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 about their choice of sustainable products and services, it will send a strong message to the climbing equipment and services producers to pivot to more sustainable alternatives.
Voice of the Climbing Community: "We bear the responsibility of leaving this planet better than we found it, for us and our future generations. And I hope that each and every one of us realize that we all have a part to play - if we want to continue doing the things we love and share it with our kids and grandkids (and if that thing you love is climbing!) then we need to know that our passion for what we do includes having conversations about climate change and acting on it in whatever way you can."
Boulder Planet hopes to bring the climbing community along in this learning journey. Will you come on board?
As Boulder Planet continues to discover how to minimize its own impact, it also hopes to bring the community along. There are three things Boulder Planet will want to invite climbers to pay more attention to:
1. Adopting general lifestyle changes to do their part for the environment.
For example, a climber's individual impact comes largely from consumables for climbing, like chalk, apparel and climbing shoes. There can be a positive impact on the choices of equipment they buy. They can decide to buy from more climate aware and responsible companies. They can visit gyms that are actively making an effort to reduce their carbon footprint and support community efforts to reduce carbon footprint and environmental impact.
Voice of the Climbing Community: "Aside from climbing I also really love diving. And I think that when people do sports that connect them to nature, they're more motivated to protect these spaces. I've become very aware about the human impact on the ocean (sea safe sunscreen to protect our coral reefs for example) and also used to take part in ocean clean ups. We only started climbing since covid, so we haven't been able to climb outdoors or overseas, but we will make sure we leave no trace behind when we do. We also do our best to reduce our carbon footprint by using and buying less stuff because we want to do whatever small things we can to not ruin this planet even further."
2. Abiding by an environmental ethos when travelling and climbing in outdoor environments.
Voice of the Climbing Community: "I watch/follow a lot of climbing athletes who have made it a point to use their influence to spread that environmental awareness. They’re great role models! Especially when it comes to outdoor climbing as well, you want to keep the crags clean for everyone else. It’s the worst thing to see litter/trash around beautiful climbing spots. I would say that climbing is one of the sports that relies most on nature ... We need to look at more sustainable ways to keep the sport accessible but also look out for the environment."
When climbing outdoors, climbers can choose providers of accommodation who are responsible for their environment (for example, in terms of waste disposal). When climbing in less developed rural areas, climbers can be more aware of the waste they produce or bring and their impacts on the local communities and culture. They can choose to support companies/communities that develop the crags in sustainable and equitable ways.
Voice of the Climbing Community: "... from a beginner’s point of view, being introduced to climbing and watching videos of outdoor climbing made me realise how beautiful some places are overseas… as more people are exposed to climbing, especially due to the introduction of sports climbing in Tokyo 2020 olympics, the increased popularity may end up causing pollution/human damage. As I get more into climbing, I’ll be more aware of the possible harmful effects that can result from irresponsible climbers. After all, natural climbing is something I’ve not experienced but would love to in the near future, and I hope current outdoor climbers can help to maintain these places for future climbers to enjoy too"
3. Supporting environmental efforts and campaigns
One conundrum Boulder Planet faces is how to support climbers in this learning journey and take action collectively. For example, will climbers be on board if they restricted single-use plastic like bottled water and bubble tea packages?
Voice of the Climbing Community: "I think in SG it's rarer to see people directly interacting with the environment through climbing because we don't have as many opportunities to climb outdoors. Personally since I mostly climb in gyms, the biggest impact climbing has had on my perspective towards environmental issues is exposing me towards more stories and the experiences of others on media. Like seeing the work that climbers overseas have been doing through their own personal actions from small things like cleaning up where they climb or starting foundations and lobbying for change."
Climbers can make an impact, and it is much more powerful and comforting to do it together as a community. This is a conversation Boulder Planet is eager to start having with the community. You can start your impact journey today by letting them know what environmental efforts you would support.