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Tragedy of the Commons

I was at the shop working a Saturday shift about a month ago. Sometimes we get busy and our back-of-house spaces miss out on the care we provide to the public spaces. One of those areas is our staff kitchen, specifically the fridge. I noticed the state it was in— random juices stuck to the shelves, unidentifiable items in the freezer. It was what you might call a tragedy of the commons, a space that everyone has the freedom to use but people lack the responsibility to care for. An example of the phrase, “Not my problem.”

Pike's Peak is a common space that should be cared for by all

Pike’s Peak, CO is a common space to be enjoyed and cared for by all.

It’s a scenario that plays out all over our cities, our wild spaces, and this planet. We often lack the feeling of ownership that could improve a whole lot of things. You see a pile of trash on the curb that blows down the street; you watch people hike down the trail and step over the fallen branch instead of dragging it to the side and improving the path for everyone. You, the passerby, didn’t cause these problems, others did, but what are you doing to solve them? Do you say to yourself, “This isn’t my space, this isn’t my problem?” Do you think, “Someone else will come along and take care of this?”

When you walk through the backcountry and stumble across a campsite with trash in the firepit and beer cans in the bushes, what do you do? When you see garbage piled up at the trailhead, do you leave it there or do you haul a bag out? I can’t tell you the number of cans and bottles I’ve hauled out of Red River Gorge, the collective bags of garbage I’ve picked up in Clifton. I’m not here to brag, I’m here to share a thought. What if we all treated the world around us with care and attention? What if we acted instead of making excuses or thinking ourselves out of making a difference?

Trail work is a way to give back to wild spaces

Trail work, such as this in Red River Gorge, KY, is a way to give back to wild spaces.

We talk about Leave No Trace, we talk about stewardship of our outdoor spaces, and we have conversations about the increasing number of people recreating on our public lands. We should also talk about how we give people a sense of ownership in both the places they recreate and the public spaces we inhabit. It’s a tough thing to do. You cannot teach ownership; you cannot teach people to care. It must grow naturally.


I take people backpacking, kayaking, and climbing in the wilderness. After they see magnificent views and take a dip in crystal-clear water, they come back to the frontcountry relaxed, refreshed, and happy. We often find ourselves in this conversation. They start to think about how they can care for the space they are in. They have a sense of ownership.

If everyone took inspiration from the vast green forests, rushing rivers, or rocky alpine landscapes they find themselves in, we might make a collective difference in how we think. If each of us picked up a few pieces of trash and switched a few things about the way we live and what we consume, we’d have a chance to keep this little blue dot a beautiful place.

A trash free beach is a rare example where the tragedy of the commons doesn't prevail.

A trash free beach is a rare example where the tragedy of the commons doesn’t prevail.

Next time you go outside, think about your impact— the positives you provide and the negatives you create. Think about how you would want a space to look if it was your responsibility. At the end of the day, it is. Together we’re responsible for the way our world goes. If enough of us accept responsibility and take action, this’ll be a pretty good rock to live on in this big ol’ universe.


by: Ben Shaw


The Triple Bottom Line Part 2: Social Sustainability

By: Mackenzie Griesser

The first blog of this series discussed the most obvious factor when determining a company’s sustainability: their environmental awareness.  Another important element that contributes to the triple bottom line of sustainability is social sustainability. This can be defined many ways, but for the purposes of this blog we will define it as a company’s efforts to give back to the communities in which they operate. This can be done several ways. Some companies organize fundraising events and donate the money to local environmental groups while others send volunteers to help with ongoing projects. No matter their level of involvement however, every brand we carry invests in their community in some way. Part two of a three part series on sustainability in the outdoor industry, this blog will highlight some of the social sustainability initiatives that different brands we carry at Roads Rivers and Trails have to offer.

Patagonia definitely takes the cake when it comes to community involvement and outreach. They work closely with several environmental organizations and donate 1% of all profits to nonprofit groups across the globe. Another way they raise funds for these groups is by organizing the Salmon Run, a 5k community “fun run” in Ventura, California. They also created an environmental internship program for their employees, which is one of the best internship programs I’ve ever seen. Not only do they allow the inteexte842rns to work with whatever environmental group they want, they continue to pay and offer benefits for the duration of the internship, which can be up to two months! Patagonia also takes steps to give back to its namesake, Chilean Patagonia, by sending employees at the company’s expense to help create a new National Park from a former sheep and cattle ranch. Volunteers help remove non-native plants and restore grasslands, build trails, and even built a visitors’ center and other necessary infrastructure. When it is finished the park will span 173,000 acres and be a home for over a hundred species of native fauna, including the four-eyed Patagonian frog and the near extinct huemul deer.

While Patagonia’s community outreach and dedication to environmental protection is truly astounding, Arc’Teryx is right behind them in giving back to communities and protecting beloved wilderness areas. However, they differ from Patagonia in that most of their involvement and outreach is through partnerships with other organizations. For example, they partner with the North Shore Mountain Bike Association to help maintain and protect mountain biking trails on Canada’s North Shore. They are also a sponsor of the Trail Builders Academy, which utilizes both on-site and classroom settings to teach proper trail building and maintenance techniques. They are also members of the European Outdoor Conservation Association, which requires a membership fee that directly funds projects that Arc’Teryx employees regularly volunteer time towards, and the Conservation Alliance, which engages businesses to fund and partner with organizations to protect wild plaArcteryx_BirdNestCape_Delivery_Day_1ces. The membership fees for this organization also go towards funding projects that are voted on by members. One project that Arc’Teryx created and organizes itself is the Bird’s Nest Project. Staff members volunteer time to sew discontinued Gore-Tex fabrics into garments for homeless citizens in Vancouver, which are distributed by local police departments and homeless shelters.

Another brand that invests a lot in their community and organizations across the country is Osprey. Like Arc’teryx, many of their social sustainability initiatives are through partnerships with other organizations. They helped Conservation Next organize and execute an event where volunteers spent the day removing invasive species and performing much needed restoration work on trails in Eldorado Canyon State Park. They also act as a sponsor for Telluride by financing renewable power for Lift 12, as well as sponsoring the Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival. On their own, they donate $2 of every pro deal sale to non-profit organizations, including the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and Continental Divide Trail Alliance, and donate 5% of profits from their biannual community “Locals Sale” to nearby non-profit organizations. Donations from these two fundraisers totalled around $7,000 in 2009. Financial donations aside, they also allow employees to do 8 hours of volunteer work on their clock, racking up 200 hours of paid volunteer work in 2009 alone.

These three companies definiteindexly do the most when it comes to social sustainability, but all of the brands we carry give back in one way or another. Rab and Prana contribute to multiple service projects, including restoration work at Peak District National Park (UK) and sending aid to natural disaster sites. Big Agnes and Sea to Summit support Leave No Trace, an international organization that teaches outdoor ethics. These two also support several other environment-focused organizations such as the Conservation Alliance, the Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education, and the Outdoor Industry Association.

Some businesses see giving back to nearby communities as a great PR move, but it’s incredibly important to account for how their operations affect local people. Companies benefit from these communities and everything they have to offer, so it is crucial that they invest in them to ensure their longevity. Social sustainability is often overlooked or assumed, but the brands we carry here at RRT do an awesome job of making sure local neighborhoods and the organizations that support them are taken care of. However, they cannot truly be sustainable unless they follow the criteria of the triple bottom line, which includes social as well as environmental and economic sustainability. You can read about our apparel brands’ environmental sustainability here . Stay tuned for the final blog of this series, which will discuss the thrilling world of economic sustainability, coming soon!

12 Biggest Impacts Outdoor Enthusiasts May Not Realize They’re Making

By: Kayla “Clover” McKinney.

Any outdoor enthusiast, whether you’re a extreme high alpine climber or simply love hiking through your local trails, acquires a set of ethics in the way they behave and experience the outdoors. It is important to be a steward of the environment for the health of the wilderness, yourself and for the future of the flora, fauna and natural features. As outdoor enthusiasts, we have the responsibility to be stewards of the wilderness by not making a negative impact.

While this all sounds nice and obvious, it can be somewhat idealist. The thing is, you may consider yourself a conscious steward of the environment, but may be making negative impacts in ways you did not realize.

You’ve likely heard the Center for Outdoor Ethics’ Leave No Trace Seven Principles. You likely even consider yourself pretty versed on how to be a conscious outdoor enthusiast. Perhaps not the best, but you’re certainly not the worst. However, there are many elaborations of the seven principles that, in my opinion, are too often overlooked. Here’s a list of what I consider the 12 biggest impacts that outdoor enthusiasts may not be aware that they’re making:


Is this rock more beautiful here or in a shoe box in your room? Seriously, please leave what you find. Part of what makes that rock/flower/leaf/whatever so alluring is the fact that you found it in a beautiful place. You should allow for others to enjoy whatever it is that you found. And if you would like to take a memento for sentimental purposes, please just take a photograph instead.


Part of planning ahead and preparing is to find pre-established camping sites for the night. Avoid creating (destroying) a new campsite when there’s a pre-established one a few miles ahead. Also, the site is probably better anyway. However, if you are in a bind and cannot find an established campsite, then CHOOSE A PRISTINE CAMPSITE OVER A SEMI-IMPACTED SITE. This seems counter-intuitive to many people. However, it is better to camp at a pristine (untouched) site than one that is more eroded (semi-impacted) because the pristine campsite has a better chance of maintaining its condition as an unaltered site. A semi-impacted site that is used will quickly transition into an impacted site.


This goes for any animal.I know they’re cute and want your attention, but it is really harmful for the animal if you feed it people food. It also encourages wildlife to interact more with humans, which can cause more problems and potentially domesticate the animals in a way that makes their lives in the wild more dependent on humans.cathole


Human poop is a lot different from wild animal poop. Consider the differences in our diets. Our poop can be toxic to wildlife, in addition it is unsightly and gross. If you’re in rocky terrain then either pack out your poop or use the hole created by a large rock and place the rock over top of it.


Social trails are trails created by repeatedly walking the same path over and over again, particularly with multiple people. Scatter yourselves and go different paths to your tent, kitchen, etc. to avoid eroding the land.


Fire pits aren’t trash cans. Too often have we walked by a fire pit littered with beer cans and food wrappers. Also, create a fire that suits your needs for the night. It is really not necessary to burn an entire tree just to hang out by the fire for the evening. It is also essential to make sure the fire is completely out before you leave it. This means throwing dirt over it and water, and making sure all embers are put out.

KNOTS or Not Scout Cartoon - Leave No Trace Bonfire


If you hold your thumb between you and the animal and it completely disappears, then you’re at a good distance. If your thumb is not obscuring the animal, then you’re too close. Consider it a rule of thumb (…ha.)


Pack it in, pack it out – all of it. You are supposed to pack out your toilet paper (you can leave the rest in the cat-hole). Ladies, please pack out all of your feminine products. Natural TP (such as leaves) is okay to leave behind, of course.


Micro-trash is eawrappersily overlooked. This consists of the tiny plastic corner of your granola bar, a pop-tab, or small piece of trash that might not catch your eye immediately.. The best way to avoid these small pieces of trash is to create “one-piece trash.” Instead of ripping off the corner of your granola bar wrapper, open it in a way that keeps the packaging all together. Also, please don’t ever throw your cigarette butts on the trail.


Switch backs are there to make your incline more gradual and less steep.This gradual progression protects the hill slope. It is important not to cut the corners of switch backs because doing this increases erosion of the hill slope and surrounding vegetation.


Grey water includes water left over from washing your pots and pans, and food remnants leftover. Many people use the popular Campsuds brand, or Dr. Bronner’s castille soaps. These soaps are advertised as biodegradable, but this does not mean that you can pour them directly into streams or onto the trail. It is stated directly on the bottle that you must dig a hole 6-8 inches deep for your grey water. This allows the bacteria in the soil to completely and safely biodegrade your soap. As far as food grey water, or any leftover food waste, either eat all of it or pack it out. Additionally, be conscious when brushing your teeth. Please do not spit toothpaste directly onto the ground. The best method is to spray your toothpaste/water mixture in order to disperse it as much as possible.


As an outdoor enthusiast, you have the responsibility to set a good example for others. At times, this might mean speaking up and calling out unethical behavior of others. Often times they may not realize that what they’re doing is wrong and will remedy their actions accordingly.

For reference, here’s the 7 Center for Outdoor Ethics Principles :

  1. Plan Ahead & Prepare.
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces.
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly.
  4. Leave What You Find.
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts.
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors.

For more information: Visit the Center for Outdoor Ethics – Leave No Trace website:

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