What it Means to be Sustainable
I'd like to take a moment to discuss sustainability and what that means to those of us who participate in outdoor and adventure activities. Let's start by defining the word "sustainable". There are several contexts for the word yet relating to the topic at hand we can best define it as:
1. Capable of being supported or upheld
2 Pertaining to a system that maintains its own viability by using techniques that allow for continual reuse
3. Able to be maintained or kept going, as an action or process
With these definitions in mind, let's reflect on what that means to sustainable travel, tourism and use of our natural recreational areas. Currently, the topic of sustainability is all the rage. Industry, fashion, food and more will drop the "S" word to get people jazzed. However, you don't have to be producing biodegradable toilet paper or inventing the next source of renewable energy in order to be doing your part in creating a sustainable environment. In fact, it can be really quite simple. Leave nothing, take nothing. Or has my cheesy high school science teacher would say "leave only foot prints, take only pictures".
Yet, with the growth in outdoor recreation and the concern that the natural environment may be becoming overcrowded, even leaving foot prints is something to be careful of. When instructing at my non-profit youth Adventure Camp this summer, the students and I frequently discussed why it is important to show respect and etiquette in the environments we visit.
When I described packing out your "number two" from a mountain to a girl in Adventure Camp, she cringed and said "so you expect me to carry my poop? That doesn't seem hygienic" and I replied to her "It's plenty hygienic but possibly uncomfortable for some. However, your comfort is not more important than preserving the area you are visiting. If you determine you cannot act responsibly in the outdoors, than you should consider not visiting. It is a privilege to visit these beautiful places, not a right".
Even something which seems as harmless as leaving behind an apple core or fruit peel is something not acceptable. Did you know it take an apple core two months to decompose? Orange peels can take as long as six months! Now imagine if every hiker was to leave behind an apple core on the trail - it would be covered with cores and completely ruin the landscape and the beauty. Just because in item is considered decomposable, that does not mean you can treat the hike like your personal garbage can. You still need to pack it out and throw it away properly.
In summary, what we all must realize as adventurers and recreational explorers is that we are part of something much bigger. For every trail you walk, every waterfall you take a picture of, every camp site you star gaze at - someone has been there before you and it is important we preserve it so that others may come after you. Even if not for others, do it for the environment itself so that it may EXSIST after you. Overuse and maltreatment have altered and in some cases ruined natural environments. Let's all take a stand to educate ourselves in the environments we go to and do our part to simply clean up after ourselves and leave nothing behind. This includes garbage, food, waste and even toilet duties.