Thinking about the impacts of climate change can make us feel helpless, scared, overwhelmed, and despondent. Many of our camps’ campers share those thoughts and think humanity is beyond hope. But the science doesn’t support that conclusion.

In fact, we find ourselves in a race between two futures. In one future, some of the core tenets of camping — connecting to nature, clean air and water, and well-being through positive youth development — are threatened by the impacts of climate change. In this future it is:

  • too hot for youth to safely play outside
  • too toxic to swim in the lakes and rivers choked with blooming algae
  • unsafe for campers to breathe the smoke-filled air
  • a whack-a-mole game to keep up with threats to infrastructure from flooding and other storm-related damage

None of us want that future to become a reality.

In an alternative future, we stop climate change and build a better, healthier future for all. That future is still possible — and whether it becomes a reality is up to you and me.

As a member of the camp community, you have a critical role to play in making that future a reality.

Project Drawdown, a nonprofit dedicated to helping the world stop climate change as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible, has identified over 90 technologies and practices that help us stop climate change. And many of these solutions work for camps. From reducing food waste to properly managing refrigerants, there is so much you can do to help make this alternative future the one that wins.

I encourage you to consider your camp operations and programming as pathways to help create the future your camp and your campers deserve. Here are some starter ideas:

Camp Operations


Reduce food waste. Roughly one-third of the world’s food is never eaten. By wasting less food, we use less land and resources used to produce food and release fewer heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

  • To prevent food waste at your camp, encourage campers to take only what they will eat. Not only will this waste less food, but it will also save you money.
  • Skip the cafeteria tray. Diners who use extra-large cafeteria trays waste an average of 32 percent more food than those carrying food servings on an individual plate.
  • Ask your local civic leaders for curbside food scrap collection or compost on-site. Roughly 200 US communities have curbside pickup for food scraps. Sending food scraps to compost facilities (rather than landfills) reduces methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas.

Animal agriculture is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, so consider plant-rich diets. Choosing plant-based foods reduces demand, land clearing, fertilizer use, and greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Make plants the centerpiece of your dinners at camp, and tell campers why you are focusing on plant-forward meals. Shifting diets toward plants can have added health bonuses too. Consuming less red and processed meats has been found to decrease the risk of heart disease and certain cancers.
  • Plant a garden, and enjoy what you grow with your campers.


Improve materials. Plastic, metals, and cement are some of the most ubiquitous materials. They’re also prime candidates for improvement and replacement with better alternatives that meet the same needs but with lower emissions.

  • Consider using alternatives to cement in your construction projects. Research sustainably sourced wood through the Forest Stewardship Council (
  • Choose items for camp that can be used multiple times, such as reusable water bottles and metal cutlery. Try to avoid single-use plastic items.

Use waste. Waste can be reclaimed as a resource — something of value rather than something to discard — to reduce the use of raw materials and energy, thereby reducing emissions. The most advanced approaches move us toward a circular economy.

  • Limit garbage by using secondhand materials like art supplies and gym equipment that are cycled back into the community at the end of your camp season.
  • Celebrate the cabins that produce the least amount of trash each week.
  • Conduct a waste audit to quantify the amount and types of waste your camp generates. Include your campers and encourage them to be “waste warriors” to reduce landfill waste.


Electrify vehicles. Electrification of vehicles completely replaces petroleum — and has even more significant benefits when paired with renewable energy generation.

  • Some camps use buses to transport campers to and from their facilities. If you have the option in your area, choose an electric bus.
  • Install electric vehicle charging stations at your camp to encourage families and staff to drive electric or plug-in hybrid electric vehicles to camp.
  • Work with your local community to support bicycle infrastructure so campers, families, and staff can safely bike to camp. And, while you’re at it, install bike racks or lockers to store bikes safely. Supporting infrastructure for walkable and bikeable communities can help make the sustainable option the best choice.
  • Encourage grounds staff to walk rather than drive around camp. Better yet, safely involve campers in grounds work. Human-powered work can be good for the climate, good for human health and well-being, and an excellent example for your campers.


Enhance efficiency. Energy-efficiency solutions are largely the same, whether for building retrofits or brand-new construction. Many address the building “envelope” and insulation — means of keeping conditioned air in and unconditioned air out — while others use technology to optimize energy use.

  • Invest in an energy audit. Lower your bills (and your emissions) by understanding your options for improving the efficiency of your camp’s buildings.
  • Consider upgrading your camp’s heating and/or cooling system to high-efficiency heat pumps.
  • Connect with government affairs and policy experts to identify ways the federal Inflation Reduction Act might support energy-efficiency improvements.
  • Install water-saving fixtures such as toilets, showerheads, and faucet aerators to save money and water.

Shift energy sources. Clean alternatives can replace more polluting fossil energy sources typically used to heat space, warm water, or prepare meals.

  • Some camps have on-site solar. If that isn’t in your budget or not possible based on your location, contact your utility provider to ask them about options for providing 100-percent renewable energy.

Use alternative refrigerants. The refrigerants used today are often potent greenhouse gases. We can reduce emissions by managing leaks that happen within buildings and properly disposing of refrigerants. Ideally, these fluorinated gases can be replaced with alternatives that are not greenhouse gases.

  • Dispose of refrigerators properly and choose alternatives to fluorinated gases when replacing or upgrading.

The actions described herein are relatively doable today, reasonably inexpensive (or free), can save money, and have a considerable environmental impact. Taken together, these actions can scale to be a big part of the solutions we need to stop climate change. If every camp takes a few of these steps, we will get much closer to building the future that we want to live in.

Camp Programming

While many opportunities exist to make operational improvements, stopping climate change is more than just an operational challenge. We also need to talk about what we are doing and why we are changing our path toward building a better future. Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, PhD, is famous for saying that the most important thing we can all do to stop climate change is to talk about it. The key to having an honest discussion about climate change is to connect over shared values like family, community, and religion — and to prompt people to realize that they already care about a changing climate.

You are a trusted messenger about climate change for your campers and their families, so tell them that you are taking action to build a better future. Connect your actions to your mission and talk about what you are doing by highlighting the sustainability features at your camp in your newsletters and mailings. Find ways to inspire campers and staff to change things in their lives outside of camp.

  • Consider writing a climate change statement that can be shared on your website and at your camp.
  • Start your relationship with campers and their families with a sustainable packing list that discourages single-use plastic and encourages durable materials that last more than one season. Share why you are asking them to join you on your climate change solutions journey.
  • Design activities that include creative uses for objects that might otherwise head to the landfill, such as making a piggy bank from a plastic bottle. One person’s waste is another person’s treasure.
  • Invite campers to track how the timing of the annual cycles of plants and animals is changing over time. Compare their data with historical data and encourage them to interpret the changes.
  • To put a spin on writing letters home, consider having campers write letters to campers 10 years in the future. What aspects of camp do campers love? What factors do they think might change?
  • Create a culture of climate change solutions among your staff. Start with your staff training.

Stopping climate change is a team sport. No one of us can stop climate change on our own. And we are lucky enough to be in a position to support youth in reimagining how we live on this glorious planet, so let’s ensure young people feel wrapped in a web of community support. Getting other parents, teachers, community organizations, and neighborhoods involved in building skills, knowledge, and resilience helps remind youth that they’re loved, seen, and part of something bigger than themselves — and that working together in community is ultimately how we stop climate change.

What role does your camp play in the larger fabric of your community? Where do you see opportunities to partner with other organizations to incentivize climate-friendly behaviors by training young people? Do you have a school-camp partnership? What about a partnership with your local electric utility? How can you be a trusted messenger in building climate-friendly behaviors to strengthen resilience?

An incredible world is within reach. Together, we can leverage climate change solutions to build a bridge from where we are now to the world we want for ourselves, for all lives, and, most importantly, for generations yet to come. A better path is still possible.

May we turn that possibility into reality.

Photo courtesy of Lake Valley Camp, Milwaukee, WI

Elizabeth Bagley, PhD, is the managing director at Project Drawdown and an American Camp Association National Board member.