The Isle of Wight, One Small Step for Sustainability

The Isle of Wight is an island about three miles off the southern coast of England.  The 236 square mile island boasts a population of just over 140,000 people.  Rich in history, dotted with a wide variety of natural, rural and urban landscapes, and home to numerous important habitats and species, the Isle of Wight relies on tourism as the backbone of its economy.  However, not all is well in paradise.  Aside from the business of tourism, the Isle of Wight’s largely rural population works primarily in the service industry, and compared to the rest of Southeast England, the island is relatively unproductive, with low wages, meager skill levels, and poor educational development.  Moreover, the Island faces salient environmental challenges, owed to the fact that its ecological footprint is three times larger than what it can sustain.  However, while the Isle of Wight appears to be in trouble, its future beams brightly due to a new environmental project hoping to launch the island to the forefront of sustainability.

On November 15th, the Eco Island project was launched and promises to transform the Isle of Wight into the herald of a more environmentally friendly future, by forging an active community, and making the Island energy-independent by 2020.  Run by a partnership of leading organizations on the Island known as the Island Strategic Partnership (consisting of such entities as the Isle of Wight Council, and the Government Office for the South East), Eco Island has four themes: thriving island, healthy and supportive island, safe and well-kept island, and inspiring island.  Each theme has numerous goals including producing as much energy as possible from renewable sources, ensuring that children achieve better than the national average in primary school up to college, reducing obesity levels, and improving the aesthetic appeal of an Island known as a tourism hotspot.

Eco Island’s strategy goes beyond mere themes however.  The project managers also plan to install solar panels on roofs (the Isle of Wight is one of the sunniest places in the United Kingdom), insulate houses better, and make efficient use of geothermal, wind, and tidal energy.  The project also includes generating power from waste materials.  Residents of the Island will enjoy the convenience of a system of electric vehicles for hire.  This vision of self-sufficiency goes so far as to include a supply system of locally grown foods, and a plan to capture more rainwater for local use (the Island pumps in approximately one-third of its fresh water from the mainland).

While this is a warm and inviting vision, a plan of this magnitude does not come to fruition on will alone.  Luckily, for Eco Island, it won’t have to, as numerous national and international companies have joined in the effort.  IBM is on board, as well as ITM Power (a manufacturer of electrolysis systems that generate hydrogen from water) and Toshiba, which will be lending its Smart Grid technology to the Island to properly distribute the amounts of power generated from the renewable energy sources being utilized.  In total, $300 million in private funding has already been secured with more to come.

Eco Island promises to be a momentous step in the right direction for both the use and development of sustainable technologies.  The Isle of Wight provides companies with a natural boundary within which newer green technologies can be implemented, and later can act as a hub from which these innovations can be exported to other places.  Furthermore, this project will be a boon to the Island’s community which as the appropriately named chief executive David Green believes is now capable of “[taking] its destiny back into its own hands.”  Hopefully, in time, every corner of the world will be able to do the same.

For more information on this issue:

Green and Pleasant Island, The Isle of Wight Wants to Become Self-sufficient in energy, The Economist (Nov. 19, 2011),

Julian Milnes, Isle of Wight Aims for Energy Exports by 2020, H&V News (Nov. 17, 2011),

David Manners, Toshiba, EcoIsland target Isle of Wight for Sustainability, Electronics Weekly (Nov. 14, 2011)

Eco Island,

Written by: Mike Clore, GIELR Staff

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