Leonie Sherman
Latest posts by Leonie Sherman (see all)

Six tips to green your outdoor adventures

I became vegan in 1991 and chose not to own a car until 2010. I hitch-hiked, caught rides, hopped freight trains, rode a bike and sailed, but I didn’t get a driver license until I was 38, when my adventure lust surpassed my carbon guilt. I’ve been climbing, canyoneering, skiing and  backpacking out of a 2004 Honda Element for the past decade.
I still struggle with carbon guilt, but I’ve realized that the goal of reducing my carbon impact is only reached when I stop breathing. So now instead of focusing on how to reduce my carbon footprint, I focus on how to make my adventures more sustainable. It’s a lot more fun.

The pursuit of sustainability involves meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Quite simply, we’re trying to find a way for human civilization to coexist with and maybe even enhance the earth’s biosphere.

On the one hand, that ship has sailed; the sixth mass extinction is well under way and human-caused climate change poses an existential threat to our species’ survival. But the consequences and magnitude of our past mistakes are not an excuse for inaction or apathy. Striving on behalf of all life, against terrible odds, is pretty much the basis of every Hollywood action flick. We all love a good challenge!

The bad news is that behaving responsibly may involve changing our habits and actions. Change is hard. The good news is those changes bring us joy and a deep connection to life. Change is fun.

Our efforts to increase the sustainability of outdoor adventures may not change the overall trajectory of life on earth, but they will definitely change the overall trajectory of our lives. Adapting sustainable habits isn’t just good for the planet, it’s good for us. 

Hopefully, we are all on board with reducing plastic consumption,  refilling our water bottles and recycling.  Here are five tips for taking your sustainability to the next level.

1) Don’t Just Get Out, Stay Out

Extend your adventure to reduce your transit time. When you spend less time driving, you have more fun!

Instead of a weekend of two long day-rides, make a bikepacking adventure out of it. Don’t buy a season pass to a ski resort, earn your turns and escape the crowds by climbing up what you ski down. Or invest in some gear and try ski touring.

The more time you spend in wild places under your own power, the healthier your body, mind and spirit will become. Calculate the amount of time it takes to get to a place and the amount of time you’ll spend enjoying it and figure out what ratio you can live with.

2) Food Glorious Food

You’re eating while you’re out there playing. Eat like your life depends on it!

Move towards a plant-based diet; emissions from plant-based foods are 10-50 times less than from animal products. Enjoy local food as much as possible. Peruse farmers markets. Learn the wild edible plants of your local ecosystem and how to prepare them. Reduce packaging by purchasing in bulk. Consider investing in a dehydrator, so you can bring local food with you when you travel.

Healthy sustainable eating habits make us feel better, both in our bodies and about our impact on the world. 

3) Think Globally, Recreate Locally

When we stay close to home, we deepen our understanding, connection and allegiance to the specific part of the planet that sustains us.  Find a way to pursue outdoor adventure without getting in a car.

If you do need to drive to get to a trailhead, cram as many people into the car as you can. Almost any car can fit four folks and their bikes or gear. Connecting with others who enjoy the same activities builds community and trust.

Relating with each other is the bare minimum amount of cooperation required if we are going to tackle climate change and the sixth mass extinction.

4) Environmental Sustainability = Economic Sustainability

Sometimes, a place is so magnificent, an adventure so epic, that we decide to  travel great distances in pursuit of a soul-affirming, life-changing experience. 

When you succumb to the siren call of petroleum-based travel, patronize local establishments. Resist the convenience of the big box store. Searching out local shops may cost a little more and take more time, but it also enriches your experience and allows your money to directly benefit the community you’re visiting. 

Buy from companies with a history of supporting environmental causes. In 1985, Patagonia began donating 1% of their gross sales to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment. Since then, they’ve donated over $140 million in cash and donations to various groups and causes. In 2002, they helped found the non-profit 1% For the Planet to encourage others to do the same. 

5) Give Back

If there’s a place you love to bike or hike or ski or play, chances are it needs your help. How can we give back to the places that give us so much?

Doing volunteer work has brought me to raucous camp-outs in Big Sur and remote lake basins in the High Sierra. I’ve occupied old growth trees and conducted biological surveys a hundred feet up in the forest canopy. Working outside, with like-minded people, whether you’re picking up trash or yanking invasive plants, feels great. We become more connected to others, to place, and to ourselves.

When we set out to benefit the planet and others through our actions, we inevitably end up benefiting ourselves. 

6) Keep It Fun

 Nobody wants to hear about how their dietary choices are killing the planet, but most people can enjoy a tasty vegan treat. Practicing sustainability means we create a culture where it’s cool to harvest wild foods, carpool, and volunteer for our favorite environmental groups.  

Argentina-born Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara said “Let me say, at the risk of seeming ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.” Pursuing sustainability is like taking care of someone you love when they’re suffering. We are born into this world hard-wired to love and nurture the place that sustains us.

Read more articles by Leonie Sherman here.