Thursday January 29, 2015

OA Sustainability Guide

Outdoor Action's Commitment to Sustainable

The Outdoor Action Frosh Trip program is a Princeton University orientation program that gives incoming freshmen the opportunity to start college on a six-day backpacking trip with their future friends and peers. Outdoor Action has always been aware of its unique opportunity to influence Princeton’s students, since it is responsible for giving more than half of each incoming class one of its first Princeton experiences. For this reason, Outdoor Action provides an ideal situation not only for students to make friends and start settling into college, but also to discuss issues that will invariably crop up over the next four years, such as alcohol and diversity. Outdoor Action also provides a unique opportunity for learning about sustainability, since the experience of living in the backcountry naturally encourages students to be mindful of their impact on the environment. We hope to give students not only a memorable Frosh Trip experience, but also a new perspective on their relationship with the environment that will stay with them long after they’ve returned to Princeton.

Starting with the planning and research that took place in summer 2008 with support from the High Meadows Foundation, Outdoor Action has launched a new initiative to become as sustainable as possible, both on and off the trail. The goals behind this initiative are twofold: first, to evaluate and reduce the program’s carbon footprint by reducing packaging, post-trip waste, and the distance our food and gear have to travel in order to reach us; and second, to use the Frosh Trip itself as a way of prompting students to think about the importance and fragility of the environment and their role in present-day environmental issues.

Download a copy of the Outdoor Action Sustainability Guide (PDF)

It’s so great to realize that I can fend for myself out here and I love that we aren’t generating very much trash. I love that I’m not driving my car around. We’ve actually been talking a lot about sustainability. OA trips in the past have been focused just on packing out the trash. We wouldn’t leave it in the wilderness, we’d just put it in a dumpster back at school. On this trip we are trying to not generate that trash in the first place. Having seen how much transportation goes into packaging and processing food I’m going to be a lot more careful in my own life. This just really puts everything in perspective. I know I’m going to appreciate everything much more when I get back to school.
- Julia Rees ’12 from Bethesda, MD

I really didn’t know much about living in the woods without impacting the environment. I didn’t really know about how to reduce trash and things like that. This has really opened my eyes about how much impact we have on the environment. Going back home I know I'm going to not drive my car so much and I’ll use more natural transportation, like walking or biking. And I’ll definitely recycle more.
- George Che ’12 from Malden, MA

The whole sustainability thing is woven into the everyday activities that we do and the meals that we eat. We obviously want to decrease OA’s carbon footprint as much as we can. But there’s also another component which is the educational value of making changes in how OA operates and being able to tell freshmen and leaders that this is something that OA really wants to work for. Hopefully all of the people that OA comes in contact with will come away with a different attitude towards the environment.
- Emily Sung ’11 from Lawrenceville, NJ, and leader of one of the first OA ‘eco-trips’

Outdoor Action Sustainability Initiative

video by Evelyn Tu - Office of Communications

Participants on the Outdoor Action Frosh Trip Program not only make new friends and learn about Princeton but also learn about how Princeton is making sustainability a ciritical part of campus life. Students return to campus with new information about how they can act more sustainably on campus and at home.

Training on trail may bring greener outlooks to campus

by Ruth Stevens · Princeton Weekly Bulletin

Download a PDF of this article

George Che still had a week to go before his classes began at Princeton, but the freshman was already learning some lessons.

Hanging from a rope on an 80-foot rock face near New Jersey's Delaware Water Gap one morning earlier this month, he quickly was overcoming his fear of heights. Far from his home in suburban Boston, he was experiencing for the first time in his life what it was like to sleep outdoors overnight. Hiking along the trail, he was gathering a multitude of facts about humans' impact on the environment.

And he found out how quickly people become friends, despite differing backgrounds, when they spend six days together on wilderness adventures intended to build teamwork and leadership skills.

"I definitely will keep in contact with all the people in our group [when I return to campus]," Che said. "They've been really great to me and hopefully I've been able to return the favor."


Even the gorp, that staple snack food for hikers, had locally produced ingredients, with dried cranberries and M&Ms from New Jersey.

forest trail

Some of the discussions about sustainability took place on the trail, while others occurred as the group sat down to eat.

Che was one of 700 entering freshmen -- 56 percent of the class of 2012 -- who elected to participate in Outdoor Action, Princeton's oldest and largest pre-orientation program. A total of 83 groups headed by 190 student leaders departed on Aug. 31 for backpacking, canoeing, rock climbing and other activities in eight states ranging from Vermont to Virginia. Another 145 freshmen were participating in the volunteer service-oriented Community Action program.

For the past 34 years, Outdoor Action trips have provided a fun-filled introduction to life at Princeton. In 1999, a more focused orientation program was introduced, training the student leaders to serve as better role models and to answer questions more effectively on topics including social life, alcohol, diversity, tolerance, respect for others and making responsible choices.

This year, another topic was added to the list: sustainability. Outdoor Action received support from the High Meadows Foundation this spring in the first round of initiatives funded under the University's new Sustainability Plan.

"Part of what we try to do is give students a really unique group experience in the outdoors with other freshmen," said Rick Curtis, director of Outdoor Action, "but what we hope they do is translate the things that they've learned out there back to campus, such as 'Wow, I got along with a bunch of people who were really different from me and I can do it when I get back to campus.'

testing the rope

Freshman Ryan Ellis neared the top of the rock face in the Delaware Water Gap, where his group spent six days hiking, camping and climbing.

"So we said, 'How can we do that with sustainability?'" he said. "The High Meadows funding really made all the difference because it provided the support to research and develop a sustainability curriculum for Outdoor Action leaders."

Jessica Kellett, a consultant who has led environmental policy and education programs since graduating from Colby College five years ago and who also worked with the Princeton Student Environmental Communication Network this summer, put together the curriculum for Outdoor Action leaders to use on the trail, produced a sustainability guide for them as a resource manual and organized a day of leader training focused on sustainability.

During the training session, the leaders gathered in Dillon Gym to hear about the University's Sustainability Plan from Jeff Domanski, associate manager of the Office of Sustainability and a graduate student in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Stu Orefice, director of Dining Services, told them how campus dining halls have expanded to provide locally grown, sustainable food.

OA training

During leader training on sustainability, Jeff Hoaglund, education director for the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, discussed how to create an atmosphere in which the land plays an integral role in the students' experience -- as opposed to being a scenic backdrop.

They also learned about the changes made to Outdoor Action from sophomore Emily Sung. She and sophomore Colleen Driscoll spent the summer working for Outdoor Action as High Meadows Fund Sustainability Interns, exploring how to make the program more sustainable by researching alternatives for food, transportation and equipment for the trips, as well as better ways to handle waste. The leaders then broke into groups, listening to presentations and participating in exercises intended to increase their awareness of and knowledge about sustainability.

In addition to serving as an intern, Sung was a trip leader this year. She and senior Clay Puryear guided one of two expeditions designated as "eco-trips." These trips were outfitted with environmentally friendly equipment and had a more heightened focus on sustainability.

checking knots

Leader Emily Sung secured the rope for freshman Dash Adam before he made the climb.

Taking a step forward

Back in the New Jersey Skylands, Sung perched on a rock discussing the challenges of the work as her group members took turns climbing with Puryear and sophomore support staff member Robert McGibbon belaying.

"The main goal is to get our students to come back to campus with a slightly different attitude toward their impact on the environment," she said. "On the trail, sustainability is woven into the activities that we do and the meals that we eat. So for instance, some of the meals this year are a little different from last year. We mixed in some wild-caught salmon with the pouched tuna we normally get. Some of the packs [and sleeping bags] are made out of recycled soda bottles. And if we're sitting down and eating a meal that was grown or produced locally, then we'll open up a conversation about it."

Like many issues she investigated this summer, Sung said the salmon versus tuna question is "pretty complicated" and highlights some of the challenges of identifying how to purchase more sustainable products.

While the tuna is fished in the north to mid-Pacific and then sent to Ecuador for packaging the interns say the fishing practices are less sustainable. The salmon, they say, is produced in some of the best-run fisheries in the states, but is sent farther away to Thailand for processing.

stopping for lunch

Freshman Lexi Johnson enjoyed salmon on a tortilla during lunch.

"Although the salmon has to travel farther to reach us, its comparison to tuna in terms of sustainability is anything but straightforward," Sung said. "Colleen and I couldn't say for sure which product is ultimately the better option, but we thought that for the purposes of education it would be worth mixing it in the menu so that we could talk about it."

Sung admits it is difficult to change people's habits, but she hopes the new curriculum has made some impact on the freshmen.

"I think that we're getting them to think a little bit outside the box, and that's definitely a step forward," she said.

The discussions have had an effect on Julia Rees, a freshman from Bethesda, Md., in Sung's group. "The carbon footprint for a little pouch of tuna fish is just way too large," she said. "Having heard just how much transportation goes into catching, packaging, processing food, I'm going to be a lot more careful in my own life. I'm going to take that with me. I'm going to tell my family all about it. We eat a lot of tuna. I'm going to try to get them to switch to salmon. As soon as I get my cell phone back, I'm going to call my mother and tell her that."

George Che said the talks during the trip have made him think about transportation choices and changed his opinion of the recycling program in his hometown of Malden, Mass. "I wasn't really conscious about how humans do so many things that pollute the environment," he said. "This has really opened my eyes. Going back home, I think I won't drive my car so much and will recycle more."

Making a choice

On their return to campus, groups previously would bring along their waste from each trip. This year, they also were asked to sort it.

Freshmen and their leaders arrived back at Princeton Stadium on Friday, Sept. 6, where a variety of receptacles were set up to take the trash from the trail.

"We have regular trash, such as granola bar wrappers, dirty plastic bags, basically waste that is human-generated in some way," Sung said. "Then we also have a compost bag for items like orange peels, rotten peppers, uneaten vegetables or fruit waste. Then we have another bag, which is for other kinds of food waste like uneaten macaroni and cheese."

compost and recycling

Princeton Stadium was set up with receptacles to receive the sorted trash the Outdoor Action groups brought back from their trips. Much of the material was recycled, rather than being sent to a landfill.

Unopened food items were sent to the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen. Fruit and vegetable waste was sent to a compost pile in the student-run organic garden at Forbes College. Miscellaneous leftover food was sent to a pig farmer who receives food waste from the University's Dining Services. Clean plastic bags leftover from double-bagging were headed for a recycling facility. And the rest would go to a landfill.

While Curtis received immediate positive feedback from many students, he said he looks forward to seeing the results of a Web-based survey so he and his staff can further refine the sustainability initiative for next year's trips.

"Outdoor Action provides a fantastic small-group environment for exposing students to really important issues that they will need to deal with for the next four years as students at Princeton," he said. "Hopefully, we're doing our part to help students understand that by making certain choices we all can have an influence on what happens both in the world on campus and the world outside." 

A Spire

OA's Campaign Goals

Targeted funds from the University's Aspire Campaign will be used to create an endowment for the Outdoor Action Program. Our goal is for Outdoor Action to be able to provide positive learning and leadership development experiences for all Princeton students in a safe and properly supervised environment. The goals identified for the capital campaign for Outdoor Action are to:

1. Secure funds to maintain excellence in student leadership development

One of the most important parts of the Outdoor Action program is leadership development. Our goal is to be able to provide this important training to students for a nominal fee. Therefore funds are sought to support leadership development activities during the year, including the Leader Training Trip, workshops and training courses, first aid and Wilderness First Responder courses, and general leadership development, which prepare students to serve in leadership roles not only in Outdoor Action but across the campus as well.  

2. Provide funding to support a rich set of outdoor education programs and activities to be offered during the academic year

In order to offer a range of outdoor activities for students during the academic year, Outdoor Action needs general endowment to support activities during the academic year such as trips over breaks, day trips, community service programs for area youth, the Climbing Wall program, and outdoor skills courses like kayaking and rock climbing. These activities provide rich opportunities for student leadership development as well as community building and learning in social settings that do not involve alcohol.

3. Sustainability Initiative

Outdoor Action is in a unique position to educate students about critical Sustainability issues that face the campus and the larger society. Working in conjunction with the Princeton Environmental Institute and other departments Outdoor Action can provide curriculum to the majority of the incoming class each year. Such a program will require funds for curriculum development and implementation.

4. Equipment & Facilities

Proper equipment is essential for safe and effective operation of Outdoor Action activities. In order for all students to be able to participate, the program must be able to provide the required equipment. Currently OA is able to provide only some of the necessary gear, and students must still purchase many of the items they need. An endowment fund is sought to provide funds to replace equipment on a regular basis including canoes, backpacks, tents, sleeping bags, and climbing gear. An expansion of the new Climbing Wall to include a separate Bouldering and Teaching area would require a one-time gift.

Find out more about A Spire - a campaign for Outdoor Action