Time and again, Vienna ranks as the city with the highest standard of living. Yet, how does it hold up when it comes to sustainability? According to the World Economic Forum, we might not be the alpha of the pack, but still going pretty strong, coming fourth. Why? Of course, sustainable city policies play a huge part but what really shakes things up is the vibrancy of the Vienna start-up scene.
Whether you are a tree-hugger or more of a pragmatic spirit, to most of us it’s clear that taking better care of our planet would essentially be a good thing. If it only weren’t so damn difficult without the right infrastructure and incentives.
Fear not, because this is where sustainable entrepreneurs and their start-ups come in to save the day: new shops and projects keep popping up like mushrooms, which makes it increasingly easy for the environmentally-minded to turn their principles into practice.
In this post, I will take you through Vienna’s inner districts, showing you that so much of what your green heart desires is already here. And rest assured – this is only the beginning!
First district – Innere Stadt
The first district synonymous with luxury, posh clothes and shoes. Fancy bars and restaurants. Yet, luxury doesn’t need to be a one-way street. With the growing number of sustainable restaurants, why not treat yourself while simultaneously indulging the earth for a change? Eating more plant-based is a delicious way to help save the planet. After all, animal agriculture is one of the leading causes of pollution and global warming. What better way to stand up for Mother Earth than relishing in the delicacies served at the many vegetarian or vegan restaurants of the first district?
Yamm is exactly as yummy as it sounds. Many think it is one of the best vegetarian restaurants in town – I can certainly not argue with that. Whether for breakfast, lunch, coffee or after-work drinks, you will always find creative combinations that ignite fireworks on your taste buds. All of which include lots of fresh vegetables and herbs, sweet-dripping fruits as well as a rainbow of different spices.
The vegetarian creations at Tian taste as delicious as the name of the restaurant itself: Tian means ‘heaven’ in Chinese. Maybe that’s because they get their ingredients come from their own organic nursery in Greifenburg. Their art of cooking even got them a Michelin star. While the price tag might be a bit hefty for a common day, it is certainly a wonderful place to go to on a special occasion. Alternatively, you could try their lunch menu, which tends to be a bit cheaper.
Hidden Kitchen is also a hotspot for vegetarian and vegan lunches. It boasts daily changing scrumptious salad variations that will make you salivate just by hearing them: quinoa salad with yellow courgette, artichokes, lemon, arugula, and capers, or arugula salad with apricots, roasted walnuts and raspberry balsamic vinegar. Oh my.
While we are at it, why not finish off with a bang? If you have a sweet tooth you will surely rejoice at the plant-based, organic treats sold at the Simply Raw Bakery. Considering that they are even made without added sugar, why not grab a second one – guilt-free of course!
Second District – Leopoldstadt
As you cross the Danube Canal to the second district, you enter the habitat of the nouveau hip Leopoldstädter. Whereas only a couple of years ago, this district was not too appealing to visit, now start-ups, coffeeshops, world food restaurants and of course, sustainable projects keep popping up in ever-increasing quantities.
For instance, Lunzer’s Maßgreisslerei has made zero waste shopping easy. Fresh fruit and vegetables, milk, bread, cheese and meat are equally obtainable without packaging as shampoo and laundry detergent. No poor plastic bag had to die for your products here.
Moving on from buying food to eating food: the company Iss Mich fights food wastage by using perfectly healthy veggies that did not meet aesthetic retail standards for their delicious organic vegetarian dishes. They offer a delivery service for those lazy days on the couch or catering for special events.
Third District – Landstraße
The sustainable entrepreneurs in the third district also care about zero waste living and battling wasteful consumerism. Similar to Lunzer’s Maßgreisslerei, the Warenhandlung Wenighofer und Wanits offers regional and organic pantry staples, fresh fruit, veggies, bread, meat and dairy without packaging. They thus play a pivotal role in making zero waste feasible in daily life. Because let’s be honest: how many third district dwellers will take it upon themselves to journey to another district for the sake of saving plastic if the standard grocery stores are just around the corner? Convenience wins. Now, with shops like this, sustainability finally becomes convenient.
Once you banned plastic from your kitchen, next comes the bathroom. Package-free toothpaste? Eco-friendly lipstick? And not to forget plastic-free sanitary pads? These things are harder to come by. Unless you visit the cheerfully decorated Sonnengrün store, where all these products stand in rank and file next to tin boxes filled with chemical-free deodorant, beard balm or face cream. As if this weren’t already enough, animal lovers can even get soap for their pooch and a special cream for its sore paws.
If you amble down just another street, you find a store dedicated to high-quality and skin-friendly eco-soap. Not all soaps were created equal – and the manufacture Wiener Seife makes, if you like, the queen of all soaps. For over 10 years, these sensual pieces for hair, body and beard have been hand-made using coconut oil as a basis. They protect the skin with the power of nature, devoid of chemical additives, mineral oils or preservatives. And boy, do they smell good! Thanks be to the natural oils, plant extracts and fragrance essences they use, many of which are from controlled organic sources. Bonus fact: Did you know that solid soap lasts you for much longer than liquid shower gels?
Fourth District – Wieden
Moving on from the beauty department to the fourth district, Wieden. Here you can find Gabarage, an upcycling design store, where trash gets a makeover. Ageing skis and snowboards, clothes hangers, bracelet and rings are given a new, stylish life. Old folders are transformed into trendy bags and escalator stairs arise from the dead in the guise of sofas. Nothing is thrown away. The team of Gabarage takes it one step further though. In the truest spirit of social entrepreneurship, they offer vocational qualifications and workplaces for disadvantaged groups of people who have a hard time (re-)entering the regular labour market.
Fifth District – Margareten
Quick, quick, moving on to the next district, because there is so much left to explore!
Looking for a piano? An antique chest of drawers? A fancy armchair? A racing bike? A food processor? A drilling machine? A ballgown? Look no further than Margareten, Vienna’s fifth district. Here, you can find everything you need (and don’t need) in two fantastic thrift stores. Carla Mittersteig is the downtown branch of Carla Wien, a charitable organisation, where people can donate stuff they don’t use anymore. In four massive halls with 4,000 square metres, you can go on a veritable treasure hunt.
Didn’t find that Egyptian belly dancing belt you so desperately needed? First let me say, I’m quite surprised because Carla really gives you the impression they stock everything. Nonetheless there is another equally fun thrift shop called 48er Tandler just a block away. They pick up items at the local dump, the lost property office and items no longer needed by employees of the City of Vienna in the name of waste prevention; vintage furniture, tableware, clothing, books, sports equipment and real bargains are then sold at the store. Their proceeds go to the TierQuarTier, the local animal shelter, as well as other charitable institutions, including a care and integration centre for refugees and a homeless shelter.
Sixth District – Mariahilf
So after you decided to buy that delightfully retro city bike you found at Carla Mittersteig, what are you going to do with it? Are you one of those people who abhor leaving their beloved bike in the courtyard of your residential building? Do you also drag it into your flat share on the fifth floor (no elevator) for fear of it being stolen? Then the Rad WG, the ‘flat share for bikes’ is what you need. The founders of this start-up realised the potential of empty ground-floor premises and turned them into regular bicycle parking spaces. For a monthly contribution, you can give your bike a safe home, instead of it being knocked over by that drunken student friend at one of your infamous house parties. In addition, the bike flat share is a space that brings bicycle lovers together. You might even find new friends at one of their bike workshops. That’s a bingo!
Seventh District – Neubau
Next stop, Neubau! Summer is coming and you need new clothes. You should definitely check out the many sustainable clothing stores in Vienna. Especially as stylish eco-fashion is no longer an oxymoron. Gone are the days when sustainable clothes looked like shabby potato bags. Today, not only do clothes make you look good, you can also feel good since you know that the factory worker behind your jeans got fair pay and the environment wasn’t harmed either. This is what I call a genuine retail therapy.
There is a host of shops you can check out in the seventh district. At Combinat, they sell recycled fashion, at the ethical concept store ebenBERG you can find ladies’ collections, Zerum sells GOTS certified clothes, Maronski sells sustainable and fair fashion for men and women, Minimal sells children’s apparel, and at Rotknopf, the progressive gentleman of today can even get a tailor-made, GOTS certified suit that was produced under fair working conditions. The list goes on and on. Ethical, fair-trade, and ecological fashion retailers are sprinkled all over the city.
Eighth District – Josefstadt
Has the shopping tour worn you out yet? Sick and tired of buying ever-increasing heaps of STUFF? Sustainability not only means buying the right things, it also means buying fewer things. Luckily, Vienna already offers many opportunities for breaking out of the consumer-culture cycle. Are you ready for getting your hands dirty? In the mood for producing something yourself? Then maybe you’d enjoy joining an urban gardening community. Since May 2015, the Albertgarten in the Josefstadt offers you a social experience on top of crispy lettuce and crunchy carrots. By ballot, a motley group of people is brought together to tend collectively to one garden patch. At the Pfeilgarten and Tigergarten, a third of the yearly plots are dedicated to greenhorn gardeners eager to join the crew.
Ninth District – Alsergrund
If you have a hard timekeeping even your cactus alive, gardening might not be the most advisable option for sustainable consumption. This is where food co-ops might come in. They are a self-organised collective of people or households who source products directly from local farms, nurseries, beekeepers and so on. The food is usually seasonally, regionally, and ecologically sustainable as well as socially just. Food co-ops are more than healthy food choices. They are an expression of criticism of the current agricultural industry, characterised by polluting practices, mistreatment of animals, long transport routes and inequalities. The Kukuruz co-op is one of many in Vienna and is currently open for new members.
Another way of escaping consumerism is the Open Bookshelf initiative. Here, people can leave their unwanted books for somebody else to enjoy for free. Do whatever you want: take them out, bring them back, love them forever. Anything goes, as long as you don’t sell them. That is just….not the point.
And the last rule of sustainability is – never purchase what you can repair. Even if you aren’t an adept craftsman (or craftswoman), there are many options for mending instead of spending. In the ninth district, the Fahrrad.Selbsthilfe.Werkstatt will get your broken bike moving again – with 100m² workshop space, lots of spare parts, tools and people who can show you how it’s done. Cost factor: €4 for an entire afternoon’s use of the workshop.
So after having come full circle on our sustainability tour through Vienna’s inner district, we are still nowhere near done. Why? First, because the initiatives listed in this post are only the tip of the iceberg – there are so many more awesome projects to check out in district 1 to 9. Second, because we only explored about half of Vienna so far. So if you are interested in what else awaits, stay tuned for part two of the Vienna sustainability series in which we’ll meet the eco-pioneers of the outer districts. We’ll get to know the team of Wohnwagon, who build off-the-grid and self-sufficient Tiny Houses on wheels in the 16th district. We’ll visit the boutique hotel Stadthalle in the 15th district, a zero-energy hotel with a lovely garden. In the 18th district, we’ll look at Good Goods who sell sustainable and affordable designer ware from sheltered workshops for the handicapped. See you next time!