The Search for Sustainable Adventure
August 23, 2018
Words: Jamie Anderson
Jamie Anderson is a British adventurer and fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. His passion for the outdoors and the environment takes him all around the world in his work for an international environmental disaster response organization. In the past five years, his interest in sustainable adventure has grown to become as important as his desire to explore.
What sparked my imagination to try a little harder to be sustainable in my approach to travel and adventure? A large frozen fish. It was a pink-bellied Arctic char, which an Inuit hunter we had bumped into on the Arctic sea ice had pulled out from his skidoo for lunch and, bizarrely, it was a cause for re-assessment.
The fish, frozen so solid you could use it to play cricket or beat someone you didn’t like senseless, jarred against the plastic-wrapped expedition meals we dug from our sleds as we enjoyed our most social lunch break in weeks.
As our new friend, Jaipotte, shaved chunks from the fish, which glittered pink against the snow, he explained how he had caught it the week before. The contrast between the overall impact his lunch would have during his journey across the frozen sea compared to ours slowly dawned on me.
"So, what is being footprint-free? It’s taking a good look at all aspects of your trip and seeing how you can either remove or reduce the negative impact from it."
True, he was on a skidoo and we were hauling, so he was hardly footprint-free, however the way he approached living in this wildest of wild places, backed by generations of accumulated knowledge, was, in the long term, much more sustainable. And therefore, his journey was all the more impressive for it.
So, what is being footprint-free? It’s taking a good look at all aspects of your trip, be it a long or short one, and seeing how you can either remove or reduce the negative impact from it. It’s about trying to leave no traces on the places you are travelling to or on those you dream to one day see. It’s about challenging your assumptions and the accepted norms. Searching out and sharing new perspectives, new people, new gear and new experiences as part of a community. Most importantly, it’s about ensuring that the outdoors you appreciate and strive to explore is left unchanged, in both the immediate and distant future, by your visit.
It’s not always a straightforward journey and it certainly isn’t always the easiest path to navigate. Looking at the impact of every part of your trip can be time-consuming and tedious, but it can also be easier than you might think.
"One of the key ways we, as consumers, can make an immediate difference is in the brands we choose to endorse, travel with and buy."
The ingredients of your food, the materials in your equipment, your power sources and the solutions offered by new technologies. Think of the travel options for getting to the foot of the mountain, forest carpark or the edge of the icecap. When planning an expedition, I break everything into four categories: travel, food, equipment; and power. Then for each one, it’s about trying to make the environmental impact as low as possible or at the very least, lower than the last trip.
One of the key ways we, as consumers, can make an immediate difference is in the brands we choose to endorse, travel with and buy. The airline you use, your preferred food company, the equipment manufacturer you favor or the clothing brand you support. By making good choices, you will immediately begin to tread a little lighter.
What to Look For
Reliable and hard-wearing kit
Gear that can take a beating is going to last. And when stuff lasts it means you throw less away. The good stuff is often expensive but it’s usually worth it for the long-term impact on both your wallet and your footprints.
Traceability and transparency
How clear is the company about where their products come from, how they deliver their services and how their products are made? This is going to give you a really good insight into what changes or policies the brand has put its time and energy into rather than bland commitments to “environmental awareness”.
Use of sustainable or recycled materials
If it grew on something, from something or from somewhere then you are immediately winning. For our upcoming expeditions, we have been building wooden skis, choosing only sustainable clothing options, buying bamboo ski poles and finding ways of using recycled composites instead of plastics.
Does it feel like these guys give a damn or is it just a branding exercise? It doesn’t take much digging to work out which companies have been pursuing their own footprint-free programs for decades and those who are chasing the trend. Search for companies with nothing to hide and who put it all out there. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Companies are now more approachable than ever. Their honesty about the journey they have been on and the future problems they will face can help inform your decisions about their own commitment to the long term.
For all that searching for sustainable options has loads of benefits, there are a few difficulties that go with it. There will always be those unavoidable footprints. Want to get to Antarctica or into the back-and-beyond somewhere? You’re probably going to have to fly, which leads to having to offset those tracks.
"Search for companies with nothing to hide and who put it all out there. Don’t be afraid to ask questions."
You can buy carbon credits, but I prefer working with local and global charities to offset those sticky footprints that you can’t help but leave. We are partnered with the international NGO Renewable World, which independently audits us, helps calculate our impact and then offsets what we couldn’t ourselves. In the UK and beyond, there are some excellent charities such as Trees for Life and The Woodland Trust, that help businesses and communities to support reforestation and wider environmental protection. It’s an awesome reminder of a previous adventure, looking at a tree you planted on your return that has since sprouted.
The final argument will always be, why go in the first place?
The simple answer is, because I love being outdoors. For me, this search is not about limiting where you go or punishing those who embrace and cherish the natural world. It’s about using your hunger for the wilderness, your drive for adventure and the thrill of going to those hard-to-reach places to push you to consider your own footprints. If you don’t go in the first place, then you can’t prove that things can be done differently. Those of us who take pleasure from being in the outdoors know first-hand why these are the places that are worth taking the time to protect.
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