But how can you and your local climbing wall make a difference?
The Castle Climbing Centre in London not only have a comprehensive environmental sustainability policy that includes green energy, reducing waste and pollution, and a robust recycling policy, but have now launched the Castle Environmental Awards that will give cash to the customers and staff of the Castle to fund their own environmental projects.
Mick Ryan reports and talks to Audrey Seguy, managing director of the Castle.
VAT Decrease Funds The Castle Environmental Awards
When Gordon Brown announced he was going to drop the VAT rate by 2.5% to help stimulate the economy some businesses passed this onto their customers and others didn't. The Castle Climbing Centre in London decided they weren't going to change their prices but also felt that this money was not theirs to keep. Initially the Castle didn't know what they were going to do with this money but their customers trusted them to come up with a good idea. Inspired in part by Patagonia's Environmental Employee Internship Program and by the Castle's own commitment to a comprehensive environmental policy for their business, the Castle are pleased to announce their Environmental Awards.
Since December 1st 2008 when VAT was reduced from 17.5% to 15% if you climbed at the Castle that difference was banked by the Castle and put into a special account. The money that they have accumulated by the end of the year, expected to be £30,000, is to be given back to both customers and staff of the Castle in the form of grants for environmental projects - both small and large. Small projects can apply for up to £750 in funding, large projects can apply for up to £6,000 in funding. They expect projects to be anything from a bit of cash to get some tea and cake for volunteers for a local crag clean-up to expenses for spending three months on a research project abroad. The only criteria are that the applicants must be staff or members of the Castle and the project must be centred on sustainability issues.
We talked to Audrey Seguy, managing director of the Castle and vice-president of the BMC about the Castle's Environmental Awards.
The money is for environmental projects. Are these projects just climbing environmental projects or can the projects have a wider impact?
The aim of the fund is to promote sustainability so we'd like to see projects that are going to have a much wider impact than climbing. The fund is only available to people that have some connection with The Castle. This can be fairly broadly interpreted though.
As a promoter of climbing and a business that introduces people to climbing, and hence more people to the outdoors. Do you think you have a responsibility to help minimise the environmental impacts of climbers?
I don't think that most of the climbers that we introduce to the indoor climbing ever venture outdoors. Many are quite happy to just enjoy the facilities that we provide. Our responsibility goes far beyond just getting people to minimise their impacts when they go outside. We think it is our responsibility as a business to minimise the impact of our activities.
As a climbing wall in London, we don't have a local crag and often travel far to visit other crags and reap the benefit of the access work of other climbers. For this reason we've always supported the Access and Conservation Trust run by the BMC. We run a very popular Boulder Ladder each month, the proceeds of which go the ACT. Since 2005 we've raised about £9,000 for ACT.
All of the staff at The Castle are climbers themselves and travel extensively in the UK and abroad to climb. We try to encourage better transport choices to minimise environmental impact. This year we've been giving extra holidays for staff that choose to travel by train or car to a destination that they might otherwise get to by flying.
What else does the Castle do to help the environment?
Our Environmental Policy is very radical- and it needs to be. We're not just saying that we'll try to use less paper in the office, that we'll turn off monitors at night or that we'll encourage staff not to drive to work. Some of the more ambitious targets, as stated in our policy, include:
- Becoming carbon neutral through minimising our emissions and genuinely offsetting what emissions we cannot eliminate.
- Sourcing all of our electricity from renewable resources.
- Becoming Water Neutral by collecting and recycling water ourselves.
- Sourcing all of our supplies from companies with high environmental standards.
- Sending zero waste to landfill.
- Eliminating the use of toxic substances in our cleaning and maintenance processes.
Most people balk at the idea of being able to run a business that sends zero waste to landfill, but I think that this is possible. First, we have to look at cutting back on what we need to purchase by buying products that are built to last and re-using stuff more. We have to make sure that the packaging is minimised and recyclable. So far, by making changes to what we purchase for the café and introducing composting and better recycling facilities we've been able to cut back to just one large bin a week for our business waste! Another example is moving to selling re-usable water bottles and providing glasses rather than selling bottled water- this has cut back our plastic bottle waste hugely.
We're keeping a blog updated with all the stuff that we're doing: www.sustainablecastle.blogspot.com I could go on and on about the stuff that we're doing- there's so much of it!
Steve Taylor - CEO, The Castle Climbing Centre
Many businesses, usually mainstream businesses out of climbing, use environmental causes and charities to increase business. Are your efforts just a form of marketing?
No way! Have you heard about how busy we are!!!! It would be silly to deny that there isn't a good PR opportunity here, but I can assure you that this cause is something that we genuinely believe in, from our CEO Steve Taylor to the reception staff, setters, café staff and instructors. However, it is a core part of our EP (Environmental Policy) to try to set an example for other businesses to become sustainable so we will be trying to make the most of every opportunity we get to spread the word.
The Castle is a successful, private business. We're not being forced to meet any public authority targets nor do we need to re-invest or spend profits generated. We're doing this because we think it's necessary and right.
So you are in this for the long term?
Yep. Our EP states that we would like to achieve certain targets by 2015 but we expect that this will be an ongoing process. The proof that we are in this for the long term is that we want to make some big changes to The Castle itself to turn it into a low-energy building. This means massive investment into things like lighting, ventilation, water capture/storage and wind/solar power. We wouldn't be committing to these big projects if we didn't think it was for the long term or if it was just greenwash.
How did your environmental story begin?
The story behind the Environmental Policy and our adapting our business to it is a very personal one. It started with our CEO Steve Taylor, who is a resident of Buxton in the Peak District. He's been thinking a lot about environmental issues and long-term sustainability and decided that he did not want to contribute to the problem of climate change and resource depletion any longer. He was in a position to radically change how his business was run so that it could not just minimise it's own environmental impact but maybe start a positive ripple out amongst our customers and staff to make changes in the way they do things.
The response from both customers and staff at the Castle has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive. Customers are contributing financially to a good cause every time they climb and staff are not just working to put money in the pocket of the boss but have a greater purpose.
THE CASTLE ENVIRONMENTAL AWARDS
Application forms and notes for applicants can be downloaded from their website (www.castle-climbing.co.uk), from their Sustainable Castle blog (www.sustainablecastle.blogspot.com ) or by emailing email@example.com.
The first deadline for applications is the 15th September. On 15th October a shortlist will be published and on 1st November the funds will be awarded