Interpreting “Green” To Retreat Guests

• What does it make you want to do?

There are no correct answers to these questions. Their purpose is to help guests move beyond what they see, hear, smell, and touch to what they value. What they value they will also want to care for.

3. Provide Information About The Ecosystems

Think for a moment about the ecosystems–woods, ponds or streams, wetlands, and meadows–that exist on the property.

• What plants and creatures live in each of these ecosystems?

• How are those that live within each system related to each other and dependent on one another?

• What would happen to those ecosystems if one of them was destroyed?

• What threatens the health of these ecosystems from outside your property?

One aspect of the commitment to Earth care as camp professionals is to teach others about the natural world. This is a topic of great focus when developing programs for campers. However, it may not be emphasized for retreat guests.

Develop a way to teach guests about the many aspects of the facility’s ecosystems. Post photos and informative notes about the creatures and plants on the site. Create photo collections of creatures and wildflowers. Make available books about the ecosystems.

4. Give Guests Practical Means To Participate

Most people learn by doing rather than merely by hearing about something. Learning new skills and trying them out is one of the best attributes of camp.

When it comes to helping retreat guests to “go green,” giving them practical opportunities to participate in recycling, picking up trash, composting, and gardening will have more impact than hearing staff members talk about it. Once these skills are acquired, guests are more apt to change their behavior permanently.

Several easy practices to introduce are recycling, composting, and using less paper. Put recycling containers in the dining room and at other places around the site where guests eat and drink.

During the welcome orientation, mention the recycling bins, and tell guests about what you are able to recycle. Explain briefly what can be gained by recycling, and invite them to participate.

If you are able to separate trash and use portions of it for compost, explain the process to guests. Point out the trash containers for the compost, and show them a clear drawing or poster about what they can include.

Keep it simple, such as including leftover undressed salad, orange and banana skins, and raw vegetables. Tell them at each meal what can be sent to the compost.

5. Offer Resources They Can Take Home

Model recycling, composting, and reducing the use of paper while guests are at your site, and then equip them to continue those practices at home.

When guests arrive, provide them with a ceramic coffee cup or water bottle with the camp or center’s logo and contact information. Encourage them to use the cup or water bottle while at the retreat and invite them to take the mug or bottle home.

Note the contributions that carrying a coffee mug and refilling a water bottle can make. Post information about the number of trees cut down for paper products each year and the mass of plastic water bottles added to landfills.

Another product that will promote the facility and “green” practices is a cloth bag for shopping. Or provide plain bags and offer guests the opportunity to decorate them.

Interpreting and Equipping

As you engage in interpretation of the natural resources of the site, you are offering guests the opportunity to find meaning there. As you equip guests to be stewards of the environment, you are expressing your own commitment to Earth care.

Nancy Ferguson is an Outdoor Ministries consultant, specializing in the creation of program resources for faith-based camps. She is the author of several books, including “Training Staff to be Spiritual Leaders.” She can be reached via e-mail at


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  1. Retreat With The SMERF Market
  2. Green Ideas
  3. Warm Welcome
  4. Retreat For One
  5. Going Green While Saving Green

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