I was fortunate enough to spend the last 8 days in Ireland, and as I always do when I travel, I took note of the ways a different culture embraces sustainability. Ireland? It is both green in color and in its approach to waste elimination. How?
There are no paper towels in restrooms. Ever. Every single public restroom I encountered had high efficiency hand dryers instead of paper towels. Although my travel mates grumbled about this, research shows that hand dryers are significantly more "green" than paper towels.
Water is precious. Even in a country that definitely sees its fair share of rain, low-flow toilets and sinks are the norm.
Plastic bags and cups aren't in vogue. At stores, customers must pay for plastic bags (paper bags are free). I was behind more than a few people in line at stores that asked for plastic, were told of the fee (22 cents), and they decided to forgo the plastic. The cost deterrent definitely made people think twice about the need for plastic. In restaurants and cafés, even in ones without table service, glass bottles of water and glass cups were provided.
In general, what I took away from my trip to Ireland was that widely institutionalized sustainability practices work. If you don't want people using plastic, either charge them or don't offer it. If you want to conserve water, install the hardware to make it habitual. Is Ireland a perfect "green" place? Of course not. One of my biggest peeves was the use of paper napkins at nice restaurants, and as is in the United States, city streets are congested with passenger cars (although the use of mass transit is quite high). But overall, Ireland gets a green thumbs up.