BK230_000

Patagonia’s environmental biography so far

James and Miriam, members of my team, read Patagonia’s story recently, ‘The Responsible Company: What We’ve Learned From Patagonia’s First 40 Years‘, and passed it on to me. I was keen to read the book, knowing a little about Patagonia’s environmental ethos already, but mostly interested by the challenging facts and angles that James had begun to recount to me. (They also make some nice kit, but that’s beside the point!)

 

The back cover immediately summed it up for me:

 

Yvon and Vincent aren’t here to bum you out about a planet turning to desert, or to shame you into anything. They affirm that the ingenuity and hard work required to clean up our offices and industries will be the most rewarding (and profitable) work we do.

 

I felt relieved that the scope of the book was real, tangible and affirming and began the story, eager to draw upon and utilise the experience of others.

 

However, having progressed into the meat of the book, I opened my RSS reader this morning and read with interest a post from Trek the Andes: ‘Responsible Peru treks – fact or fiction?‘. The article challenged me in turn, as Patagonia’s story had been doing so far. I couldn’t help but feel a check in my spirit with regard to our operations in the High Atlas of Morocco. I quote the fourth paragraph:

 

Responsible tourism is a broad spectrum and often a contradictory one. Flying several thousand miles to trek on the other side of the world that is bad; you damage the ozone. But I provide work for porters and guides is that not good? Buying bottles of water from the ladies along the Inca Trail that is bad, you should be refilling your water bottles and cutting down on plastics. But I am providing these Andean people with income, am I not good?

 

We as a company expect that our clients will fly into Marrakech, typically from the UK, in order to start the process of traveling to Imlil and then begin the trek to the Toubkal area. Aircraft produce a huge amount of CO2, which contributes to the process of global warming, causing a whole number of problems for the environment. And yet we as The Mountain People care deeply about the environment in which we live and operate. How do we reconcile the two?

 

Moreover, Trek the Andes rightly points out that responsible tourism claims are made by all and sundry these days, likening them to background noise:

 

Click on any trek operator’s website or leaf through the pages of any travel company’s brochure and responsible travel will leap out at you. Well they would like it to but it has suffered something of the same fate as car alarms. Once you hear the same noise so many times you no longer hear it. Some companies clearly do practice responsible tourism but for other trekking agencies it appears to be no more than a marketing tool. When everyone proclaims it, who do we choose who we believe?

 

When I say we care deeply about the environment, do you really believe me? What makes our claim any different from the myriad other ones? I have even pointed out where our claim fails before a potential client even steps foot in Morocco.

 

The trouble with tourism, let alone anything in the world, is that in order to engage with it, we will inevitably cause waste and damage. And yet there is something profound in the human spirit that seeks adventure, to push physical and mental boundaries, to find wilderness and ultimately attain a deeper sense of being alive, especially coming from an increasingly desk-bound, office-orientated culture with its ensuing checks and barriers.

 

The challenge then is to be true to ourselves without doing so at the expense of the environment. The natural world has a certain resilience and the capacity to regenerate, but would be much the better for our full cooperation in reducing our footprint.

 

At this point we don’t have all, let alone many, of the answers. The biggest two issues though seem clear: airplane travel from the UK to Morocco is polluting; getting heavy and bulky climbing and mountaineering equipment to Morocco. So, this then remains essentially a memorandum of understanding amongst The Mountain People. We see the contradictions, we see the damage, but we want to overcome it in a healthy way and with ingenuity. The solution is not to do nothing or go nowhere. To do so would deny something within us all, but to paraphrase Trek the Andes:

 

To stay at home and not trek the Atlas; that is not the answer. Come and visit this beautiful place, come and trek these magnificent hills and come and meet its people.

Categories: Blog, Personal, Responsibility, Simon
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