Topic that came up in today’s Sunday meeting: what should be the role of Couchers in promoting certain values such as environmentalism? This issue quickly became very contentious and it was suggested to post here for discussion, so I’m starting this new topic.
To briefly summarize, everyone agreed that the environment is good (hot take, I know), but nobody could agree on what should be done by Couchers to promote that or even if we should.
Some people made good points that a platform that values travel and appreciation of the world and its inhabitants should take an active role in promoting environmentalism. It was mentioned we can try to promote more sustainable lifestyles, and highlight public transit, and maybe even host our data on green or carbon-neutral servers.
However, some other people were worried that actively promoting this could “dilute” the core values of the platform by shifting focus away from the central mission of Couchers, which are more along the lines of diversity, hospitality, and adventure. It may also alienate part of the potential user base since (unfortunately) the environment is now kind of a polarizing partisan topic.
One thing that was mentioned that some people liked: instead of “advertising” environmentalism as a value, we instead just occasionally quietly promote or even help organize local “green events” in the community, such as a garbage-pickup day, or a composting workshop. These might be a more authentic way of promoting these values.
This is just a brief summary of the discussion. Feel free to comment your opinions below. Thanks!
I want to preempt this conversation before it devolves into a discussion about whether Couchers should “take a stance and promote environmentalism” or not. Couchers is not an environmentalist organization at it’s core, and it’s not the guiding principle of who we are and what we’re organizing around (even though a lot of the people involved hold strong values in this). Our core mission is not to be a “greener way to travel”, or something similar, rather, our mission is to foster couch surfing and all that comes with it.
The global climate catastrophe is something that cannot be ignored, and it’s something that all of us are affected by, as individuals, and as an organization (if not now, then at least in the long run). We do not exist in a vacuum, and what we do has an impact. Right now that impact is minuscule, but as we grow, the impact will grow alongside us: what we do, the tools we build, the behavior that they encourage and the way we foster community matters. We as an organization have more “bargaining power” than the sum of us as individuals. We do not exist in a vacuum: what we do involves taking a stance, one way or the other, so we need to think about what the right way is.
So I’d like to steer this conversation into something slightly different. What should we do — as an organization, and as a community of individuals — to do our part in alleviating this problem instead of exacerbating it?
Totally agree with this, and that’s why I think this topic should be in the back of our minds at all times as we’re building the platform, building our communities, and interacting with people when we surf/host/meet up.
International travel is often at odds with environmentalism because an international flight or cruise is incredibly bad for the environment. At the same time, I think it’s essential that humanity forms closer bonds around the world and comes to value others across the globe. This motivates us to exchange information about how to address some of the environmental problems we are facing as well as to care about the impact in other places. If people care more about what is happening on the other side of the planet because they have friends there – then they are more inclined to act and change their behavior.
On my travels I’ve also learned a lot more about being more environmentally friendly – especially when I was in Switzerland, Austria and Germany. I applied a lot of those lessons to my own life in the USA and shared them with those around me. On my travels I also visited places where the environment was being ravaged/destroyed and it has spurned me to action. I’m not saying everyone is going to be like me or that everyone is going to have the same takeaways as I’ve had, but I think some byproducts of couch surfing are bringing humanity closer together, learning from each other, and making us care about each other (and our environments) more, in a way that’s largely unique to our community.
I think there are things that Couchers.org can actively do as we scale to make sure we not only minimize our environmental footprint but have a positive impact on the environment as an overall community. Here are a few examples:
Make it easy for community builders to share information on public transportation (if available), biking, carpooling, etc. and make that information easily accessible to travelers.
Promote events and activities that are related to environmental action.
Host our platform on carbon neutral / servers or otherwise offset our direct carbon footprint.
Periodically write blog posts that draw attention to environmental concerns and discuss topics that have a positive impact on the environment
Bring up the topic of environmentalism with volunteers (and maybe users?) during onboarding to make sure that our environmental impact is something that is on peoples’ minds.
Encourage more discussions like the one in this thread
I’m not suggesting these are all things that we can/should do immediately, but as mentioned previously, environmentally net-positive frameworks, actions, and behavior should be on our minds at all times as we’re building the platform, building our communities, and interacting with people so we can do our part as an organization and community. We should also keep in mind other large societal issues, but those are off-topic in this thread.
Couchers could allow users to purchase carbon credits to compensate for their trips (and maybe take a cut to fund the platform?), but wouldn’t that just be a form of green-washing? CS promoted traveling in a major way, most of it happened by plane and a lot of it just week-end trips. Tourism/traveling is just antithetical with environmentalism unless you’re traveling by bike or horseback. My point is: Couchers couldn’t possibly advertise itself as an environmentally friendly platform.
I agree to this part. Several countries in the world have a very different approach to saving the environment and proritizing it. Right now the community seems to be influenced mainly by a few of the so called first world countries.
My personal view is that one of the main reasons of pollution is globalism and by promoting travelling, especially over long distances, sites like this who are promoting travelling actually have a mainly bad impact on the environment (while also having some benefits like improving understanding of different cultures).
The thing is, if Couchers try to taking a side for the environment people might ask where we stand in LGTB rights and why we are caring more about the environment than minority rights or why we don’t fight capitalism and so on.
I would keep politics out of it, because once you start in entails a lot of more issues where you need to position yourself which might work pretty well for some time but sooner or later you find issues that will seperate the community.
CS promoted traveling in a major way, most of it happened by plane and a lot of it just week-end trips.
I just hosted a heavy CS user who said he took 200 planes in his life (32 years old). If tourism doesn’t encourage this I don’t know what will.
But I think this is exactly the point and it can be answered with what you said above:
Most of us here probably care a lot about other issues as well and try to fight them in other ways. But why should Couchers as an organization care more about environmentalism?
Because unfortunately you are right, we are the ones actively harming the cause here. If we keep a tally of all the bad that something causes in the world, the negative impact on the environment we’re having by promoting traveling would probably be at the top and none of the other causes we might personally care about as well.
We’re responsible for making this one worse, so the least we can do is promoting awareness about this fact! And then we should try to offset our negative impact in some ways.
It’s a difficult topic because the best that each of us could do is of course never travel again but then we wouldn’t be here. So in the absence of that we should do whatever we can come up with. I like all of ideas above from @Jesse and we should continue talking about it and coming up with more.
Now I’ve been thinking more about specific things we can do.
Since the goal of Couchers is not climate activism, I don’t think there’s much sense in spreading our own resources thinner and doing some watered down half measures that make us feel better.
But there are many other organizations who are focused on exactly this. And what we can do is promote them, raise awareness and drive traffic to them.
I could see a regular blog post series that highlights environment focused non-profits, interviews with people who work there to give our users concrete ideas how they personally could support this work. Maybe banners in the app or local fundraising events for groups we want to support.
I really think raising awareness is the key. Many people agree that climate change is bad but have no idea what they can do and who is out there doing good work and needing their support.
Also many people might not realize how much bad our most precious hobby of traveling is actually causing. So if we can highlight this, that would be great. Maybe by having all the things we’re potentially doing about this topic link to a “campaign page” that explains why we’re doing it and is a handy collection of all the blogs posts or organizations we want to show.
There’s no such thing as “keeping politics out” or being apolitical. Every action and stance taken (or NOT taken) affects people and is therefore political.
The “apolitical” stance of “not taking a side” just means sticking with the status quo and continuing harm to oppressed communities/the environment/what have you.
This is a popular sentiment these days, but I disagree with it. It’s not impossible to remove oneself and remain intentionally neutral on a subject. Whether we want to do so or not is currently being debated here, but it’s important to remember that careful, calculated inaction is always an option (and sometimes it may be the best one).
To be clear, I’m not saying doing nothing has no consequences. However, just because something has consequences doesn’t necessarily make it “political”.
There is a middle ground between doing good and doing harm, and it’s doing nothing.
I feel like I also need to preemptively state that I think it couldn’t hurt to promote environmentalism in subtle ways like the aforementioned green events (pick up trash, encourage transit, compost workshop, etc…). That would be a good way of encouraging sustainability which is obviously important. However, we don’t need to officially take a stance on environmentalism or any other issue (esp. since like others have pointed out, sustainable travel is currently almost impossible)
Traveling to get to know people and their ways of life around the world is an entirely good and beneficial activity in my view. It’s not what’s destroying our world on a massive scale. That’s happening because of corporate profit and industrial exploitation. Corporations and entire industries are funding campaigns about individual responsibility for this destruction - to distract from and evade real regulation.
I live on a very touristic island and I can see the many aspects of the destruction the travel and tourism industry is causing. But what we promote is not part of that at all. Couchers is a non-profit, supporting individuals and communities around the world in having and creating meaningful interactions. To me, that’s socially and environmentally beneficial at it’s core already.
Hey, you are stressing a simple word. Yeah, I heard before that doing nothing is still a political statement albeit a passive one. It’s the same as it is not possible to NOT communicate. It doesn’t matter much to me if you call “inaction” political or not, either way I think being neutral/inactive it is the way to go.
I 100% agree with the second part. But actually, as individuals, taking a plane is one of the things that makes the worst impact, and the eagerness of companies for corporate profit is what has made flights so common. Low cost airlines are capitalism at its best, and they promote traveling even if it’s for two days 200km away by plane. I’m sorry to say this but a travelers social network that makes campaigns about sustainability is not different than those industries funding campaigns about individual responsibility. It’s doing exactly the same “yeah, take 20 flights this year, it’s as long as you compost your potato peels ”.
It would be good that it’s talked about and discussed, but in deep, and bringing up the big issues that it is that first world country people take so many flights each year (sorry, but rich countries are the ones that have most of the flights, even when they could take a train). If you are just going to talk about how good it is to separate your trash (when we know for a fact that most of it doesn’t even get recycled, so doing it doesn’t make any difference in reality) , and avoid the elephant in the room, then it’s hypocrisy amd green washing.
I support having a banner that says “every time you take a plane, you kill a baby penguin ”. That would be honest
I wasn´t trying to attack anyone!! I´m just saying we should be real about the consequences of our own actions.
Let´s use an example where noone feels personally attacked: I´m a smoker. I have 10 cigarettes every day, and 20 if I go out drinking. I am fully aware every time I light a cigarette of what I am doing to my body. And I can go and eat a healthy food afterwards, or run for an hour, or have 2 lts of water, and that´s nice to my body, but: it doesn´t make those 10 cigarrettes any less bad, does it? It does not decrease my chance of getting cancer. I am aware, and I own it.
Well, same with travels. We like them, we enjoy them, let´s not try to sugarcoat to ourselves the consequences of our actions.
Maybe she should be our environmental ambassador.
Take trains, save our friend.
Thank you for that example. “Hitting a child and then grooming it with sweets and toys” would be the metaphor I was using in the past years, but yours seems to be less violent. I steal it from you.
Slight off topic: I work as a teacher in a German high school and my young coworkers are ardent supporters of the Green Party in Germany. When Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future protests had been at its peak about two years ago, a majority of them got inebriated by activism and we wanted to “teach” the students (teenagers) environmental awareness and tips to protect the planet that fall into the “compost your potato peels” category. They even wanted to attend the protests with the students, but since my school is in a pretty poor neighboorhood with many indifferent households that don’t care a lot about politics and activism and stuff, so are our students: they don’t care about the planet.
Here comes the rub: I witness my coworkers trying to tell the “ignorant” students how to compost their potato peels while they themselves belong to higher German classes (teachers earn a lot in Germany) and brag about their holidays in Thailand, South Africa and stuff. And our students, who might be ignorant of climate change issues, don’t care about composting potato peels are just too poor to ever being able to afford a single plane flight in their lives and will have a much better carbon foot print than my coworkers, who own big flats, cars and take the family to club holiday at least twice a year, but feel entitled to teach other people about their climate misbehaviourism.
Back to topic:
I am not saying you we as a community shouldn’t do anything, but we have to be fully aware of the pros and cons of our actions and if Couchers as a whole wants to make a statement I will be more than glad if the cons of being part in promoting long-distance travelling will have a big part in a multi-levelled examination of what we do, what we stand for and what we want to achieve.
I’m on the no side if it’s about “taking a stance” for the reasons already listed - travellers take planes, it’s not the only problem that exists (how about taking a stance on the Afghanistan situation then), and also there’s so much greenwashing going on in the world that it’s just irritating to see another banner. I’d be very glad to not see anything about killing baby penguins on the main page.
But I think this would be great. For example, maybe if there is a “green” event, it can appear not only in the local community, but also in the regional and the global ones. That could set an example and maybe also attract more participants. Maybe that could work not only for green events, but also for others promoting ideas Couchers agree with.
Great ideas all around. Y’all are making me so proud
@Aleja the way you’ve explained it now absolutely makes it clear and you are 100% right. Better not to do any damage in the first place.
That said, I agree with raising awarensss about any kind of event that draws attention to environmental protection. But I also think it’s the responsibility of huge, for profit and multi millionaire/billionaire type companies to actually make change. As long as those entities are doing damage, whatever we as individuals do feels kinda pointless. The best we can do is be aware of what there is we can do to stop them (i.e, boycotts, protests, donating to opposition forces etc). At the end of the day, our power lies most in what we spend money on, right?
In that sense if we are not spending money on Couchers and Couchers is not actively destroying the environment, I think it rests in a neutral zone. I guess I align most with @nolo on this point .
Still very open to ideas and would love to somehow make Couchers on the right side of environmental protection somehow. Maybe one day when if we have enough influence, we can endorse/partner with what other organizations are doing when we see them doing the right thing.
This is exactly what I ment.
Raising awareness is good, but how do we do that without owning what we do?
I really agree with what Nolo said
Yup: the problem is how much they produce and under wich conditions. But I don’t think individuals don’t have any saying on it. If there’s no demand, offer dropps. If you don’t buy 10 pairs of sneakers, or don’t change your cellphone every time a new model drops or don’t take planes to go 300km away, they’ll eventually stop producing so much. Just don’t buy things you don’t need, even if they are on sale and it’s very tempting or if they are pretty and you really want them. If they don’t sell them, they won’t produce them. The only real way to stop it is to consume less.
And I am fully aware that when I talk about this people feel personally attacked. Noone wants to think they are part of the problem. I know I don’t. But we don’t have time left to tiptoe around it.
I do like tge ideas you are mentioning, it would be nice to promote events from green organizations, and to suggest using greener ways of transportation. I think at this point in history the “fix it afterwards” approach its not useful anymore, it’s too late for that, it need to change for a “break less” approach, aka: consume less, which is very hard when you are traveling. So how do we suggest and facilitate info for people to consume less while traveling? Would be a nice thing to have embed in the proyect. As Jesse mentioned: suggesting public transportation is a good one. One thing I do for people that prefer not to drink tap water when traveling (we know it can be tricky) it’s to take them to the supermarket to get a 5lt water bottle, and refill a portable one. That’s 10 small bottles less
What other things can we suggest to travelers to reduce consumption? Maybe there’s a way we can we promote this ideas on the app?