Sustainability is a Reality in Spain

Updated: Jun 11

✦ It's one thing to champion sustainability in speech. It's quite another thing to put it into practice and make it a reality. And Spain is a country that is setting an example in how to make sustainability achievable and manageable.

Experiencing sustainability in Spain

Spain and Sustainability? Hmm... most associate Spain with tourism, sunny beaches, partying and generally a feeling of happiness and fun pervading the country. There is a serious side to the country, where they are quietly implementing measures to make Sustainability a key characteristic of the country.

It helped that on my Spanish tour I met up with our Brilliant Team's Content Writer, Yanntyng, who has been calling Spain home for the past 16 years. Clearly that would be enough time to disqualify her as a tourist. She shared what her experience has been like with regards to Spain and its sustainability style.

Climate change is all too real in Spain. There is a water shortage and each summer is getting hotter than the last. If you live in the south of Spain, the heat can be a worrying health hazard for the more vulnerable in the population. And while it may be relaxing to take a bath, the Spanish understand the problem with water scarcity and taking a shower is a much more efficient option for many. Of course, it is far more fun and relaxing to go to a natural and huge bath that is the sea in summer!

An example of Barcelona's eco-friendly building - sustainable buildings in Spain as featured on Brilliant-Online
An example of Barcelona's eco-friendly buildings


Spain may not have their own Greta Thunberg pushing for a change, but as a people, the Spanish are very environmentally-conscious. For Yanntyng, separating rubbish was a new habit she learnt to adopt. In most households she has lived in, families would have a bin for plastic, glass, cardboard/paper, and one bin for what she calls 'whatever-is-left'. Nowadays families would also have another bin for organic waste. It is typical to see people taking each individual bag of rubbish down to the huge recycling bins that are conveniently located in many streets or to each building's individual bins. So yes, you do need to have enough space in your kitchen to have so many different bins, and it takes effort to do that, but once it becomes a habit you do not really think about it. It becomes second nature.

Separating rubbish for recycling

Some people may be skeptical about what happens to the rubbish when the trucks trundle by to pick them up. There are urban myths about how everything gets thrown into the same landfill anyway, and the more cynical among the population do not believe it is worth the effort separating rubbish. Yanntyng has been teaching English in Spain throughout her time there, and having met people from different industries, sectors and companies, it has given her a chance to get to know the country even better. Some of her students are from Ecovidrio, which is the non-profit entity responsible for managing the recycling of all glass packaging waste in Spain. This gave her an opportunity to learn about how the glass recycling system works, and it is a huge motivator to continue her efforts to separate the rubbish at home! Perhaps the key is to listen to people in various sectors involved in sustainability to better understand the work they do, and how every individual effort can make a difference. It certainly does colour how Yanntyng views glass nowadays, and she tries to opt for a glass option when shopping for olive oil or other foodstuff.

Spain also has what is known as 'puntos limpios', some of which are really just a small truck or van that is parked by the street and where you can bring certain products that cannot go into the normal waste bins. These include batteries, contaminants, paint, electrical goods such as cables, plugs, devices and even used cooking oil. Citizens can check online where their nearest punto limpio is and the schedule and bring their rubbish there to be safely disposed of.

ESG in Spain

Madrid is infamous for its traffic jams, and as a big city, it is a challenge finding ways to reduce pollution. Since January 2019, only zero-emission vehicles (electrical and ECO vehicles e.g. hybrids and PLG) are allowed in the centre of Madrid. Having said that, Madrid is a very walkable city and Yanntyng pretty much relies on her own two legs to get her to most places. One of the benefits of remote working for her is she no longer has to tunnel underground or zip around on buses rushing through the day. Home is certainly a very comfortable and environmentally-friendly place to be in in that sense!

Apart from concerns with the environment, Spain is also going strong in other areas of sustainability and ESG. The country has introduced gender equality plans involving equal pay between men and women and gender pay transparency in 2021. Companies with 100 or more employees are required to negotiate an equality plan by 7 March 2021, while companies with 50 or more employees must negotiate an equality plan by 7 Mar 2022. Those that already have an equality plan must ensure its compliance with the new decree by 14 January 2022.

Reusable shopping bag - Sustainable living as featured in Brilliant-Online
Sustainable living

Big companies across Spain are all plugged in to the whole ESG landscape now, and while small businesses and corner shops may not be able to do the same, they are still doing their best to make a difference. And this may be something as small and simple as charging for plastic bags and customers are also very much in the habit of doing their groceries with their own trolleys or shopping bags from home.

There is a lot of support and solidarity in Spain when it comes to caring for the environment and Yanntyng believes it is something that can be nurtured and inspired. The people you surround yourself with is also important - if they align with healthy values, it is easy to get on track and adopt healthy habits. She lives with a Spanish lady, Malala who designs and makes her own jewellery, and Malala's black cat. Living sustainably is actually fun and quite an adventure because they share ideas of what they can do to make that tiny change in the future of the planet.

Some of their sustainability experiments / adventures include: