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MONACŒCOART® One-to-One Interviews: Enrico Toja, President of Elafonisos ECO at 2024 Monaco Ocean Week.

Updated: May 20

Enrico Toja, President of Elafonisos ECO: When ecology marks the social and economic evolution of a whole Greek island.

 

BIOGRAPHY


Enrico Toja started at an early stage a solid international career after having successfully completed his economic studies at the University of Turin, his hometown. He stayed two years in the  

United States within the McCormick Group. Then, he spent almost twenty years at the Danone Group (Italy, France and Mexico) always holding positions of high responsibility. He is multilingual, being fluent in Italian, English, French, Spanish as well as a good knowledge of German, Greek and Portuguese.


In 1989, he joined the renowned Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Consumer Group as the Managing Director of the Italian Branch of the American multinational. Later, he played the role of Vice-President of J&J Consumer International, being in charge of trade relations with special regard to Customer Development in Europe and worldwide.

He was proactively involved with the Consumer Goods Forum, a global parity-based association, gathering most of the leading consumer goods retailers and manufacturers. In particular, he was appointed to develop common positions on key strategic and practical issues about the consumer goods industry.


Photos : 1.Portrait of Enrico Toja welcomed by H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco at Monaco Blue Initiative; 2. Enrico Toja with Dr Nathalie Hilmi, Section Head of Environmental Economics at Centre Scientifique de Monaco; 3. Official Logo of Elafonisos ECO © Elafonisos ECO


Strongly fond of Greece, he takes on the position of President of the Eco-Sustainable Development Association of Elafonisos ECO which aims at encouraging the Sustainable Development of the island while solving some environmental key issues, notably: the Lionfish threat, the survival of sea turtles , the protection of cedar trees and the promotion of the archaeological sites of Pavlopetri. In September 2023, Enrico Toja was acknowledged a prestigious honorary recognition for his visionary sustainable commitment on Greek territory: “Les Grands Philhellènes”. The tribute was given at the Yacht Club de Monaco by Sophia Vaharis Tsouvelekakis, President of the Hellenic Association of Monaco, and Petros Machas, Honorary Consul General of Greece in Monaco.

 

MONACŒCOART® had the pleasure to collect his feedback within a one-to-one exclusive interview in which Enrico Toja spoke about the Elafonisos ECO project and its future developments, in partnership with Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation and the Centre Scientifique de Monaco.


 

🎙INTERVIEW

 

MONACŒCOART®: Elafonisos ECO is a pioneering social project, what or who inspired you to build up this innovative initiative, the first of this kind to involve a Greek island?

 

Enrico Toja: I have always liked Greece where I used to spend holidays there with my family. During one of my visits, about fifty years ago, by chance I discovered Elafonisos island in the South Peloponnesus which immediately stroke me for its natural beauty. At that time, it took twenty-six hours from Athens to reach it for lack of roads, while today it takes only four road hours.

For me it was like ‘to come back to nature’ because there were no electric plants or motor-vehicles since there were not infrastructures. You could enjoy an almost uncontaminated Mediterranean biodiversity. After some time, necessary to accomplish the bureaucracy, in 1999 I bought an ecological house. The main economic activity of the island was fishing or alternatively there was the possibility to sail as a ship’s boy on board of vessels belonging to Greek owners. The social conditions were very old and not inclusive, besides not considering any type of mass tourism.

 

The situation is completely changed in a few decades. We moved from the ‘Middle Ages’ to internet in only fifty years. During summertime seven thousand tourists landed every day on the island of 20 square km large. Of the one hundred thousand tourists per year, 95 thousand come from the 10th of July to the 20th of August and 5 thousand the rest of the year, considerably increasing the average population (about 300 families). This unsustainable distribution has produced and keep on producing relevant impacts on the ecosystem of the island. 

Ten years ago, I decided to create an ecological association whose objective is to sensitize people about the importance to preserve the marine environment through concrete actions to promote a sustainable tourism. The general approval of this initiative gradually extended up to one hundred and eighty members, after the creation of a reputation giving good results both at the Italian community and international level. All this fills me with pride even though it is demanding because we need a constant engagement and time in order to convey environmental messages to transform the society. 

 

Photos >> The fishing and shipping tradition have a long legacy in Elafonisos island © Elafonisos ECO

 

MONACŒCOART®: What are the key actions you carry out? What are your targets and the approaches you use to achieve them?


Enrico Toja: The action is developed on various levels. For instance, we have activated a digital system (QR code) linked to each visitor making it a statistically valid tool. From the observations carried out, 45% of tourists stay on the island overnight. It is a kind of transit tourism but not less impacting. Elafonisos, in fact, is only 12 minutes from the mainland, easily connected with the ferryboat.

Unfortunately, the increasing number of four-wheel vehicles is considerable since the majority of Greek people are used to go to the seaside by car as far as the shores, avoiding walking paths.

We have recently set the target to promote an easing of mobility providing parking areas and the introduction of electric shuttles to reach the seaside resorts. 

In partnership with the municipality, we are making action to raise awareness of a sustainable waste management which until some time ago was burnt in the open air without any measure to prevent the consequences due to polluting emissions in the air. To join the objectives, we have a group of volunteers who help us to minimise structural costs.


Photo >> H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco attending 2023 Elafonisos Eco Week © Elafonisos ECO


MONACŒCOART®: What is your relationship with the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation? Do you share common projects?


Enrico Toja: We have greatly appreciated H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco during the 2023 edition of the Elafonisos Eco Week. His interest for our project has represented a meaningful step in its evolution.

For six years, we have been organizing an ecological symposium that have already hosted characters with different professional backgrounds, from eco committed artists to bio architecture experts and active associations for the waste reduction, like Zero Waste Greece, environmental NGO founded in 1990, for the nature protection and sustainable use of three sources: water, energy and waste.

Taking inspiration from the Monaco Ocean Week, we decided to create an event as long as a week involving the main authorities: from the Mayor to the Lakonia Province until the Peloponnesus Region and the Greek Government.

The Eco-Art section was then born, addressed to artists who recover materials to transform them in a creative manner, and also the Eco-Gastronomy to link Chef’s activities to the ecological values.

Thus, we took advantage from other Greek insular realities like Tilos, the first 100% sustainable island in Greece.

And Astypalaia that activated theSmart and Sustainable Island” project centred on the spread of electrical mobility following an agreement with a well-known German car factory.

We therefore could plan a Summit of Sustainable Development (SOSD1) that reunited at a unique table nine mayors of the Greek islands to debate over the future of sustainability in the Greek insular reality. In such a contest, all participants signed a charter of intent at the presence of the Prince of Monaco who guaranteed the commitment.

Our objective is now to achieve the involvement of fifteen or twenty municipalities in this agreement, among the most advanced from the environmental point of view, like Trikala that invested in the use of bicycle and the electric public transport, becoming then an example of best practice on the whole Greek territory.

 

With the sponsorships of Princess Charlene we would like to activate a couple of special purifiers that allow the purification of the harbour waters from the pollution of plastics, already active in the mooring area of Port Hercules.

Equipped with a DPOL® floating waste pump, the devices are able to generate a strong current aimed at sucking waste (e.g.: plastics and hydrocarbons) and store it in a net, like a powerful vacuum cleaner. An effective tool to combat ocean pollution.

Alongside the Foundations, Nature 2000, the main ecological network of the European Union focused on the biodiversity preservation, and Green Fund, legal entity of public right controlled by the Greek Ministry of Environment and Energy, stay by our side to support the cause.

 


Photo >> The Lionfish fishing to contain its invasive population and the Lionfish been introduced to H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco during His visit in Elafonisos © Elafonisos ECO

 

MONACŒCOART®: Everyone can contribute to make the difference. Could you mention one or two leading examples taken from Elafonisos ECO?

 

Enrico Toja: Of course! One of the concrete actions that I really care about is definitely the Lionfish implementation as leading ingredient in restaurant menus. Due to increase in sea temperature, the southern part of the Mediterranean Basin is affected by the proliferation of this invasive alien species from the Red Sea which is particularly aggressive without being threatened by large predators in our latitudes (the number of sharks is small in the Mediterranean). Elafonisos is effectively the breeding territory of the Lionfish, together with Crete, Cyprus and other Greek islands. And soon Italy, France, Monaco and Spain will experience the same invasion. To control its diffusion, it is therefore necessary to make it known the edibility of this fish species. Despite the poison contained in its stings, the fish is absolutely edible and tasty as we will showcase during the incoming Monaco Ocean Week with help of starred chefs. Stéphane Basset, journalist and documentary filmmaker, author of Les voyageurs solidaires (The Solidary Travels), television production for USHUAÏA TV, has recently visited Elafonisos shooting a meaningful 55-minute documentary film. After its broadcasting dissemination through TV5 Monde, the number of French tourists has incredibly increased.

 

Another concrete action to influence on daily habits was named Elafonisos: Plastic-Bag Free in partnership with BeMed Project promoted by the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation. The main mission was to stop the exaggerated use of plastic bags in grocery shops. A set of customised cotton shoppers and foldable bags bearing ecological messages has been distributed to all members of Elafonisos’ local community, to foster the reuse and reduce the production of plastic waste.

 

Photo >> Peaceful coexistence between human community and natural ecosystem © Elafonisos ECO

 

MONACŒCOART®: Have you noticed a change in personal behaviours and local business since you started the project in 2013? Did you carry out any specific statistics study or research? If so, could you please describe it briefly?


Enrico Toja: We realized that training is fundamental for both adults and new generations in order to support the ecological transition, also through the spread of actions of Green Marketing with the aim of extending zero-plastic policies in local restaurants. At the same time, we are creating a network for the distribution of drinking water, both for domestic and tourist use, through water kiosks bypassing the use of plastic bottles that impact the island ecosystem significantly. Elafonisos imports about one million plastic bottles per year. This initiative is possible thanks to the presence on the island territory of natural sources that need to be filtered to make it drinkable for human use. The expected result is to make this distribution extremely cheaper than buying plastic packaged bottles, contributing to save up to 650 euros per family per year. The final goal will therefore be to transform mass tourism into responsible tourism aimed at preserving the ecosystem of the island.

Thanks to our data collection system via QR code, Elafonisos is one of the few Greek islands to be monitored by live statistics that evaluate relevant data like levels of appreciation for local infrastructure and initiatives, the age groups of visitors, their likes and dislikes and the average length of stay. The tool will soon be applied in other tourist locations in the Greek Archipelago.


Photo >> The stunning natural beauty of Elafonisos island © Elafonisos ECO

   

MONACŒCOART®: What lesson can we draw from the Elafonisos ECO ‘case study’?


Enrico Toja: Our experience shows that Natural Resources can become long-lasting economic drivers, if properly managed. All that we succeeded we got thanks to concrete custom actions built to meet the needs of the territory. The fight against waste production, the plastic-free campaign, the extension of green areas in respect of native flora (indigenous species of cedar) and the launch of e-mobility are important steps we achieved with the involvement of all communities, stakeholders and decision makers directed involved in the cause.


Photo >> The extraordinary biodiversity of the Elafonisos island between marine and terrestrial species

© Elafonisos ECO


MONACŒCOART®: What are your plans for the near future?


Enrico Toja: From the 10th to the 16th June 2024, we will organize the new edition of the Elafonisos Eco Week which will be a new significant opportunity to exchange ideas with the involvement of the Sovereign Prince through streaming connection. In the meantime, we are now in contact with the Princesse Charlene of Monaco Foundation to carry out projects addressed to new generations in the field of learning safe swimming at sea and in inland waterways. We hope that Princess Charlene of Monaco can visit us next October in order to consolidate the collaboration.

With the support of Her Foundation, we are also considering the possibility of organizing in Elafonisos a special edition of the Water Bike Challenge, the iconic sports competition on board water-bike in which the Princess and some sports champions have participated for some years.

Last but not least, we are developing a partnership with COCO-MAT, a company specialised in the creation of mattresses entirely made of natural materials. The idea is to promote eco-friendly bicycles with a wooden chassis to encourage soft mobility throughout the island. ***

 

To learn more about Elafonisos ECO project please visit: ELAFONISOS ECO PROJECT

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By Maurice Abbati

Journalist; Editor; Communication, Media and Public Relations Specialist

Lecturer and Author in English language of Technical Articles and the Manual: "Communicating the Environment to Save the Planet, a Journey into Eco-Communication" by Springer International Publishing.







Cover page of PhD manual by Maurice Abbati


 

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