Sustainability at Outward Bound

This post is part of a series on sustainability in the health and wellness industry, curated by Becky Eisen, Dana Ledyard, Izabel Loinaz. Follow along with the series here.

Outward Bound's Mazama, WA basecamp
I’m Greg Bunn, Director of Facilities for Outward Bound. Although this is my 15th year working for Outward Bound, I am new to this position since the first of this year. The amount of time I have spent with this organization has made a tremendous impact on my thoughts values and the way I live my life.

The values in which employees at Outward Bound live and work are as follows: Compassion, Integrity, Excellence, Inclusion and Diversity. We are constantly working through these values to deliver the following outcomes: Character Development, Leadership, and Service. The Service outcome within Outward Bound is broken down further to include social and environmental responsibility.

With that in mind, the idea of environmental care, preservation, and sustainability are woven into everything we do. Every part of the process, from the time a group or individual signs up for a course until they are on their way home, is constantly scrutinized and evaluated to limit the use of resources. Every administrative office and program recycles aggressively. In fact many locations recycle locally by re-using as many products as possible (ex. – single sided paper loaded back into the fax machine, climbing ropes are retired and re-used as bow lines for rafts, etc.).

In the field, Leave No Trace (LNT) practices and principles are taught and followed on every course we conduct. The tools to help preserve and maintain a sustainable environment is the basic primary skill every Outward Bound student gains. In fact, because taking care of our surroundings is such a high priority, a policy has been put into place that allows students that do not comply with LNT principles to potentially be expelled from course. In addition to advanced LNT practices, many courses collect recyclables and compost and bring these items back to base camps or centers to be dealt with appropriately.

On the facilities level, Outward Bound is in a constant struggle between resources that can be expended to support a more sustainable environment, and what is going to be healthiest for the bottom line. Unfortunately, the bottom line wins sometimes and the most responsible practices or purchases fall outside of our reach simply because the immediate cost is too great. Nonetheless, we do everything possible to take the best care of our environment. Often the brunt of this process is handled at our sites on a local level.

Josh Cole, the Program Director at our Mazama, Washington base camp, jumped at the opportunity to talk about how environmental responsibility is woven into what they do at their location.

At Mazama our outcome of social and environmental responsibility is encapsulated in our service policy. When not working, staff are welcome to live and eat at our base camp facility in exchange for 1 hour of service per day; in addition, all of our courses engage in a service project of some sort and many of these are sustainability-related. Our staff and students have served the local high school garden program “classroom in bloom” that provides produce for the school cafeteria, and have served our local non-profit recycling center. Closer to home, our staff have grown a thriving garden through their service, helping to provide fresh produce for our courses and staff meals.

Mike Armstrong Program Director at our Odin Falls, Oregon base camp shared the following:

The Oregon base camp attempts to bring in food in the most sustainable ways possible. We gather as much of our food from Oregon and the greater Northwest area as possible. We recently switched to using a local dairy that is family owned and operated right here in our hometown: Redmond, Oregon.

In 2008, Odin took a leap at an experiment to have pigs at base… and it turned into a good success. The pigs eat our food scraps from the kitchen as well as from our river sections of course. We are fairly picky and very conscious about what they eat as far as our scraps go, but ultimately the pigs consumed about an average of 60+ pounds of food trash a week throughout the season. The pigs are butchered and the meat is used for our season end Town Hall BBQ and other special occasions. The pig program has ultimately saved us money in two major avenues: getting the dumpster emptied less and not having to buy expensive cuts of meat.

On a national level, Outward Bound is in the process of researching and applying for grants (as well as raising money from outside sources) to begin a nationwide “greening” project at our base camps, centers and offices. We are looking at a wide array of modifications and upgrades, including: solar power, wind power, solar hot water heaters, energy efficient appliances, energy efficient design, large scale composting and much more.

Without the natural environment Outward Bound would struggle to provide the same experience that it does now. Maintaining a sustainable environment and preserving resources is woven into everything we do. As we continue to operate in these constantly changing times, so too shall we change to adapt and preserve to the best of our ability.

Outward Bound is the premier provider of experience-based outdoor leadership programs for teens, adults and professionals.
Please learn more about Outward Bound on our website at and on our blog .

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