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A few years ago, I attended the ICORE conference in Salt Lake City where I heard a presenter describe the dramatic increase in usage of wilderness areas in the U.S. as "Industrial Strength" recreation. At the time, there was an interesting debate about the role of outdoor programs utilizing 'pristine" wilderness areas to the point where we might be loving certain areas to death. As permit systems become more prevalent, and the number of programs and individuals wishing to recreate in classic backcountry environments continues to increase, this ought to be a continuing concern for all of us involved in the outdoor education field.
But, this is small potatoes compared to the next version of industrial strength recreation. How are we going to respond to the challenge of climate change? The field of outdoor education has been curiously quiet on this issue from my perspective. While we worry about getting permits and "access" to wild areas and "leaving no trace" while we visit these places, we seem to be a bit behind on the "traces" we leave from simply running our programs. After all, what is the point of operating an outdoor program if we can't model care for our planet at the most basic level? Perhaps it's time we all move beyond LNT in the backcountry to sustainability in the frontcountry as an equally important environmental ethic.
Toward that end, I offer a few suggestions to "green" your program and I invite others to post a comment below with other suggestions or additional comments and queries.
1. Carbon credits. Yes, I know, we cannot buy our way to a greener conscience but building carbon off-sets into your program budgets is a simple but effective way to show that you are aware of the environmental impacts of your travel and that you are attempting to mitigate them. According to Mother Jones (May/June 2007), the following carbon off-set companies rate "excellent"- Atmosfair (atmosfair.de) and Climate Friendly (climatefriendly.com).
2. Green gear lists. We hand out gear and clothing lists to our clients, why not offer specific "green" suggestions? These might be everything from Patagonia's recyclable underwear, to vegan boot options, to a simple wool sweater you can get at a hand-me-down store.
3. Go local. Do you really have to travel 500 miles to paddle that one river or climb at that one spot? Remember, a lot of our participants are beginners who do not really know the difference between a world famous river or rock climbing area and a perfectly serviceable local/regional area. Are there other opportunities to draw in participants to more local opportunities? How about birding with an ornithologist from your college or university? Or, a trip to a local organic farm that can give students hands-on experience with some element of a working farm. If we are to really get to a different code of conduct toward our planet, it will start by balancing the glorification of "wilderness" with the importance of the "everyday nature" around us.
4. Green your business practices. Buy organic cotton t-shirts, use recycled paper and other products. Look for ways to minimize waste (one organization I know locally has found a company that sells compostable forks, spoons, knives, and plates!).
5. Take another look at your organizational mission statement. Does it accurately reflect your environmental and educational goals? Do you need to enhance your environmental/sustainability stance within your mission? Do your participants leave your program with a sense of an environmental ethic that can carry beyond the initial experience? How might you amplify that?
Outdoor education is well positioned to be a part of bringing our society around to a fundamentally different relationship with the natural world. Here's hoping that, five years from now, we aren't still just talking about it.
Jay, I can't agree with you more. I have worked as an environmental educator, an outdoor education leader and as an adventure education facilitator. For me, it was natural to combine my skills to "green up" the groups I was facilitating and facilitate the groups I was teaching environmental education. Many facilitators I have worked with were not green themselves; so incorporating these qualities was difficult. They had to learn first, then try to implement them.
As for greening an organization, that needs to be made a priority by the management and not just a nice thing to do if they can fit it in somewhere. It is wonderful to see there are others out there with a similar outlook.
"Do your participants leave your program with a sense of an environmental ethic that can carry beyond the initial experience?"
Hit me hard. HARD.
I am guilty. I love the environment, follow leave no trace practices, organize clean up drives. But Do my participants leave your program with a sense of an environmental ethic that can carry beyond the initial experience? NO. My introduction to the program usually has a few words I say about it. But do I stress it? No.
And here I go around acting holier than thou about people who follow unsafe practices, litter and don't appreciate the outdoors, but the simple fact remains that I don't go that extra mile to get that concern established in the minds of my participants who are so willing to listen to all I have to say.
My website above doesn't do anything about it either to do that, beyond a few ancient blog entries.
Thank you for making me aware of this.
This is about to change ASAP. My website will have a prominent section about the environment, and every programme that follows as well.
As Aldo Leopold once remarked,
"Perhaps the most serious obstacle impeding the evolution of a land ethic is the fact that our educational and economic system is headed away from, rather than toward, an intense consciousness of the land."
I would encourage those who are interested in moving this discussion forward to join AORE's Environmental Stewardship Committee. Please contact me if you would like to assist.
AORE Environmental Stewardship Chair
check out nortland college website outdoor ed dept. my classmates and i put together a model that was presented in sandiego last month. the model is "titled"
As Susatainable as possible. LNT hummm!
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