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Made on Ibiza: Chris Dews, ecologist

We catch up with the founder of Casita Verde, Ibiza’s leading eco-centre.

In a year where climate change and sustainable living and indeed travel have been high on the news agenda, we republish our 2017 interview with Chris Dews, founder of Casita Verde.

This eco project has developed over a number of years from being a small Ibizan farmholding into what is now an educational centre showcasing sustainable living, offering workshops, courses and volunteer opportunities.


What are you first memories of arriving on Ibiza and how has it changed over the years?

"I arrived on Ibiza in 1985 on an 18-30 holiday flight from Manchester. I spent the first few years partying and finding my way around the island. Well, doesn't everyone when they first come here?

I organised many parties on the beach but when the party was over we left the beaches clean and garbage-free.

"I spent the first few years partying and finding my way around the island. Well, doesn't everyone when they first come here?"

Having spent 13 years in the Merchant Navy and travelling many times around the world, I have seen first hand the damage that we are doing to the environment. Even back then I knew the importance of respecting our natural resources.

The biggest change I've noticed is that the island has got busier. There are twice as many people living here and the number of tourists has more than doubled, leading to more rubbish to be dealt with. so we have a constant battle to preserve our beautiful surroundings.

After my first few years here I was really worried about the effect of increased tourism and the problems with rubbish and environmental damage so in 1989 I set up the Ibiza Friends of the Earth Group."


How did Casita Verde come about?

"I convinced the owner of a tiny farmhouse to let me live there. It had no facilities at all, no running water, no toilet, no electricity, nothing.

That was back in 1991. Since then, I started to develop the land and buildings using recycled materials and sustainable techniques.

"Since 1996 we have had around 900 volunteers from all walks of life; doctors, pharmacists, permaculture experts, musicians and many more."

Originally the project was small, but since 1996 we have been working with volunteers to create buildings from recycled materials such as bottles and aluminium cans, plus we've installed solar energy systems and intelligent drinking water suplies, sourced from rain water, a student education programme and of course our famous eco-toilets, which make compost.

We produce syrups and marinades from the carob trees that were being left abandoned all over the island, plus juices and beauty products from our Aloe Vera plantations.

Since 1996 we have had around 900 volunteers from all walks of life; doctors, pharmacists, permaculture experts, musicians and many more. People of different nationalities and diverse cultures united by their care for preserving the world's resources."


Why is it important for Ibiza to have projects like this?

"If we can get it right here, the world will take notice. Word will spread. People are already listening. We have had documentaries filmed here and we are featured in books and magazines on a regular basis.

We have been here for more than 25 years so nobody can call it a flash in the pan. The problem is we are still presented as alternative and we need to change mindsets so that we become mainstream."


How do the weekly Sunday tours and networking events benefit Casita Verde?

"They get the word out about what we are achieving. Through the private tours and delicious, healthy lunches, made from our own produce, we get more and more people excited about what we are doing. The NGO that runs the Centre, Ibiza Ecologic, now has 13,000 members. We don't need to advertise; the momentum is there."


You have lots of projects on the go. Which one are you most excited about?

"The Ibiza Fènix project we are presently evolving is huge. It brings together everything I care about under one roof and has the potential to transform Ibiza.

We want to restore and improve the Ibiza countryside in a sustainable way. It will be volunteer-led and will promote educational eco-tourism on the Island.

"We want to restore and improve the Ibiza countryside in a sustainable way."

It will connect the island through walking and cycling routes inviting travellers to get involved in cultural and educational activities in return for working on projects that will make Ibiza a better place for everyone.

The overarching project is the 'Fènix Tree', which has fifteen branches including waste management, ecological construction, ecological agriculture, alternative transport and more. Whatever your interest or expertise there is an opportunity to get involved."


What is your greatest achievement so far?

"Well, I am still here! I am really grateful to the government and the owner of the land for letting me do what I have done so far and we're not finished yet. I am not thinking about putting my feet up. I'm still on the runway with the engines running and waiting for orders to take off.

"I am still here!...I am not thinking about putting my feet up."

I want to use the knowledge that I have accumulated over the last 30 years and get everyone involved. We have to do this. It's urgent and the time is perfect."


How have you changed as a person during this journey?

"I have been able to learn how to do what I came to do. I have gained all this knowledge and been able to apply it for positive change.

I have achieved credibility for what I know is right and now I am lucky enough to have a massive following. This success gives me more and more energy to carry on with my mission."


What are your plans for the future?

"The Ibiza Fènix project will continue to develop our work here on Ibiza. The Government is engaged in what we are doing too. They want to see Ibiza develop a tourism model which is good for the long term future of the island and we can help with that. I call it 'Synergy into Action'. The opportunity is now!"


First published February 2017

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