Starting a summer camp from scratch requires creativity, perseverance and problem solving. In late 2011 when I launched Water Monkey Camp I knew it would be a tough journey full of trade-offs and sacrifice. Can we get by the first year without that fancy piece of equipment? Can I forego a full time chef and prepare some meals on my own? Can we squeeze one more camper into this room? (Answers: yes, yes, by waking up at 4:30 AM each day and yes, by moving the owner outside into a tent.) But there is one area I have refused to compromise on: the goal of minimizing our impact on the planet.
There is literally nothing more important right now than reversing the harm we have done to our planet over the past 150 years. I weigh every action we take at camp by its potential benefit/harm to the environment. Wakeboard boats are a massive source of greenhouse gas emissions so basically every other aspect of our program has to offset that pollution. Here is what we do:
CO2 Offsets: Each season I calculate the total CO2 emissions from our boats, property and vehicles. I take that value (measured in metric tonnes of CO2) and purchase carbon offsets to cancel it out. This is by no means a perfect system. I am still creating a ton (multiple tonnes) of harmful pollution but offsetting does benefit the planet. I do extensive research every year to make sure the non-profit company we send our offset dollars to is actually doing what they say (and not funneling those dollars to their CEO or unrelated causes). Since our first season we have offset roughly 165 tonnes of CO2 which translates to about 1,650 trees planted.
Supporting Local Non-profits: In 2017 we started donating to The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. They are directly working to preserve the forests of the state where we are located. Having healthy forests is integral to having healthy lakes and that is something worth fighting to protect.
Environmental Education: Our campers and staff come to us to focus on watersports and dedicate their time here to those pursuits but we have found some simple ways to educate them on the environment in-between sets behind the boats. We make labeled recycle bins visible and give a quick overview during orientation each week so we are able to cut down on lots of waste that would otherwise end up in a landfill. We also separate food scraps to be taken to a local farm and fed to hungry pigs. The campers love that concept and enjoy seeing videos of the pigs scarfing down our leftovers. Beyond recycling, we also make sure to explain to everyone who steps on our boat how lucky we are to have such a clean lake, what makes our lake so crystal clear and what we can do to maintain that. The hope is that our campers return home and continue to be responsible environmental citizens.
Making our Property More Energy Efficient: Old camp buildings are typically not at the forefront of energy efficiency. When we moved to our permanent location we replaced all incandescent bulbs with CFL or LED bulbs to immediately reduce our electric consumption by about 80%. In 2018 we swapped out old fixtures and wiring for new fluorescent strip lights in each cabin. This upgrade makes rooms brighter yet uses less electricity. We also try to use clotheslines to dry our laundry instead of energy-hungry dryers when possible. Lastly, as water heaters need replacing around the property we are swapping in newer models that use less gas. Our goal in the medium term is to install passive solar water heaters to take advantage of the hot summer sun to make our showers steamy, not gas fired water heaters.
Eliminating Wasteful Trips: 20 minute trips to the store seem harmless but they add up in the gas they consume and the time they waste. We make sure to consolidate trips as much as possible by communicating with each other so cars are not always coming and going.