5 Principles of Sustainable Adventure

I recently wrote a piece for the amazing and inspiring adventurer, Alastair Humphreys, on how we can all ensure that our post-lockdown adventures are sustainable. In case you missed it, I've re-posted it here too:



5 principles of sustainable adventure


Deep into the second month of lockdown, we may be missing the world outside, but it’s not reciprocated. It seems churlish to mention with the news so bleak, but the signs of nature recovering are clear to see: louder birdsong, greater numbers of much needed insects, more flowers along our roads and paths, and even clearer air over cities visible from space


Some will be reminded of how the environment used to be. I was winter climbing in Scotland recently and we talked a lot about how the mountains have changed over the years with snowlines retreating and ever more storms stopping play. One mountaineer even had to relearn her winter skills because the snow she learnt on was so different to what settles now that she no longer felt safe.


It’s easy to think that the mountains we love will be there forever, but they’re already changing. We must act now if we’re to preserve our planet.


Here are my five principles for sustainable adventures that I try to abide by nowadays and I hope they help you as you look to your post-lockdown adventures:


Make the most of the journey


The biggest impact of our adventure is often how we get there and back.

Flying is the obvious target. My last big trip was to Nepal, where my flights alone emitted about seven times more greenhouse gases than the average Nepali does in a whole year. If I’d have chosen to take public transport to the Alps instead, I could have gone there and back twenty-three times for the equivalent emissions.


Public transport or car-sharing are better options, but still not negligible. You can also offset your emissions with organisations like Gold Standard for as little as £8 per tonne, but we need to reduce our consumption in the first place.


For many, there are local alternatives for getting out and about. For example, London is well served by organisations like Via Outdoors. We are a social enterprise that connects people to the great outdoors and protects the planet. A weekend trip with us from London to Snowdonia is only £50, including round-robin transport every morning and evening. Our trips cost less and pollute less than trains, buses or cars, plus we offset all our emissions and donate half our profits to environmental causes.


There is another way too. For many big trips, the journey is the adventure. My cycle from Canterbury to Rome, with an InterRail back, was far more memorable than the breaks in Italy I flew for. From rowing oceans to walking across countries, do you really need to fly?


Take the road less travelled


The myriad ecosystems supporting our environment are equally fascinating and fragile. We must be careful not to overpopulate and exploit the wild places we love so much. There are too many routes scarred by erosion, litter, congestion and a lack of nature.


Fortunately, the definition of adventure is in taking the path less travelled. For those of you familiar with Snowdonia, I’m sure you’ll agree that you can have a much greater adventure on some of the quieter, lesser summits than Snowdon on a busy bank holiday!


And the same applies across the world just as much as it does on your doorstep, which I first realised in the Himalaya. The Everest Base Camp trek was stunning and stole my heart, but the well-trodden paths jammed with people and yaks weren’t a real adventure, not compared to the tranquillity that of neighbouring valleys with nothing but the glacial wind for company.



Microadventure, even on grand adventures


The beauty of microadventures is that they are everywhere and, well, adventurous. They bring “the challenge, the fun, the escapism, the learning experiences and the excitement” of further flung adventures because you’re forced to notice the small things. In the suburbs, I probably have to concentrate harder to hear the calls of wild birds than I did when condors were swooping overhead while trekking in Peru, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t bring a smile to my face.


It’s well documented that slowing down and taking notice of the little things is good for us, but it also helps the planet. It may sound a bit wishy-washy, but recent research shows that noticing and admiring nature is strongly linked to people taking conservation action.

So when you’re out on our next adventures, whatever that might be, take the time to engage every sense and appreciate the outdoors. When did you last feel, smell or even taste wild nature?


Enjoy a shopping adventure


As an environmentalist, I have a confession: I used to sell outdoor kit. I prided myself on how many customers walked away with the latest gadget and personally ‘invested’ most of my savings through my staff discount. At the time it didn’t strike me as odd that I was selling a Gore-Tex Pro jacket to a man just walking his dog on Wandsworth Common, when just a year earlier I’d been trekking and wild camping in Iceland with something a tenth of the price. Or suggesting the top-of-the-range Osprey expedition rucksack for a daughter’s DofE Bronze expedition, while I was assessing those same expeditions using a hand-me-down Karrimor bag that had served me well as a Cub some 20 years earlier.


So little of this new kit was necessary, and all of it came with a cost that put people off the outdoors and damaged the planet. An average fleece requires more than a litre of oil to make and releases up to 250,000 micro plastic fibres every time its washed. The toxins that waterproof clothes are now found in our air, water and soil. Each cotton t-shirt requires an estimated 2,500L of water. To top it all off, about three quarters of clothing is just chucked away and sits in landfill for centuries, and the same is true for our accessories.


But again, there is another way. Here are four questions to ask next time you reach for your credit card:


  1. Do you really need it? Don’t get me wrong, I like shiny gear as much as the next person, but when most of our famous first ascents were made by someone wearing slacks and a jumper, do you really need “e3D Ergonomic 3-Dimensional patterning for enhanced comfort and mobility”? You could save that money and have more adventures!

  2. Could you buy it second hand? People are having little adventures by buying only from charity shops for their next trip, for example.

  3. When you do need to buy new, are you looking for sustainable products? Eco-friendly (or at least less eco-unfriendly) products are becoming more mainstream, like Vaude’s biodegradable fleece or the carbon-neutral Patagonia.

  4. What are you doing with it when you’re finished? Most of my kit is now held together by patches and gaffa tape, and I kind of like it – it saves money, reduces my footprint and I pretend that it makes me look more grizzled and experienced! We can repair most wounds ourselves, and there are companies to help where we can’t. If something really has come to the end of its life, what else could you use it for? I took a big whip on a sling a couple of years ago, so it holds up my hammock in the garden. I’ve also passed on things to friends who had different needs so my Himalayan tent has now helped a friend out at a music festival. Reduce, reuse and, finally, recycle where you can.

Go bigger


I all too often take for granted the natural world and our national parks, and thanks to the work of many excellent organisations, they will hopefully be there for generations to come. The likes of the BMC, Ramblers Association and the National Trust are working to restore our natural environment, reduce our footprint and encourage people to reconnect with nature.

Their success is vital if we want to enjoy adventures for generations to come, and they need our support. From following their guidance and volunteering to build paths, to signing petitions and voting for those who match our values, there’s a lot we can do that will have an impact beyond ourselves.


***


We are at a turning point. Scientists estimate that we have just 10 years before we irreversibly damage the environment that we so depend on. As people who love to journey away from the impact of humanity, I believe that we have a duty to do what we can to protect what we love. These are complicated issues, so I hope these guiding principles help you to at least ask the right questions about your post-lockdown adventures, just as they help me.


A final ask: please talk to your friends about this and comment to tell me what I’ve forgotten or gotten wrong. We all have choices, we all have an impact and we all need to grow this conversation until everyone’s involved.

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