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Towards a Zero Footprint Environmental Responsibility for BPL
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Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Towards a Zero Footprint Environmental Responsibility for BPL on 02/01/2006 18:04:37 MST Print View

The keynote on environmental sustainability at Outdoor Retailer spawned some great discussions from our staff while we were there.

The challenge for any company, big or small, is to work towards the ideal of a zero footprint in the context of environmental sustainability. Achieving the ideal of course is philosophically and practically impossible (that's why it's called an ideal). Further, the fact that BPL is a small organization that cannot hope to make a statistically significant difference upon the environment in the context of what is being done by other companies does not preclude us from making responsible decisions because it's the right thing for a business to do.

The purpose of this forum is to grab some ideas from our reader base:

What practical measures can we (BPL) be doing as a company to decrease our environmental footprint?

Be thinking about some of the following in this context:

1. Maximizing the availability of electronic vs. print information.

2. Minimizing the amount of brand advertising we do in print publications.

3. Printing the magazine on lesser-quality unbleached recycled paper.

4. Minimal brand packaging for products (bulk goods).

I'm sure there are others, and I'm welcome to hear from you about them.

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Paper vs. Plastic on 02/02/2006 00:36:39 MST Print View

Perhaps someone more knowledgeable can help out here.

I read years ago when plastic bags were first becoming popular at the Supermarkets for hauling groceries home, that the manufacture of a plastic bag (at that time NOT made from recycled plastic) actually produces more environmental pollutants than the manufacture of a paper bag (they're unbleached). That was years ago.

Now, with recycled plastic, what's the story? Does the recycling of a plastic bag produce more pollutants than manufacturing an unbleached paper bag. What are CD/DVDs made from - recycled plastic? How does a single disk compare to a BPL print magazine in pollutants produced?

I thought a main driving factor for recycled plastics was land fill related - i.e., running out of space out here in the East in more populated areas. Some of our landfills, unaffectionally dubbed "Mt. Gar-bage" are getting rather high. Thought we might try to truck our trash out west to Bozeman, but they wouldn't take it.

Unbleached paper is a good way to go when paper needs to be used - might add an "outdoorsie" touch to the mag. IIRC, "bleaching" paper produces Dioxin or related compounds - very carcinogenic/teratogenic; just ask the "Love Canal" residents - up to 33% cancer rates nearest the canal and other health problems too. Obviously, whenever possible recycled plastics are preferred over non-recycled.

Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: Paper vs. Plastic on 02/02/2006 06:02:55 MST Print View

I have worked for very large companies in both the paper and plastic industries, and have seen various studies about which is more "environmentally favorable." However, that last phrase can be interpreted in many ways...and I don't just mean that it can be spun by the industrial community, but also by individuals. Take for example the argument over windmills.

Here are a few links to a study and a commentary, which probably do a better job of outlining some of the issues and weighting factors than I could.

The three keys at each step of the process are:
- Reduction
- Re-use
- Recycle

Ray Anderson and Ryan raise good points. Don't delude yourself thinking that that Pertex windshirt, carbon fiber reinforced hiking poles, or Ti stake specially coated with day-glo orange don't generate pollutants. These are short production run products that typically have high levels of waste associated with them. They also use highly technical manufacturing processes, which likely use special solvents and generate hazardous by-products.

How many of us have multiple tents, tarps, or hammocks due to our drive for lighter gear or just because we're gear heads?

We can discuss paper vs. plastic (and I think it's a worthwhile discussion), but does anyone think that the savings that we gain over the next 1-5 years from that particular optimization will offset the waste generated from the $200 BMW Bivy Sack that I just ordered? Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't.

As a disclaimer...I suspect that there are many people out there that are much better examples than I am in terms of environmental friendliness.


Adam McFarren
(amcfarre) - F
Driving Change on 02/02/2006 08:29:24 MST Print View

"We don't just report industry trends. We drive them."

Quote from BackpackingLight's About Us page.

BPL may be a small company whose possible environmentally-friendly changes would be small compared to the larger outdoor companies, they can have an outsize effect on the industry by helping to educate us.

We're the consumers who are already spending time to research the goods we're buying, help us to factor in the environmental costs in our decisions.

Maybe a series of articles on how companies, stove fuels, insulation,
fabrics, etc rank in terms of environmental impact.

What techniques help us reduce our impact?

A green version of the Lightitude awards?

A section editor position responsible for environmental impact articles and reviews?

Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
Re: Towards a Zero Footprint Environmental Responsibility for BPL on 02/02/2006 13:08:55 MST Print View

Ryan et al,

I do think these are important questions from the standpoint of assuring congruity throughout BPL’s operations. That said, it’s also important to not get sidetracked on navel-gazing exercises that can get in the way of building something great.

Let me expand (expound). For BPL/ BMW to have a positive impact, it must be successful and grow. A lot. Somewhere over the horizon is a size at which we can have a measurable impact, as opposed to a symbolic one. Yvonne Chouinard could and would be ignored were Patagonia not a large, successful and profitable enterprise. They wouldn’t be able to help create and drive markets for organic cotton, fleece from recycled materials, etc. They demonstrate to others that it’s possible to run a business guided in equal measure by ethics and love of what they’re doing while producing top-notch product, and to bring others along with them on their journey. Still, he openly admits they continue to have a negative environmental impact and always will.

I think the most important task facing BPL is to grow, and to eventually bring the backpacking hobby and industry along with us. To that end we need to continue diversifying in a helpful manner and to strengthen the hobby. I can’t imagine doing this without both an online and print presence. Continuing to identify and fill gaps in the equipment marketplace is likewise important. It’s of course important to do these tasks in an intelligent and ethical manner, but it’s simply not possible to have zero environmental impact.

IMHO the greatest positive impact any of us can have is to bring new folks into backpacking—light, heavy or otherwise. Give yourself double points if you can convert an ORV’er!

james schardt
(jamie_s) - F
product retirement on 02/08/2006 18:29:52 MST Print View

If you are producing material that comes from petroleum, by definition you can't replace it. Most of the materials in UL camping are made from oil, there doesn't seem to be a way around that. But what happens to all the silnylon etc. material that is going to wear out in 2-5 years? What is the best way to dispose of it? The innovative carpet company had product disposal as one of it's first steps -- which is worth considering.

Mike Clelland
(mikeclelland) - MLife

Locale: The Tetons (via Idaho)
Towards a Zero Footprint on 04/21/2006 09:12:14 MDT Print View

Ultra Light hiking is pretty equipment compared to some hobbies. Just think of golf, or snow-machines. There are tons more resources used up in plenty of other things.

Yes - all of the things Ryan lists above are great. All of us need to do the simple things and the really big things. Beyond BPL, all of us should try to walk more lightly on the planet.

But, beyond that - the act of going into the mountains can be a place of spiritual transformation.

I know this sounds all high-and-mighty, but I really feel that it's true. Going away from this busy and crazy lifestyle, and walking in the woods can help create a clarity thats missing in a lot of us. Can we find a sense of dedication to difficult issues that are more globally beneficial.

What happens when we come out of the forest, and back to our daily lives?

THis is where we can really make a difference.


Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: Towards a Zero Footprint Environmental Responsibility for BPL on 04/22/2006 18:10:42 MDT Print View

One thought comes to mind. Per bpl website:

"Backpacking Light is a quarterly print magazine for the lightweight enthusiast that offers completely different editorial content than that of the subscription Website."

Ryan, why is that? Why not make everything available online (feel free to tier online subscriptions). For those who insist on hardcopy, charge them more to reflect the additional cost of paper, printing, and shipping.

Douglas Frick
(Otter) - MLife

Locale: Wyoming
Re: Re: Towards a Zero Footprint Environmental Responsibility for BPL on 04/22/2006 20:18:51 MDT Print View

> (feel free to tier online subscriptions).

Maybe they should just increase the on-line subscription price to $40.

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: Towards a Zero Footprint Environmental Responsibility for BPL on 04/22/2006 21:49:28 MDT Print View

If we honestly and with dedication believe that there must be zero impact on the environment then it behooves all of us to be brutally honest with ourselves.

Zero impact means stepping lightly and living in concert with the land wherever we go, not just when we go out into the wilderness. It means completely giving up any semblance of a throw-away, consumer society. It means gear that is made from local, naturally regrown, naturally degradable materials. It means giving up this irresponsible tendency to buy a new piece of gear whenever the fancy strikes us, gear which is more often than not made of materials which wear out after a season or two and nonchalantly relegated to the dustbin. I am very guilty of this, as I'm sure many of you also are; I have more accumulation of outdoor gear now, after getting started with UL, than I ever did with my traditional gear. The desire to go ever lighter, constantly disposing of "outdated" gear is causing a lot of moral dilemma for me now. I believe "light is right" in our homes, too, but I also believe that caring, for many years and with a sense of reverence, for individual gear is important, too. This nutty hunger for every new-fangled piece of nano-gear, with never one mention of the complete nonnecessity of buying or making yet more new gear.

Let's not fool ourselves into thinking that just because our campsites look undisturbed that we have now paid our dues and left no impact. As others have mentioned earlier, petroleum-based products in themselves contribute to the problem.

And while I understand, appreciate, and applaud the concern for not cutting down more trees, it is a mistake to think that electronic media has no impact on the environment. The chemicals, toxins, heavy metals, plastics, energy consumption, radiation, electric emmissions, and impact on the landfills made by the huge computer business has an enormous impact on the natural world. Adopting "out of sight, out of mind" attitude certainly is one of the biggest problems in protecting the environment.

The solution? That's difficult, because the equipment we use helps us walk in a more responsible way and allows us to go where we normally might not be able to go. Probably the best thing we can learn is a deep knowledge of bushcraft and go with as few needs as possible.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Towards a Zero Footprint on 04/26/2006 12:47:16 MDT Print View

"This nutty hunger for every new-fangled piece of nano-gear, with never one mention of the complete nonnecessity of buying or making yet more new gear."

Henry David Thoreau saw this coming in the 1840's! We're strange little monkeys. You know how to tell if a site was inhabited by humans? The garbage-- lots and lots of garbage.

I've been a late adopter for many years-- buying used items cast off by those who must have the latest thing and they shed their old toys cheap too. Heheh-- I got a Palm IIIxe PDA this weekend for $5. It is recycling in its best form and creates a nice little unter-economy too. Check your local Craig's List or Ebay -- and that is just the tip of the iceberg.

The materials we use and the methods to develop and manufacture them are something we need to reckon with. We can put our heads in the sand and it won't go away-- the wind and rain will bring it to you no matter how far out in the woods you go. A recent study of air quality on the west coast of the US found pollutants from Asian manufacturing blowing our way. We can move our nastier manufacturing methods offshore to avoid the EPA regulations and we'll still get the fallout. Serves us right.

After all these years, we're still just getting into an awareness stage and it will take a lot more effort to get to a place where we can live with some sort of reason-- if we make it in time.

Jordan Hurder
(jordanhurder) - F

Locale: Southern California
Highlight socially responsible products on 05/06/2006 20:03:17 MDT Print View

A couple people have mentioned this, and it is something I would strongly support. I look for companies that make up-front statements about their manufacturing processes, and I try to support them, although always staying on top of who's doing what can be difficult. That's why, in a big group comparison test of, let's say, backpacks, throwing in a caveat that such and such a pack is made in a mass factory in China while another one is made in some guy's garage over in Utah might help to direct attention to the more socially responsible product. Where it becomes socially responsible on BPL's part is that it demands that you reconsider the scientific/quantitative approach you tend to use in your group tests. While a US-made backpack may have a lower capacity to weight ratio, the fact that it is made socially responsibly is an x-factor that can't be factored into that pack's overall rating. So does it betray the UL community to recommend a heavier pack simply because it is made in a factory that pollutes less? Let's hope not. There are parties in the industry that are committed to reducing impact: Patagonia is the obvious example, but other companies take smaller steps (like Big Agnes marketing DAC poles with an eco-friendly anodizing treatment) to lessen their environmental impact, and it is these types of steps that should be noted in product reviews and discussions. That way, not only is your actual product (such as a printed magazine) reducing its ecological impact, but your product is directing people toward gear that does as well. And that's the kind of thing that could start a trend in the industry... just like pushing them to make the gear UL in the first place.

Drew Baldock
(baldockd) - F
MEC on 05/07/2006 14:44:27 MDT Print View

Take a look at Mountain Equipment Co-Op (MEC). They have quite a bit of detail on their website about their sustainability policies here: (

MEC is Canadian and strives to manufacture a good potion of its own brand in Canada, but if it can't, it has specific requirements for outsourcing to other manufacturers. In addition, for every item on their website it will clearly state where the product was made - I assume this is what you mean by highlighting.

Phil Simcich
(kb9wfq) - F
Can't be innovative AND zero-impact on 07/03/2006 00:19:38 MDT Print View

Haven't posted to this website since I was in Iraq, but this topic caught my attention.

In the first place, I'm no one's idea of an ultralighter--far from it. I need to throw that out so that what follows makes some sense ("consider the source").

So much for that.

Better writers than I already pointed out that "zero-impact" in reality means "deferred-impact." Kudos for them and they're right. I question the premise that ultralight backpacking can even be seen as "environmentally friendly" compared to other schools of thought. I simply don't believe it can, nor should it try to.

The mantra of "reduce/re-use/recycle," which in my Depression-era grandma's time was "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without," applies in my case to backpacking. Most of my gear is, by comparison with yours, ridiculously heavy. It's also made out of a lot of canvas, leather, wool, good steel or brass, and will likely outlast my child's camping career. Much of it is surplus, which means that while there still is an environmental impact from its production, it's diluted over more users. Being surplus, it will last a very long time, and therefore its impact gets diluted further.

The non-surplus stuff--SVEA stove, moosehide mukluks, wool shirts and the like, tend to technology from about a hundred years ago. It's always been my belief that if old-timers could manage, take a look at how they did it and see if the new stuff is truly better (in the case of Thermarests, the answer is of course "yes"). It should come as no surprise that my favorite camping book is CAMPING AND WOODCRAFT by Kephart.

Lastly, the stuff I own is made from lots of canvas/leather/wool, which are renewable. And metal is always recyclable.

This comes at a cost, and not only in weight. Older surplus gear lacks the innovation of newer products and newer philosophies of camping. This is where ultralight backpacking comes in.

Ultralight backpacking focuses more on researching, developing and improving lighter weight ways of doing the exact same thing I do. Research and development of ANYTHING is highly consumptive, period. No getting around it.

The question you as backpackers AND environmentalists have to ask yourself is, is the development of newer, lighter products worth the cost in non-renewable resources. If it is, great. Go forth and multiply, and aside from trying to avoid being flagrantly wasteful, don't give the matter a second thought.

If, however, you believe that environmental concerns outweigh the benefits of developing, manufacturing, transporting, marketing, selling and (ultimately) disposing of a newer lightweight gadget, the answer is likewise simple.

You don't do it.

We should all try to be good stewards of God's Creation, but to think that an industry based on research, development and innovation can pass itself off as "environmentally friendly" and be taken seriously is delusional.

Edited by kb9wfq on 07/03/2006 00:23:19 MDT.

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: Can't be innovative AND zero-impact on 07/03/2006 02:06:14 MDT Print View

Very good points Phil... and thanks for continuing what I thnk is one of the most important discussions in the whole outdoor field.

In spite of all the words we can spew out, if we really are concerned about the environment the answer to all of this is deceptively simple: stop consuming. Period. Zero impact means nothing affects the physical world around us. And by "consuming" I also mean the use of the natural world as a playground. But how many of us are willing to give something like this up, or are even aware that by simply getting out there our numbers are causing a huge impact?

It is like a little kid stomping around in his garden of favorite flowers that he grew from seeds. He stomps and stomps and stomps and has an awfully gleeful time doing it, and when his mother calls out the window telling him to stop or all his flowers will be gone, he just grins back and shouts, "I'm having such a wonderfu time! I CAN'T stop!" So he continues stomping away. Finally when he's too exhausted to stomp any more he stops and looks around. Devastation. All his flowers are smashed flat. And he looks up at his mother with a tearful face and whines, "But I was having such a good time." His mother frowns and closes the window. No sympathy there.

Patagonia and MEC and Toray and British Petroleum all talk big about the environment. But do they really want people to stop buying their goods? Yvon Chouinard was once quoted as saying, "Nobody needs all this stuff!" And that's the problem, we are sick with greed and vanity. We just don't want to admit it. That's the problem with greed and vanity.

Colleen Clemens
(tarbubble) - F

Locale: dirtville, CA
Re: Re: Can't be innovative AND zero-impact on 07/03/2006 07:35:48 MDT Print View

we, human beings, are animals. we are allowed to have an impact, just as other animals are allowed to have an impact. i think we have certainly overstepped the level of impact that *i* find acceptable, but to say that our stepping out into the world and enjoying it is tantamount to destroying a garden is a bit much (although if you're talking about ORV/OHV users i agree). woodpeckers fill trees with holes. carnivorous animals eat other animals. beavers chew down trees. deer create trails. many, many, many plants and animals went extinct before modern man came on the scene.

"impact" is not inherently evil. impacts like pollution, excessive consumption/depeltion of natural resources, wanton waste, non-biodegradable trash - those ARE inherently evil. let's not get so caught up in human loathing (or self-loathing) that we begin to lose perspective on the fact that we are animals with a right to be here as well.

Patagonia & their ilk exist BECAUSE people consume, yes. but do you think that if all eco-conscious companies stopped producing, then people would stop consuming? pardon me while i snort cynically. they're trying to give people a less destructive choice. i try to keep making the less destructive choices. i try to gently explain to my friends WHY i make the less destructive choices.

what can we do to help?

Edited by tarbubble on 07/03/2006 07:36:34 MDT.

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: Can't be innovative AND zero-impact on 07/03/2006 09:13:48 MDT Print View

Colleen, of course we are allowed to have an impact. And of course we have just as much right and purpose to live on the planet as any other creature. And life would be awfully boring and meaningless if we just sat on stools in our houses. And yes other creatures make no bones about making their impacts either. Your points are true and important to consider.

And a thousand years ago there were just not enough of us to make a dent in the world environment.

Today we are topping 6 billion. In the next 20 years our numbers are projected to rise to 10 billion. In forty years to 20 billion. The crux of the problem isn't our desire to have fun, but our sheer numbers coupled with our power to overrun everything with our technology.

The argument that companies like Patagonia are doing their best to give us a choice is all very nice, and it's better thannothing at all, but it overlooks the very heart of the consumer world: that we buy too many unneccessary things and unleash the consequences on the natural world. The argument assumes that there is nothing wrong with consuming unnecessary things.

What can we do to help? Stop buying unnecessary things. Live within the means of the planet. It's very simple, really.

Edited by butuki on 07/03/2006 09:14:48 MDT.

Phil Simcich
(kb9wfq) - F
I'm no absolutist on 07/03/2006 11:06:05 MDT Print View

Don't get me wrong. I'm not about to go out and say that the ultralight industry is wrong for developing new products. Quite the opposite in fact. And I'm certainly not declaring that my way of doing things is the only way. That's hubris.

I'm also not saying that there should be no development of new products. Humans are by nature innovators; we have been since we first learned to stand upright. To imply that this innovation is inherently destructive and therefore wrong is to imply that no new developments ought to take place. Remember that the inventive capacity that gave us strip mining and coal-fired steel mills also gave us solar/wind energy and hybrid cars.

I have no desire to live like a wooly caveman or ignorant savage. There are far too many of those in the third world already, and they in large measure account for the overpopulation of the planet in the first place (ancient traditions of huge families vs. lower infant mortality rates and better public health care). This is a bigger problem, however, than whether to buy a lighter-weight messkit.

All I'm saying is that it's impossible to be "zero-footprint" and develop new products at the same time. This is self-evident. All I'm asking for is intellectual honesty.

If you'd like to make a lighter-weight gizmo, but you're too squeamish about the poor trees and bunnies, then for God's sake, don't do it.

However, if you understand that your new invention, like all new inventions, comes at a cost; and after having weighed that cost against the benefit you believe the product brings to society, still think it's worth it, then by all means go for it with my blessing.

Just don't call it "earth-happy" or "eco-warm-fuzzy" or else you're a liar and a fraud.

Edited by kb9wfq on 07/03/2006 11:10:47 MDT.

Antonio Abad
(tonyabad) - F
RE: Commercial ecology mumbo-jumbo on 07/03/2006 12:21:08 MDT Print View

"All I'm saying is that it's impossible to be "zero-footprint" and develop new products at the same time. This is self-evident. All I'm asking for is intellectual honesty."

Woah. You're asking for intellectual honesty after having indulged in that ecological clap-trap about footprints? Enlighten me: what human activity qualifies as having a "zero footprint?" It's a friggin' strawman.

Invocations of sustainability and footprints are all well and good and can elicit all kinds of fuzzy, warm feelings among the Whole Foods and Patagonia-buying demographic, but they are ultimately contrived.

William Wright
Re: RE: Commercial ecology mumbo-jumbo on 07/03/2006 18:05:35 MDT Print View

I'm happy to see that the skunk has been tossed on the table and that there are many readers of this site who are not blinded or intimidated by PC nonsense. However, I think it's worthwhile to take a close look at what people are saying before criticizing. For example, Phil isn't pushing eco clap trap; I gathered he was making an argument for realism. And, note that Ryan's title for this thread is "Towards a Zero Footprint..."

I don't think Ryan ever expects to actually arrive at a zero footprint. He's simply doing what is popular in business these days--considering what can be done to minimize the environmental impacts of his business. As a customer, I hope he doesn't dwell on the subject too much as I'll derive little if any benefit from it, but there's nothing wrong with considering it.

Most critics of environmental impacts of lightweight backpacking seem to be comparing those impacts to those associated with doing nothing for recreation. True--doing anything has more impact than doing nothing, but that's not a fair or reasonable comparison. I think all who participate in non-powered outdoor recreation can take solace, if they so wish, in the relatively smaller impact they have over their powered counterparts, who I assume greatly outnumber us. For example, a typical backpacker undoubtedly impacts the environment far less than a typical off-road vehicle user. A typical canoeist has much less of an impact than a power boater.


Edited by FarStar on 07/03/2006 18:06:17 MDT.