HOW TO PLAN A SWIMMING EXPEDITION - PART EIGHT - "IT AIN'T EASY BEING GREEN"
Welcome to the 8th article in our series focused on how to plan outdoor/wild swimming (whatever you want to call it) expeditions. This series is very much a labour of love and as you now hopefully know is intended to show you step by step exactly how to plan your very own swimming expedition so you can go out into the watery world and create your own. We’re inspired by all the mer-people around us and want to inspire as many people as possible to use a swimming expedition as a means of reconnecting with nature, promoting conservation and for positive personal mental health. For this series we are focusing on “world first” expeditions or swims that haven’t been accomplished, again if the swim you want to attempt has been done then take that person to the pub and pick their brains. In part eight of the series we want to take an in depth look at how you you can limit the environmental footprint of your expedition, have a positive conservation impact and understand that “It Ain’t Easy Being Green”.
This is one of the most important, convoluted and difficult parts of your swimming expedition, how do you limit the environmental impact? Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few decades it’s become rather clear that the ol Homosapien isn’t having a very positive effect on the planet or the other species with which we share the earth. For the purposes of this article and so that we don’t descend into an essay on climate change we’re going to assume that you care about the planet and want to limit your carbon footprint and have as much of a positive effect as you can. Right that’s settled. Now onto your swimming expedition, there is a valid pool of thought that argues that the best thing you could do for the planet is actually to do as little as possible, to not stray beyond your local lake, to save on flights, to stay local, quell that urge to explore and limit your carbon footprint to 0 by not flying at all. This philosophy is growing due in part to Greta Thunberg’s FLYGSKAM movement (no flying). Should you even plan a swimming expedition in the first place if you care about the environment? It’s a complex and murky equation to even begin to attempt to solve so we won’t try, but rather we will agree in part. Local swimming expeditions do have a much smaller carbon footprint, you can likely completely negate the need for flights, rely on public transport, stay with friends or family and use trusted local services for eco-friendly food and drink. Out of the 4 large expeditions we’ve embarked on, over half of them have been local and we used trains, stayed with friends/family/hotels and had a limited carbon footprint in terms of flights, travel etc;
2015 Expeditions - “Crossing the Corryvreckan” and “Swim the Eden” in Scotland and Cumbria
2016 Expedition - “Into the Maelstrom” in Norway
2017 Expedition - “The Wild Lady of Lochbroom” in Scotland
2018 Expedition - “To Hellespont and Back” in Turkey
However, we also understand that such extreme measures will work for some but not for all and it is possible to have a positive environmental impact, limit your carbon footprint and organise a mighty swimming expedition. If you are deciding to fly off to distant waters for your swim then the first step we would advise would be to use a Carbon Calculator to offest your flight costs. We did this for Norway and Turkey and used Climate Care’s fantastic carbon calculator - here They have over 150 years’ collective experience in the global carbon markets and climate change sector and helped shape the first voluntary carbon markets, pioneering the use of carbon finance for community-based development projects. In 2007, they achieved 1 million tonnes of CO2 reductions and work collaboratively to create positive social and environmental outcomes. Their calculator is very easy to use and we recommend that you use this for your own expedition. This is by no means a complete solution so we also made a donation of 5% of the total cost of the expedition to the World Land Trust, a UK-based non-profit environmental organisation, whose primary aim is to ensure conservation of plants, animals and natural communities in areas at risk. For this purpose, it privately funds the purchase of large tracts of land by local NGOs for the purposes of protecting it. Between these two you are taking the first steps to limiting your carbon footprint.
So you’ve either decided to stay local and build your expedition closer to home or you’ve decided to offset your flights. For the next stage of going green we would advise that you attempt to interweave a positive conservation message into your swimming expedition. This can mitigate the environmental impact of your expedition and actually ensure that you have a greater positive contribution. We like the approach of “Take Breaths, Leave Ripples” and for our expeditions have always tried to inspire an environmental narrative. For “Swim the Eden” this took the form of raising money for the Swimming Trust to ensure greater training for swimming teachers in attempt to get more children under 11 swimming, we hoped that this would help the younger generation build a closer relationship with the natural world through outdoor swimming. For “Into the Maelstrom” we partnered with WWF to swim in protest against plans for oil drilling into protected marine eco-systems and for “The Wild Lady of Lochbroom” we swam to draw awareness to the plight of the critically endangered Scottish Wildcat whom we believed was the perfect patronus of our late Grandma Wild. Now the impact we’ve had is likely minimal but check out these mega swimming extraordinaries;
Lewis Pugh - UN Patron of the Oceans, the “Human Polar Bear” and all round eco ocean warrior. No swimmer brings greater authenticity and sheer devotion to positively shaping the future of our oceans through swimming expeditions.
Martin Strel - The “Big River Man” who swims for peace and clean waters, his message of swimming as a way to connecting communities is truly inspiring.
Lynne Cox - She was doing it way before it was “cool” or popular, the original queen of swimming expeditions and a true stalwart of the environment.
Ben Lecomte - The French Vortex! Just check out his latest swim for evidence - here.
Your next area of focus should be your swimming equipment, nutrition and kit. Over the past few years of general aquatic wandering and wild swimming adventures we've worked with some amazing brands and had some fantastic partnerships, but we've constantly been on the lookout for a swim brand who really fitted our ethos of conservation, getting back to nature and enjoying swimming outdoors. With that in mind we’ve been partnered with Selkie since 2018 and their swim collection is made from a sustainable techno fabric made with “Econyl”, it is 100% regenerated polyamide fibre made from post-consumer materials. We think it's really important that as we reclaim our rivers, lakes and seas and encourage more swimming expeditions that we also play a part in reducing needless waste and discarded plastic. Selkie only produce to their customer’s needs, so excessive stockpiles are a thing of the past and their factory is based in the EU. Most importantly they don't use excessive packaging and everything they do use is 100% recyclable, right up from the recycled cardboard boxes, to their swing tickets. This commitment to the environment coupled with their quality kit has greatly reduced the carbon footprint of our swimming expeditions. We’ve also donated all of our previous wetsuits and any gifted equipment to friends and family.
We’ve also used Ohyo re-usable and collapse-able water bottles, chemical free seaweed based sun creams and attempted where possible to partner with brands that we believe have a genuine commitment to the environment. This can be a complex process but we would strongly advise you take the time to research kit and work with companies you feel are trying to have a positive impact.
We will end on the final note of saying that this really is the hardest part of your swimming expedition and grabbling with the existential and logistical challenges of greening your swimming expedition can be a huge hurdle. We urge you not to let this put you off and imbue your adventure with a sense of incremental gains, attempting to eliminate or reduce your footprint at every step of the planning process whilst also maintaining humility and sharing a positive outlook.
So now you’ve attempted to limit the environmental footprint of your expedition, woven in a positive conservation story and accepted and embraced the challenge that “It Ain’t Easy Being Green”. Next up we want to take an in depth look at the biggest question of all…. How the hell do you pay for it all? We will look at advice, tips and ways to shave off pennies so you can afford your swimming expedition in Part 9 of the series, “Show Me The Money”.
Next week – Stage 9 of Planning a Swimming Expedition “Show Me The Money”
For the story behind our journey from Cumbrian couch potatoes to everyday adventurers check out Little Brother Jacks book - “Swim Wild”