||This weekend we visited a ski slope in Belgrade to see what World Snowboarding Day was all about. The event was hosted by Forest Fest and we listened to presentation of sports association Freestylers who were responsible for organization of this event. We also had a chance to hear the great work done by Supernatural, as well as a great French organization for environmental protection of mountains known by the name of Mountain Riders . We interviewed Stewart Sheppard from Mountain Riders and here is what he had to say.
Tell us a bit about the background of Mountain Riders, its purpose and did the development of Mountain Riders exceed your expectations?
Mountain Riders is an NGO that was born in 2001. At that time I met the founder who organising the same things as me: cleaning up the ski resorts with his friends so I decided to join forces with him and join his organisation.
Back then people would look at us in a funny way when we picked the rubbish up of the ski slopes. But today (or this summer) there were more than 3500 volunteers that picked up 65 tonnes of rubbish with us in 165 ski resorts all over Europe. At the beginning the inspiraiton for this came from Surfrider foundation who have been celaning up the beaches for the last 20 years but also simply because with our friends we were on the mountains in the summer and we saw all that rubbish.
The original purpose of Mountain Riders was to inform and raise awareness of all different local and national stakeholders on environmental issues to enable their action towards a common goal of a sustainable and responsible development of tourism in the mountains and also to bring together the different local and national stakeholders: elected representatives, professionals and holidaymakers to enable their action towards the common goal of a sustainable and responsible development. Because sustainability can only be reached when all these actors start talking and working together.
Did the development of Mountain Riders exceed my expectations? Yes, ten times Yes. When I first new of Mountain Riders it was just a group of friends. Now it's actually my job and to be honest I had never dreamed it would be my job! It's also a small organisation that employs 7 people but big resorts managing millions of Euros actually listen to what we say. However growing the organisation was long and not easy. And still today it is a challenge to find funding for all our activities.
What was and is your biggest challenge of implementing Respect your Mountain philosophy?
Our biggest challenge was two fold - First we had to prove our credibility : that what we were saying was based on facts and backed by figures and studies.
Secondly we had to convince ski resorts and companies to work with us. Because it means these companies are going out of their way to get an indenpendant evaluation of their work.
I know you've been in Belgrade for a very short time, but what is your general impression on environmental issues in Serbia?
My general impression of environmental issues is probably flawed because I only spent a short time in Belgrade but also because I met people that were involved in Environmental studies but here is what I felt.
It looks like you are more or less at the same stage as the rest of the world with some people and environmental pressure groups beginning to ask questions and to be aware of environmental issues. And the rest of the people are either not aware, do not have time to care because their main concern is getting a job and finally a few that just don't care (but that's the same everywhere).
My personnal opinion is that change can happen fast and will happen fast if the consumers start asking questions, asking for 'greener' and/or more responsible prodcuts because companies listen to just this: the voice of the consummer! Yvon Chouinard (founder and owner of Patagonia, a sportswear company) once said something like this: "Never forget that it's you the consumer that has the choice. If you don't want to a product you can always choose not to buy it and eventually the company producing it will either change it to make it better or stop making it. Remember you always have the choice."
Where do you see is a good start to do something similar in Serbia?
A good place to start is by organising a kind of spring cleaning in a big park or in a forest spot where lots of people go to like a national park. Just to make people aware of the quantity of rubbih that is left behind and/of thrown away. Why not ask Ecoist or Supernatural to organise a clean up of this big park and then create a pile of rubbish with everything that was picked up and get the press to come and film this/see this.
After that the only thing you need to is listen to the questions people are asking. Our guides only exist because people where asking how they could find out if ski resorts where green or if ski gear was green. If you give and answer to a question that is being asked or create a tool to solve a real problem you will succeed (but it doesn't mean it will be easy).
At the end I would like to add, it was great meeting you. I'm really happy to see other people are caring about the environment all over the world, because there is yet so much to do.