Katie has been an avid supporter of Green Camps for many years and we are excited to highlight her as the Member of the Month. We asked Katie to write an article to share her a little about herself and her take on the role sustainability can play the camp community.
Katie has been an educator, trainer, and camp professional since 1994, Katie builds Outstanding Teams at organizations across the country and she is a nationally & internationally known presenter. Organizations with whom Katie works clarify their needs, proactively address issues, create positive cultures, and support diverse perspectives. Life skills developed in her innovative leadership program give people a greater sense of confidence, ownership, and motivation in their work with co-workers & clients.
Katie, Thank you for your contributions to the Sustainable Camps Movement!
I’ll admit it. I’m one of those teenagers who built their own composter in the backyard and then harassed my family until they religiously used it for our fruit and veggie scraps, newspaper clippings, egg shells, and coffee grounds. I spent lunch breaks at speech and debate meets going around to all the trash cans and extracting the soda cans and recycling and putting them into the garbage bags I’d brought with me. And, as a good speech maker, taking advantage of every opportunity to share what people should be doing with their “trash”. I’m sure I was delightful company….
I’m honored to be part of the Green Camps project because camps and outdoor education programs are uniquely placed to make a significant positive impact on our world. I first started working in camping in 1993. My “home camp” at the time didn’t recycle, compost, or do any education around sustainability. However, it’s no coincidence that the Wilderness program (where we led trips in the Boundary Waters, on the newly created Superior Hiking Trail, and other locations in Northern MN) was a huge proponent of Leave No Trace camping. We learned, taught, and lived the LNT principles. And so my vision of camp as a vehicle for education and action began.
What followed was a series of jobs at a variety of camps. Each one that didn’t recycle found me advocating and creating separate places for recycling. We’d drop it off at the grocery store on our days off. I was famous as a Program Director for taking compost down the camp road at 10 pm (to the pile I’d built with one of the facilities staff). Fast forward several years to that camp having a dumpster filled with recycling and composting all their food (including dairy and meat) and taking it out with a tractor to the huge pile that they use to landscape camp.
Getting staff and campers to turn off the lights when they leave a space feels like a constant battle. And, yet, it’s one of the small but huge things they can do. Conserving energy is often about many people doing little things that collectively make a big difference. In my house, I use lots of natural light and fairy lights (year-round) and have CFL’s and LED’s when I need more light. Think about places where less is more. Maybe add a sign for a friendly reminder. Or, have youth do an energy audit and report. Students at school were shocked to find out how much electricity & money we were wasting when lights were left on. And, that made our reminders carry more weight. They got why it mattered.
My parents were “all in” when it came to saving money. It was a necessity when raising 6 kids. They also were open to new ideas and being more conscious of their impact on the future. Consider what message makes the most sense to your camp decision makers and frame your environmental needs that way. My house features native plants, porous surfaces (TrueGrid system featured below- it’s my driveway), and energy efficient appliances (“on demand” water heater and ductless heat pump). I am so lucky to have the chance to live what I believe.
Even if you can’t convert all of your camp systems to off-the-grid and closed loop energy systems, you can change the world. Just using your natural landscape to teach appreciation of nature is a start. Helping people conserve water and turn off lights creates habits they can take home with them. Reducing your imprint by recycling and composting is awesome, even when you have to make a trip to the recycling center with a pickup truck filled with materials. If you can’t, you can still reuse those #10 cans and plastic yogurt containers for art, programming, and other projects around camp.
I’m a firm believer in the ripple effect. When we think about worldwide issues, it’s overwhelming. It can cause feelings of panic and anxiety. When we think about taking responsibility for our own actions and setting an example, it feels manageable. When we think the number of people we impact on a daily or weekly basis, it’s significant. If we influence people in our sphere and then they take those ideas and spread them to their community, and then that community takes action, now we’re talking about positive change on a global level. Powerful.