Leave No Footprint: A Journey To A Brighter Future


Having been fortunate enough to traverse some of the most sparsely populated and isolated regions on Earth, I’ve come to appreciate the sheer beauty that parts of our planet behold. When a rigorous voyage out into the open wilderness culminates in a pristine, undisturbed view of Nature at its finest, sometimes that image becomes embedded in your memory, imprinted, serving as an eternal reminder that you did something truly special. We call it a moment, a snapshot, a collector’s item to be cherished forever. The iconic setting of Machu Picchu in the Peruvian highlands instantly springs to mind here. As your ascent reaches completion, muscles sore, lungs fighting for that extra gasp of Oxygen, all of a sudden everything slows down. No longer are you battling fatigue and weariness, instead you are standing atop the mountain, endowed with breathtaking views of the natural landscape. Immediately the camera comes out and the elation kicks in. At some point, though, you step back and recall what it has taken to propel you from your living room sofa to the summit of a distant land. And this is it: THIS is the moment of realisation that you’ve achieved your goal.

 
 

The journey that guides us to these memorable encounters is what represents the challenge. This could be anything from an open water kayak against a stiff offshore wind to a short scurry up steep mountain scree; from a multi-day trek through soaring desert heat to meticulously navigating your way up a vertical cliff face. I can’t count the number of times I’ve thought of what I’d be doing in my ‘normal life’ whilst battling the elements in pursuit of a conquest. But being put in a position outside your comfort zone is exactly what makes completing the challenge so memorable: If it were not so difficult, would it ultimately be as satisfying? I suspect not.

Photographs comprise a collection of these moments, allowing us to reminisce on the adventures we’ve had. Cameras are important. They provide visual memories to look back on in 20 years time and show to our children. I recently took the time to sit down and scroll through some of my personal collection. Fond memories aside, I was actually disappointed to see litter (predominantly of the single-use plastic persuasion) in a number of pictures.

 
Kyrygzstan Litter.jpg
 

This is particularly shocking when considering these photos were taken in places like the mountains of Southern Kyrgyzstan, the jungles of Madagascar and the central Kalahari desert. Perhaps in City locations it would nowadays be expected, but it is deeply concerning to see the human impact even on places which have thus far resisted the spread of mass tourism. I have since made it a mission of mine to encourage responsible tourism, both in my personal and professional lives. Social media, as well as the soaring popularity of a few icons of our generation (David Attenborough, to name one such titan), has helped immeasurably to raise awareness of the issue. Collective responsibility, however, is easier to conceptualise than to realise: The burden lies with Us as individuals to start placing morality above convenience, and to be that change we need to see in the World.

On this topic, my own principles are strongly aligned with the company values. Part of my excitement in joining Choose a Challenge was that it already identifies as a ethical and sustainable organisation. As well as encouraging responsible trekking, the company is a member of the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) and accredited by the Air Travel Organisers' Licence (ATOL) scheme, providing our participants with financial protection. Furthermore, Choose a Challenge has now taken its first steps to becoming a Zero Carbon company. Having listened to the growing concerns voiced over environmental protection and climate change, views shared by the vast majority of our student travellers, we have decided that now is the time to act.

Most of the company’s carbon emissions are produced by its international flights. As such, every overseas participant from 2020 will be given the opportunity to offset the carbon dioxide emitted as a result of their challenge flights. This actively involves both the participant and the company in promoting trip sustainability.

 
In addition, we are exploring the feasibility of incorporating a ' Leave no Footprint ' day into all student overseas treks from 2021, where participants get the opportunity to spend a day on environmental activities like tree planting and litter clearance. Trees are the lungs of the Earth: Not only do they help mitigate climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide from the air, but they have huge benefits in combating desertification and land degradation, particularly in arid countries. Trees also increase biodiversity while providing food, shelter, fuel, medicine, materials and protection of the water supply.

In addition, we are exploring the feasibility of incorporating a 'Leave no Footprint' day into all student overseas treks from 2021, where participants get the opportunity to spend a day on environmental activities like tree planting and litter clearance. Trees are the lungs of the Earth: Not only do they help mitigate climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide from the air, but they have huge benefits in combating desertification and land degradation, particularly in arid countries. Trees also increase biodiversity while providing food, shelter, fuel, medicine, materials and protection of the water supply.

 

The journey for Us has already begun, and if all goes to plan, Choose a Challenge will be entirely carbon neutral by 2021. In testament to our ambition, take into account the UK has recently pledged to achieve the Committee on Climate Change’s goal of cutting all greenhouse gas emissions (the so-called ‘net zero’) by 2050.

This brings me back to how we as individuals can contribute to the philosophy of ‘going green’ and protecting our natural environment. By simply partaking in an overseas trek with Choose a Challenge, you are already contributing to local communities. We only ever use local guides at each of our destinations, which makes the trip more authentic for you. Our guides, porters and support staff are all paid a fair wage, and many are affiliated with local community projects. Last year we also took the Travellers Against Plastic (TAP) pledge to further our ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ mantra. Sometimes it is not always possible to avoid the use of plastic bottles, especially when taking into account the nature of our trips. All we ask from our participants is that they respect the company ethos and value the journey: This means disposing rubbish responsibly, recycling reusable materials and not interfering with the local flora and fauna, but above all keeping these wonderful sites litter-free so that those who follow us can share the experience. As a species, we now face the harsh realisation of the damage our actions and activities have caused to the planet since the 1930s, but it is not too late! If each of us can accept responsibility for reducing our individual carbon footprint then collectively we will begin to reverse the trend. Our journey to a brighter, cleaner, and more sustainable future starts here, now, with you…

Stephen CooperComment