What's stopping your camp from improving its existing programs or introducing new ones? At the same time, what's standing between your organization and "going green?" Each to its own extent, cost, culture, and commitment drive the decisions that shape camp whether you're considering programs, facilities, administration, or being greener. This month we're going to see that camps can tackle green initiatives the very same way that they've overcome program obstacles for years and years and years.
Often, the biggest hurdle to something new is simply its newness. The age-old argument about "We never needed it before, so why do we need it now?" seems to go out almost as soon as a new idea begins to gain momentum. If camp professionals were the quitting type, nothing would have changed in the past 150 years of camping. Let's look at how changes, large and small, clear that hurdle.
The critical step to overcoming initial resistance lies with the simple three letter question "W-H-Y"? Unless and until that question is answered to satisfy naysayers, changes will hit an unending string of mysteriously unmovable road blocks. Moreover, in answering that simple question, success is defined and the target is set by default. So think about the last brand-new program that was introduced or even the last program that was overhauled successfully. How was the WHY question addressed? For the sake of our discussion this month, let's use a pretty simple hypothetical situation with swimming lessons as the object. Lots of camps have and continue to struggle with swimming in open lakes versus building a swimming pool. The shift from one to another hinges completely with answering the WHY question to the satisfaction of whoever will be signing the checks to build, operate, and maintain the pool. Clearly, those camps which end up with a pool have made their argument sufficiently well to spring the hundreds of thousands of dollars required.
We can make a similar argument for any sort of green initiative. But for these, it's even more important to answer the WHY question, because as you'll see shortly, there are even more difficult issues ahead that simply cannot be answered until it's well understood WHY we're going to any trouble at all.
So what are the answers to the WHY questions about green efforts? Like answering "why" about camper program changes or additions, these are matters of the heart that must come to life through camp's culture. If camp is situated on a lake, competent swimming skills are more than a program option; they are a critical matter of the safety and perhaps survival of its guests and staff. If for some reason, the water in the lake became unsuitable for swimming much of the time (coliforms in the water, perhaps), the need to be a competent swimmer wouldn't go away, but the need to acquire those skills would simply need to be shifted to another venue. That's camp culture at work, developing those skills that represent life at this facility. No camp exists without clean air, water, and program areas that are safe and clean. So the camp culture from the top to the bottom should be individually and collectively committed to caring for the natural and irreplaceable features of the property, including the land, water (above and below ground), and air. We're talking about caring for those things which aren't personal possessions but are simply on loan for our benefit and use while we're present. This is the quintessential definition of stewardship. On its face, making a case for stewardship doesn't seem too hard. But who among us hasn't wondered if we got the message through to a graffiti-writing camper or the finance committee wrestling with committing a boatload of money to the stormwater management facilities that came with the new parking lot? That brings around the second element of the triad: commitment.
A number of years back, an interesting situation unfolded in a series of posts on one of the camping kindred's Web sites. Apparently, someone had purchased an inflatable iceberg or trampoline for their lake at a reduced price at a conference. It was being shipped directly to camp and was expected to arrive momentarily. The purchaser was posting all sorts of questions about insurance costs, installation procedures, and maintenance. Oh, yeah, and what about permits? Everyone has made shortsighted purchases, but the scope of this situation really made it stand out. Assuming that this item fit the program perfectly, there had been apparently no thought about the commitment necessary to implement, operate, maintain, or sustain it.
How often do we see "green" programs with a similar level of poor planning where a really cool this-or-that is brought from Camp Wherever, but which ultimately fall short? Consider a pretty well-known program common in camp dining halls, the ORT Report. For the unfamiliar, all food scraps are collected from campers' plates at the end of each meal and the weight is recorded and charted over a period of time. The idea is to get campers to eat what they take and take only what they'll eat. (My mom called that the "clean plate club.") Often the waste still goes into the trash. Only once have I been where the food scraps were separated before being weigh