AdventureTravelNews

Scat Chat Anyone? La Paz on Foot Participates in 2014 Sustainable Summits Conference in Golden, Colorado

Conference participants visit a composting toilet in Rocky
Mountain National Park. Photo credit: Brad Rassler.

The Andean Diaspora continues! Last month at the Sustainable Summits conference in Golden, Colorado, La Paz on Foot’s Director of Programs, Stephen Taranto, gave a presentation on the company’s sustainable development work with indigenous and originario communities in the Central Andes. Since its foundation in 2004, La Paz on Foot has worked carefully and diligently with many of Bolivia’s native cultural groups to develop and maintain transparent, fair and mutually beneficial business relationships with rural communities throughout Bolivia and beyond.

The Sustainable Summits conference, co-chaired by AAC members Ellen Lapham and Roger Robinson and hosted by the American Alpine Club, was held from July 21st to July 25th and focused this year on solutions for waste management in high mountain areas around the globe. Many of the world’s high peaks, such as Mt. Everest and Kilimanjaro, are annually visited by tens of thousands of trekkers and mountaineers, each of which have an impact on the mountains’ natural and cultural landscapes.

Conference co-organizer and Denali National Park Ranger Roger Robinson shows of his Clean Mountain Canister, used to hygienically pack out human waste from the park. Photo credit: Brad Rassler.

Conference organizer Ellen Lapham explained to participants that “land managers, climbers, companies, governments and scientists have been working diligently for many years to raise awareness about and find solutions for the terrible amount of waste that has been left, in some cases for decades, on the peaks around the world. While we may climb these peaks because we love mountains and the challenge of ascending them, we have to take responsibility for the impacts we make.”

More than 30 presentations were made during the conference, on diverse topics ranging from how to pack out human waste and deal with it once you are off the mountain to how to develop, design and build ecological bathrooms in high altitude settings that produce little to no waste and have minimal maintenance requirements, both essential attributes for sustainable waste management in remote, extreme locations.

La Paz on Foot focused its presentation on its experiences working with community-based tourism initiatives in the Central Andes. Over the past ten years, community-based tourism (CBT) has emerged as an important approach to sustainable development in rural areas in Bolivia. Based on the belief that fostering locally-owned, independent entities dedicated to providing responsible tourism services can empower locals and drive more benefits to them and their communities. To date, there are more than twenty CBT initiatives in Bolivia, in varying degrees of development.

As Stephen explained in his presentation, “La Paz on Foot believes that CBT can be a tool for increasing incomes, protecting natural and cultural landscapes, empowering women and reversing the flow of youth from rural areas to the city. But creating, developing, managing and sustainable CBT projects takes long time and has to include tangible benefits from early on in the process.”

La Paz on Foot’s Stephen Taranto with conference co-organizers Ellen Lapham and Roger Robinson.

Sustainable Summits participants are all focused on creating such tangible benefits, in particular through improved management of the enormous amount of waste currently found and being produced daily on the world’s high mountains. Fuel canisters, discarded food, human waste and climbing equipment are just a few of the kinds of waste being left behind and conference presenters each shared their work trying to do something about the problems.

La Paz on Foot argued that CBT initiatives, when carefully designed and developed, offer an opportunity for high mountain adventure sports and mountaineering companies, local governments and other actors to effectively work with local communities in high mountain areas. “Once you have a trusting relationship and demonstrate that you understand and are willing to work within local decision-making and action-taking systems, you can make a lot of progress in moving tourism in a sustainable direction. Installing a low-impact latrine may sound simple at first glance, but there are a myriad of issues that have to be considered and discussed with locals if you want the latrine to be used as it should be and to ensure that it functions for a long time.”

Participation in the conference was an important opportunity and achievement for La Paz on Foot. “We are trying to engage with organizations and individuals around the world who are already implementing concrete projects that seek to decrease the negative impacts of tourism. There is no need to re-invent the wheel here, from the presentations made at the conference it is clear that there is already a rich set of technologies and experiences that need to be transferred to Bolivia’s high mountain areas and adapted to local conditions. La Paz on Foot wants to help facilitate this process.”

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