Sustainability on a party island? We sail to Ibiza and discover its Green Heart at Casita Verde, where Chris Dews leads many inspiring initiatives.
Polly is adamant. “You must visit Chris in Ibiza!” We’re surprised. Is Earth Lawyer Polly Higgins recommending we go to a party island to find sustainable solutions? We don’t get a chance to doubt her. After Polly introduces us to Chris Dews by e-mail, he immediately invites us to visit him. His organization Greenheart Ibiza is said to be at the centre of all things sustainable on the island. Curious to know what we’ll find, we set sail for the Balearic Islands.
Everyone Has a Green Heart
Within a few hours of our arrival in Ibiza-Town, Chris Dews is sitting in our cockpit. Full of energy the former merchant-navy sailor tells us how he arrived on Ibiza 26 years ago by coincidence. He fell in love with it and found a place to live on an abandoned farm. Soon he started taking initiatives to make the island more sustainable. Around his neck hangs a chain with a green pendant in the shape of a heart. “Everyone has a green heart. We just need to use it a bit more”, Chris smiles.
A little later we are on our way to Casita Verde, the epicentre of Greenheart Ibiza. Along the route, Chris points to large clubs and hotels. “They are all closed now. From October to April this is not a party island at all. Instead, it’s the ideal time for eco-tourism.” Chris is working with the island council to create better paths and signposting for cyclists and hikers. He adds: “Tourists could stay with farmers on the island, even help them. Farmers are having a hard time, because all the food is being imported.” We pass neglected orchards, which add strength to his words.
The Little Green House
The last kilometres of the road to Casita Verde is narrow and steep. Chris cleverly manoeuvres through a few hairpin bends up to the highest hill. From the top we marvel at a green valley which flows into the azure blue sea. Here lies Casita Verde, Spanish for the ‘little green house’. Soon we learn what makes this place so special. Chris transformed a former pigsty among fruit and olive trees into a true paradise for ecotourism.
After a glass of aloe vera juice from the vegetable garden, the extensive tour of the estate begins. Chris explains that Casita Verde is not connected to the island’s electricity, water and sewage network. Solar panels supply all the necessary electricity and rainwater is collected in tanks. In eco-toilets visitors wash away their ‘donations’ with sawdust, so it can later be used as compost. Even the shower water is reused for watering the garden after papyrus plants have purified it. The whole place breathes nature and living in-sync with it. At the same time, it does not lack luxury. Chris has made off-grid living fashionable.
Scattered around the estate are buildings and tents made from natural and recycled materials. The ‘bottle house’, a house made from glass bottles and clay, stands next to Mongolian tents (yurts) made of wood, canvas and wool. A natural cavity was extended, decorated and turned into the ‘cave house’. Further up the hill is where we get to stay: the ‘carob tree house’. It is a hut built around a living carob tree. We feel very privileged: the cottages are for employees and visitors, not for tourists. That’s because Casita Verde is not an eco-resort. Instead it serves as community centre, information hotspot and meeting place in one.
At Casita Verde
Casita Verde valley
Homegrown aloe vera at Casita Verde
Casita Verde energy supply
Our carob-tree house
Casita Verde breakfast, with Cubanito and Alberto
Spreading the Green Vibe
Each week, Casita Verde brings people together to encourage sustainable behaviour. It’s done in a light-hearted way, as we witness on a Thursday evening. We mingle with the employees of Casita Verde and the sustainable community of Ibiza over dinner. For them, Casita Verde is like a pub, where new contacts are made and ideas for sustainable projects are developed. Within an hour we’re recruited for the next beach clean-up and invited for a brainstorming session about a sustainability festival. We swing the night away in the cave house, which has been transformed into the smallest disco on the island.
Sundays are “open house“. Everyone is welcome to join for lunch and learn more about the possibilities to live sustainably. Chris gives an extensive tour, showing visitors all sustainable aspects of Casita Verde. He also uses the opportunity to mention his other projects. “In Ibiza, waste recycling is still in its infancy, just like generating renewable energy”, explains Chris. “With our campaign Ibiza limpia – clean Ibiza – we encourage tourists and the government to tackle waste. And wouldn’t it be great if the entire island were powered by solar energy and the dirty smoke disappeared from the power plant?” The visitors nod in agreement.
Casita Verde Sunday lunch
Chris at the Bottle House
Local nutritious Carob
Local instead of Imported
Saturday is market day in the small town of Forada. Despite the drizzly weather, Estefania and Alberto man the Casita Verde booth with a smile. They explain that Chris is a co-initiator of this market, where local products are sold. The farmers could not compete with the cheap food that comes to the island by boat. Chris convinced them to bring their produce to the market. It attracts customers who prefer local, organic products of good quality.
It became a success. About twenty market vendors offer their homemade products. We stroll from stall to stall and are invited to try organic fruit and vegetables, artisanal bread, local honey and carob syrup. The market proves that the island offers a wide culinary selection and that its farmers can actually produce quite a lot themselves.
Casita Verde at the Saturday local & organic market
Lunch at the Saturday local & organic market
Over the course of two weeks we participate in all of Greenheart Ibiza’s initiatives. The staff makes us feel as part of the team. To return the favor, we invite them for a day of sailing. On a sunny Friday morning, Chris arrives with Giada and Cubanito. Even as guests, Chris and his crew can’t shed their natural hospitality. They bring quiche, fruit, local wine and aloe vera juice for lunch. What a feast!
After lunch we hoist the sails and head towards Es Vedra. This characteristic rock is just around the corner from our bay and absent any waves, it’s smooth sailing. Ivar hands the steering wheel over to Chris, who explains his most recent project to us: Ibiza Fenix. “Sustainability is composed of various elements, such as the environment, social structures and governance. Ibiza Fenix brings all elements together. We use the carob tree, evergreen with many branches, as a representation for this holistic approach,” he explains. We understand his integral approach: to achieve a truly sustainable society, we must address all aspects of life. It’s a colossal task, but if someone can achieve it on Ibiza, it’s Chris and his dedicated team.
The sun is already setting when we return to the bay. We’re sad to say goodbye to our new friends, but just like their mission, ours continues. We leave with our green hearts replenished, inspired by so many of Chris’s initiatives.
Ibiza Limpia in action: beach clean-up
Greenheart – Casita Verde crew onboard
Ibiza a party island? That’s only half the story. We discovered a place full of beautiful nature and residents who strive to make the island more sustainable. By making Ibiza more self-sufficient and cleaner, it will become even more attractive. Their efforts can lead to a new reputation for the island: that of a green pearl in the Mediterranean. If residents and tourists use their green hearts more often, we’re confident that it will soon become reality!