Building Sustainability into your Outdoor Program

Creating a more sustainable outdoor program is a goal for many of us. At Princeton University we began to look at our carbon footprint and overall environmental impact a year ago. Sustainability in outdoor programming is much larger than how we practice Leave No Trace in the outdoors. It strives to look at all of our practices as an organization, from what type of equipment we purchase: where it was made, how was it made - with what materials, who made it, how far did it have to travel to get to us, etc. Take this and expand it to the food you buy, methods of transportation and more and it becomes a huge project.

I want to share with you our experiences in building a sustainability curriculum into our wilderness orientation program for incoming freshmen. Since Princeton's Outdoor Action Frosh Trip Program is the largest single wilderness orientation program in the country (688 freshmen and 183 leaders on 83 different 6-day wilderness trips this fall) it offered us the unique opportunity to teach more than half of the incoming class about sustainability before they started schoo.

We were extremely lucky to be awarded a special grant from an office at Princeton that supports sustainabiltiy initiatives. With that grant we were able to hire two student sustainability interns for the summer to research our current practices to establish a baseline and to develop plans for reducing our overall footprint. What Collen Driscoll '11 and Emily Sung '11 discovered was that this research often leads to more questions than answers. We were given a great start on thinking about our program by Paul Van Horn at Northland College and his great research paper with his students - ASAP: As Sustainable As Possible. With the beginning research in place we were extremely lucky to be able to hire Jessica Kellett, an environmental educator from California as a consultant to develop a Sustainability Curriculum for our leaders to teach on the trail this year. Along with the curriculum, Jessica planned our first Sustainability Day of training for our leaders before the trips went out.

We are still working on assessing the results of this year's program and I'll be writing more about it in the coming weeks. We clearly had an impact on the attitudes of some students. Our trip leaders and their groups did a fantastic job of recycling and not just the traditional bottles and cans. During the trip they separated out all of their fruit and vegetable waste (onions, apple cores, orange peels, green peppers) which went into two 50 gallon drums and down to the community garden on campus. All other excess food waste (everything from leftover peanut butter in jars to uneaten cheese) went into nine 50 gallon drums which were sent off to a pig farmer (how Dining Services at Princeton currently disposes of its excess food waste). Bottles, jars and cans went into a recycling dumpster. Plastic bags for food packing were separated into clean and dirty with clean ones going to a local plastics recycling plant. Watching students unload all of this at the end of the trip as compared to just tossing everything in a dumpster demonstrated what a powerful effect sustainability curricula can have.

You can read the cover story "Training on trail may bring greener outlooks to campus" from the Princeton Weekly Bulletin and view the Online Video showing how students on trip G17 in the Delaware Water Gap commenting on what they learned about sustainable practices on their trip.

You can also download a PDF of the Outdoor Action Sustainability Guide for use in your program.