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Wilderness guides go green(er)

Tom Wiesen
Photo by Tanya Wiesen/Special to the Daily TrailWise Guides, which leads backcountry tours, aims to do business with less impact on the environment. Their first move was to buy hybrid SUVs.
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As I rounded past my 40th birthday recently, I like many others before me asked myself, “What’s life all about?” While I felt good about being a backcountry guide – showing people nature and adventure that they’d never find on their own – I still yearned for something more. Writing for the Vail Daily has been a great creative outlet that further rallies locals to learn and care more about fabulous things in nature that surround us everyday. It is especially rewarding because I see people in the grocery store or on the street and they say, “Keep on writing!” This means that I’m affecting people in a positive way, and this provides further satisfaction still.But what does the future hold? What can I really do to create a lasting effect? As much as I like to profess the perfect beauty and mystery in nature, does my work and living actually cause more environmental harm than it does good? These are fundamental questions that I had to ask myself, and that I am setting out to find answers to.I spend plenty of time thinking what it means to lead a fulfilling life, but as I turned 40 the answer remained elusive. And then inspiration came at the most unlikely of times in the most unlikely of places – I was waiting for my vehicle to be serviced at a car dealership.Tough standard

I picked up a copy of Outside magazine and started leafing through it. I stumbled across an article about Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia. Chouinard recently released a book titled, “Let my People go Surfing,” and subtitled “The education of a reluctant businessman.”What I learned was that as Chouinard’s company grew from its humble roots into a larger company, they realized that by manufacturing their products they had become a major polluter.Being a privately held company gave them freedom to make independent business decisions, and they decided to diverge from the typical business model and operate from a sustainable-business platform. Every time Patagonia made a environmentally friendly decision – such as producing fleece wear from recycled plastic bottles or making the switch to organically grown cotton – the rewards came back in the form of future sales. In other words, informed consumers were willing to pay more for goods produced by an environmentally conscious company.But what does “sustainable-business” mean? By my definition, it means a business does more environmental good than harm. That’s a tough standard to live up to, considering everything we do and everything we buy has some environmental consequence.Unparalleled powerMy wife Tanya and I, intending to grow our business, TrailWise Guides, had to ask ourselves, “How can we minimize negative environmental impacts as we conduct our daily business?” At the top of the list was “What can we do about our vehicles?” Can we purchase more efficient four-wheel-drive vehicles that will set an example for others to follow? We eventually decided to purchase two state-of-the art Toyota Highlander hybrid SUV’s – and they’re about the coolest vehicles in the world.

While my mother-in-law warned me that these hybrids were not cheap, and that the extra cost is hard to make up at the pump, I reminded her that there is more to “cost” than the price paid at the pump. There is environmental cost of getting oil from oil fields, impacts from the refining process, impacts from transporting refined gas to Vail, and finally the cost of air pollution created by driving a less efficient vehicle.I feel good about getting 25 percent better gas mileage. If you were to stack up 55-gallon drums of oil in your driveway to represent all of the fuel that you burn, I bet most people would gladly reduce the stack by 25 percent. Over the lifespan of a vehicle, this would amount to about 2,000 gallons of gasoline that didn’t have to be drilled for, refined, transported and burned. Best of all, we can set a great example for our clients who can see that not only is it cool to drive a green car, but it is the fastest car in terms of acceleration that I have ever owned. When the gas-and-electric motors kick in simultaneously it creates an unparalleled amount of power.Lunch reformNext we asked ourselves about the thousands of dollars in food we serve each year. What if we went totally organic? Organic food costs more of course, but when you factor in food being grown without harmful pesticides, hormones and fertilizers, is it worth it? We thought yes, and so we teamed up with Gerlinde Debie from Purple Sage Organics and we designed a new gourmet lunch menu that is made with 100 percent organic ingredients.



Yes, it costs more, but it’s worth supporting a healthy environment for us all to enjoy.We also thought about waste in the office, and developed a paperless system for ordering our lunches. We no longer use paper bags, but reuse lightweight nylon sacks for carrying our lunches in our backpacks. We continue to recycle plastic water bottles, and recycle our office paper and newspapers. Finally, what Chouinard did with Patagonia is to take a portion of its profits and donate them to environmental and land-conservation organizations. TrailWise Guides is committed to creating abundance in terms of sales, and to using a portion of those profits to support local organizations that care about the environment.Tom Wiesen and his wife Tanya are the owners and lead guides of Trailwise Guides; a year-round Vail Valley guide service specializing in providing quality experiences in the backcountry. Private snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and wildlife watching outings are now offered daily. Contact Trailwise Guides at 827-5363.Vail, Colorado


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