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Our sustainability challenge...

Updated: Mar 21, 2023

I've been working on sustainability for Canoe Wales recently. I’m also involved in a committee on this for the Association of Mountaineers and another one for Mountain Training.

It’s interesting.

We start from a standpoint that the people who engage with the outdoors are more likely to be aware of sustainability as an issue and are more likely to have thought about it and might actually be changing some of the ways they work to be more sustainable.

I suspect that everyone reading this is completely aware of the issues that make living a sustainable life incredibly challenging. We know that industry, big business, government, and transport needs to change and that can be somewhat challenging when we start to talk about sustainability. I think the only way you can begin to rationalise sustainability and in particular sustainability on a personal level, is to try to move away from the ‘whataboutery’ of what everyone else is doing and start to look at things you can control. But first…

I listen to the news in the morning, our radio alarm is set to the Radio 4 Today programme, and every day the headlines are discouraging to say the least. This week I woke up to a story about the Prime Minister flying to California for a little more than a day to sign a document. Also this week at least one British football team flew to Spain for one night to play a football match. We continue to promote motor racing and the latest budget had no mention of sustainability, nature recovery or even the climate crisis we face.

So, yes it is difficult. Perhaps we need to look at it from a different angle. Perhaps we need to think a little bit more about the actual good that we do when we take people out. Of course there are costs but perhaps the gains outweigh the costs. We know that simply walking is so good in so many ways for everyone who does it. It doesn't really matter how far people walk or what sort of place they are walking in. We just know that spending time moving outdoors in nature is beneficial for people. It’s good for people to walk in the rain, to walk at night, even to walk up hills and most surprisingly to walk carrying a rucksack! There is an awful lot of scientific evidence to back up these statements. I strongly recommend picking up a copy of ‘52 Ways to Walk’ by Isabella Street. In Isabella's book, she lists, explains and sources strong references for 52 ways in which walking is beneficial to us.

So whether we are walking or climbing. Whether we are kayaking, mountain biking, sailing or caving we know our activity is beneficial. We know it's beneficial in terms of physical health and mental health, but what we also know is that unless people know about places, understand places and engage with places, they will never be able to care about places. Those places we talk of are the places you and I love. Those places are mountains and hills, woodlands and gorges, meadows and hedgerows. These are places of nature; these are places of habitat and these are places where wildlife resides. So rather than beating ourselves up about the drive to take people walking, climbing, paddling, biking, or whatever we do, sometimes we just need to stop and think about the benefits of that activity not only to the individual but to groups of individuals and hopefully society at large. The more we can engage people in nature the more people are likely to care for nature.

That all of course doesn't mean we can blindly ignore the relatively smaller minor changes that we can make. There's no denying that we are all too ready to jump into a motor vehicle. I believe that we should car share much more and it's something that I'm trying to promote in my workshops this year. I've clustered workshops into two, three or four day slots so people can stay here longer and more for their travelling carbon footprint. Hopefully you’ll stay over somewhere as well. Many of my workshops are located in places serviced by buses and timed to connect with those buses, but certainly not all of them.

I’ve considered contributing to organisations like 1% for the planet, but because of the scale of my operation, it is probably going to be easier to just continue to make regular donations to the Snowdonia Society. One of the ideas I had was to offer a reduction to people who arrived on public transport, but this just seemed unfair. I really want you to get here and for many of you that does involve an evening of travel after working on the day job.

But is trying to justify driving our diesel vans and cars and avoiding the bus just an excuse to justify a way of life? I'm actually coming to the conclusion that it is not. We can only do the best we can. We can make differences in our food choices and many of us do. Nobody buys bottled water to take in the outdoors, nobody goes into a supermarket or a multinational chain to buy their lunch on a daily basis. We do need to be better at car sharing. We should keep or vehicles for longer. The other side of the conversation is that parts of the country like Eryri do need visitors, we do need people to come here and contribute to the local economy. Many rural areas will be significantly worse off without the spending power of visitors.

So, please keep coming to Eryri. But do think about your planetary impact. You can do a carbon footprint exercise online. There are ways to get here on public transport, there are ways to use public transport when you are here , but the easiest and the most accessible way of reducing our carbon footprint is simply to share the cars that are already making the journey.

One of the elephants in the room is the kit we wear. The majority of our modern technical kit is made from oil. I have tried traditional materials. I have gone back to a woollen jumper on occasions, but a wool jumper is heavier, harder to wash, scruffier, more expensive and does not last as long as fleece. The truth is your fleece will probably last a lifetime. If you wash your waterproofs regularly, they will last longer too. Many of us complain about waterproofs and renew them frequently. Maybe getting wet isn’t such a bad thing, as long as you stay warm, so maybe it’s an easy price to pay. Certainly if you're out for the day getting wet is not the end of the world, we’ve all done it!. New footwear is needed from time to time as the soles wear. But if you buy leather footwear then surely that's better than synthetic footwear (notwithstanding vegan sensitivities). Some people swear by merino wool. I certainly always insist on socks that have a high proportion of merino wool in them. Many of you will be aware of my liking for Dachstein, shrunken wool, mitts as a last line of defence in terrible weather. There seems to me to be only one issue around the clothing we wear and I know that some of the manufacturers are well aware of this and that is fashion. Clearly economic growth is a central tenant to our government's philosophy. Fashion is a handy driver of economic growth because every year colours change, styles are tweaked and you are urged to buy the latest garment. I know this weighs heavily with individuals in the outdoor sector. I know they are trying to persuade people to buy better quality, to spend more, and in turn they accept it will make things last longer. That, I conclude, is one of the easiest ways you can be more sustainable. Reduce your carbon footprint by simply buying less kit and fewer clothes. Buy the best that you can possibly afford and make it last.

Sustainability comes with all sorts of moral implications. Sustainability has been turned into a guilt-trip for the individual. Sustainability will only be truly achieved when government, corporations and the international community are all on board. So, the best thing you can do is to take people walking, climbing , and paddling to introduce them to the specialness and uniqueness of the wonderful places in which we live and play. No one ever campaigned to save something they know nothing about. So yes, do your best to reduce your carbon footprint . Wear your gear for longer, keep your car or van for longer, try to combine journeys and stay for longer wherever you're travelling too. Simply driving slower, simply allow more time for the journey, but be in no doubt your role as Mountain Leaders or Outdoor Instructors is fundamental to the ideas of sustainability growing amongst a wider population.

What do you think?

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