containers from his open kitchen/shop window, and when you’ve finished your soup he’ll take in your container and wash it ready for use again.
Eat green for dinner
A major contributor to reducing our carbon footprint is to ensure the food we eat has a shorter journey from farm to plate, and we also know that reducing the amount of meat we eat cuts the amount of methane emitted into the atmosphere helping to cause climate change. One example of sustainable dining can be found in Graz’s old town streets at Gerüchteküche. This vegetarian restaurant is bringing innovative cooking to the city and complements its green objectives. Here, owner Michael Wankerl, creates a new menu each evening made from only seasonal foods all grown in the local area.
Where to stay
We can decide if we stay at a chain hotel or opt for a locally-owned family hotel, just like mine was in Graz – the Hotel Gollner has held a historic spot in the city’s heart for generations.
All the experiences I’ve shared above only helped to grow my appreciation of Graz, and this is a city I have visited five times before and which, wrongly, I thought I knew well.
However, this time I came with the intent to understand this beautiful city in a more meaningful way and have a more immersive experience. I wanted not just to visit the place but really see it. And in doing so gaining a greater appreciation of the people, its culture, history, and sense of community.
Terry Lee is co-founder of award-winning luxury travel blog, LiveShareTravel and author of The Luxury Traveller’s Handbook.
He is also co-founder of Captivate, an elite group of award-winning digital storytellers. He regularly partners with brands with everything from site sponsorships, to promotional packages and marketing campaigns through the blogging collectives.
Terry has a background in PR and communications of more than 20 years, principally in the challenging environments of politics and local government. He is a regular speaker at travel, lifestyle and blogging conferences, as well as universities.