Updated: Jul 13
In the previous two blog posts, Climate Change: Can Our Love For Climbing Help Save Our Planet and Climate Impact on Sport, we have seen how climate change impacts sports and climbing specifically. On the other hand, climbing also has an impact on the environment. In this blog post, we explore the story behind Boulder Planet's desire to have a positive impact. What obstacles are there in understanding a climbing gym's footprint? What can we as climbers do? We speak to Ben, owner and operator of Boulder Planet, to find out more.
From just a thrill and an excuse to travel to learning about his own impact on the environment
In his junior college days, Ben started climbing, attracted to a sport that brought a thrill from being high above the ground. It was also a great excuse to travel and explore. Unfortunately, as a budget-conscious student, the climbing trips meant cheap lodging and food. After years of travelling, he began to see things that he was blind to earlier: the waste pond deep in the forest behind the resorts and the piping that discharges human waste directly into the sea and beaches. The low budget accommodation and food that climbers desired translated into a dire impact on the local environment.
Voice of the Climbing Community: "My love for climbing has only re-emphasized the fact that we need to act on the climate issue, and we need to act now. I picked up climbing almost 3 years back but I’ve been advocating for the environment and climate action since before I started climbing. I love the outdoors and have always felt one with nature but whenever I partook in outdoor activities like surfing or hiking, there’d always be a part of me that couldn’t help but to feel a little sad because of how we’ve left these ecosystems. I’d always come across patches of trash in the ocean, or bits of litter along the forest trails and it just makes your ‘fun’ adventure so much less enjoyable."
More recently, it is also becoming clear to Ben how climbing, particularly outdoor climbing, is being impacted by the changing climate. Heavier rains, longer dry periods and fires have already severely impacted some climbing areas. Coastal climbing locations also stand to be more severely impacted.
Voice of the Climbing Community: "I’ve never climbed outdoors on real rocks before but ever since I started climbing, I always knew I’d want to one day. But I don’t think I would be able to without feeling guilty, knowing the climate crisis we are in now. I don’t think a lot of people, including those in the climbing community, realize the impact that climate change has on our beloved sport. Often times when we talk about the environment, the first thing people would think of might be plastic pollution in the ocean. But how many of us think deeper, like the rocks that gradually erode due to erratic weather? Perhaps it sounds dramatic to some, but this is what my love for climbing continues to remind me - everything we do, everyday, is all linked to the climate. And our actions, no matter how small, can help tackle the climate issue."
Driven to do his part, the start of a learning journey
While indoor climbing in Singapore is not as acutely affected by climate change, it also means that the climbing community here might not be as aware of the environmental impact they create as climbers. Despite the relatively low direct impact of indoor climbing on the environment, Ben is still determined to do his part.
In building Boulder Planet, he categorized their footprint into two types: construction and operations.
For construction, it employs huge resources, and it was especially difficult to find suppliers of sustainable materials (wood, metal and plastic) that would be cost-effective. Looking back, Ben thinks he might have been able to cut down on the wastage of these raw materials with better planning and processes.
For operations, one of the considerations was to do an impact study of the carbon footprint created from opening the gym. After initial investigations, Boulder Planet learnt it would take a significant amount of time and resources to complete such a study. If it wanted to offset its calculated impact, finding the "right" companies and projects to support good quality carbon offsetting is also not straightforward. Suffice to say, this is a start of a journey, where Boulder Planet has to invest in educating themselves and find the most suitable way to minimize their impact.
Voice of the Climbing Community: "I do enjoy climbing for the thrill of the sport, but I can’t say I feel directly connected to nature as I’ve yet to even climb outdoors! On top of being unable to draw the connection between outdoor and indoor climbing, it seems to me that the emulation of rock climbing is slowly moving away from traditional outdoor problems to comp-style boulders that have essentially evolved into its own sport, which I think would serve to widen this connection between outdoor and indoor climbing? As much as I like climbing on plastic, I think we also cannot forget the environmental resources that go into running an indoor gym (i.e. materials and electricity, etc.)."
Through all of this, Ben's takeaway is that sustainability is not as straightforward as it seems. While it can be difficult to ensure that their efforts are "correct", he still feels that gym owners have to take the lead. Without a strong stance on doing what is "right" and using their reach to help educate, it is hard for individual climbers to pivot to sustainable choices. Gym owners have to find a way to build more sustainably and create or offer consumer products aligned with the sustainability movement. On a global scale, when gyms and climbers are more vocal a