Previously he flew to different corners of the world in the hunt for new ski experiences, but then he changed goal to become a new type of proof of concept. Meet Carl Lundberg who offers sustainable mountain adventures, and who explores new types of challenges as part of a life transition.
Mountains made the entrance in Carl’s life when he was 18 and his older sister started working at a mountain hut in Sweden. During a visit, he got the chance to ski for the first time in his life and got hooked. As soon as he got old enough to decide for himself what to do with his life, he started exploring all kinds of mountain adventure sports.
But Carl’s background is not as straight as that. Because for several years he had a career in the Swedish Armed Forces too. Carl is an engineer and a former expert in robotics, and during many years he developed two parallel careers. One as a military officer and researcher, exploring a technique that focused more and more on unmanned weapon systems. In the spare time he qualified for, and subsequently became, a certified mountain guide. When his working duties as a military scientist gradually became in conflict with his own values, Carl left the army and dedicated his life fully to mountain adventures. But now his focus has shifted again.
Carl – who are you?
“Nowadays I am a rookie in transition. Previously, I was a mountain athlete and a passionate skier and climber. I focused on challenges and adventures in the mountains. But mountain adventures are no longer a lifestyle to me but an activity. I visit mountains to get a nature experiences and to reflect upon the effects of humans. Mountain ranges are typically the least man-affected you can find, which makes them unique and interesting.”
Carl is inspired by one of the national communities in the international Transition Network. They describe themselves as ‘A movement of communities coming together to reimagine and rebuild our world’. The principles of the movement are slightly different in different parts of the movement. Carl explains his personal views to me.
“I don’t believe in the paradigm of today and the current economic system any longer. I am tired of doing things that I don’t believe are part of a sustainable solution for society. Everybody who knows what a [mathematical] exponential function is understands that eternal growth won’t happen. Solutions to our global challenges are to be found within local communities in our vicinity, and by collaboration instead of marketing and competition.”
Carl, who is living on a small island in the Stockholm archipelago, turns 47 this year. But he identifies himself with younger people. “I feel closer to young people’s exploring mindset, and my peer elders often come across as mature and even stagnated. As if they have grown up, but I still haven’t” Carl says.
His interest in sustainability issues has gradually grown stronger. “In media, sustainability issues received more and more attention. I am just an ordinary person who could no longer hide but started to reflect over my own responsibility and the effects of my living” Carl says.
Previously, Carl offered the same type of ski adventures as many of his colleagues still do today. “As a mountain guide you observe the effects of climate change from the first row. I worked a lot with helicopter skiing before. But every time I jumped out of a helicopter on top of a glacier, and observed the rapid glacial melting that scientists for so long have been highlighting, I realized that I was in fact participating in the destruction of a landscape that I was selling to my clients.”
What made you take the final step and drastically change business model?
”Two simultaneous events triggered my decision. First, I heard a talk by the scientist Johan Rockström in summer 2015. After that I grasped the situation better. Another eye-opener was the book Images of the future city: time and space for sustainable development written by the Mattias Höjer and others. Their scenarios for the future hit me like a lightening and took the sting out of all arguments I had been using until then for not changing my behaviour” Carl says.
“Ironically, none of the fears I had before I transformed have been fulfilled. My life is none the worse for living sustainable, on the contrary! It is easy to identify with people who argue like I used to do. But when I hear them using my old arguments, I now see the potential for that person to make the same inner journey as I have.”
His new type of living is not as financially challenging as he suspected. Carl’s costs decreased significantly once he stopped flying.
What do you offer to your clients today?
“My speciality is the type of ski tours I would like to do myself if I were a client. The best possible ski tour but within a sustainability frame and with the most environmental technique that the present-day society admits. We travel by train to northern Scandinavia, and for transportation within the mountains we use sled dogs, for example” Carl explains.
His clients are typical ski touring clients, a majority are middle class or higher within the age span of 30 to 60 years. “A majority are men, approximately 30% are women, but they all share a great passion for skiing. Most of them have built an awareness of sustainable already and want this focus, so I suspect that I attract the more sympathetic part of clients hiring mountain guides” Carl says with a smile.
A consequence of Carl’s entirety concept is the diminished focus on clients from abroad.
”The tourist industry is struggling with this issue. Many actors are making excellent sustainability achievements locally, but if the guests have travelled a great distance with flight to get there, the entirety of their visit generates large greenhouse gas emissions, nevertheless. I have chosen not to ignore that fact” Carl says.
Sometimes he works as a consultant for other actors, but he chooses his assignments carefully. Carl would be glad to collaborate in demonstration projects, though, with clients from abroad in order to show the feasibility of a sustainable setup also for such trips.
Carl wanted to proof that it was feasible to build a successful company with a sustainability concept within four years and without following conventional routines. He wanted to make it without external investors, and he aimed for closing fair deals with his local subcontractors. This winter the demand for sustainable travel products was huge and Carl has accomplished his goal.
A surprising but welcomed effect has been the large media interest for Carl’s initiative. Sweden’s main financial newspaper has highlighted his company and sustainability focus, and so have several outdoor media. “It is important to build a critical mass of people with awareness and experience, saying that this life-style is ok. Maybe this is where my main contribution lies” he says.
Your guide colleagues, how do they apprehend your initiative?
“I have received mixed reactions actually. Many people, especially young people, encourage me a lot. It is rewarding to spread the message when I teach at folk high-schools and I meet young guide adapts and aspirants. But among my older and already established guide colleagues there is a critical discussion about what I am trying to achieve. Several of them have invested a lot in their businesses and guide identities. Especially the ones who fly a lot” Carl says.
“Ironically, the established guides have thousands of customers in their customer registers already, so it would be feasible for them to become more sustainable. It is tough for new guides, but on the contrary, they come across as the more open-minded. My advice to young people who want to act, but who work within established companies, is to build something new from scratch instead of trying to change the company behaviour from the inside. There is often too much conservatism in the established companies.”
I ask Carl about challenges and disadvantages with offering clients sustainable mountain adventures. “Honestly, I don’t find any disadvantages. Previously, I lived with a bad conscience and counterarguments, which took away the pleasure. And challenges, isn’t that what mountain adventures are about?! When things aren’t running smooth, I try to focus on the bigger perspective. If I am fortunate enough to be able to ski, then I must take my responsibility and ski in a sustainable manner.”
Carl ponders about the contradictory behaviour among mountain adventurers. “People are attracted to mountain adventures because they seek challenges and hard work on the mountain, but everything else should be super comfortable. But to carry mountain gear through a train station is also hard work and challenging, so why not enjoy challenges also during the transport to and from the mountains?
“It may require a different kind of planning, though, for example to book spare time between travel legs and train connections.” After some additional thinking Carl lift some risks. “There is a big interest in and increasing demand for sustainable travels [in Sweden], but there is currently a lack of destinations and travel alternatives to meet the demand. Moreover, people who have failed in their attempts to travel sustainably because of delayed trains etc. are much harder to bring around a second time.”
What are your tips to guides and professionals who wish to offer sustainable travels and services?
“I choose to cite one of my big role models, Rune Hansen, who is a legendary organic cook and restaurateur in Stockholm – You gain an enormous strength by being able to say that you do something 100%. I often return to these words” Carl replies.
Carl points out that it is a big difference between adding some organic parsley on top of a dish versus cooking the whole dish with organic ingredients. “It is much easier to explain to the customer what you do if you go all in. So be courageous and walk your own way as far as you can, convince yourself not to be a chicken!”
“Mountain guides have an opportunity to demonstrate the effects of climate change. Our responsibility is not bigger than any other supplier’s, but we have an extra good opportunity to act. The more money you’ve got the bigger foot-print you tend to make.” Carl argues that clients hiring mountain guides, often people from the upper middle class, may have a bigger footprint but also better opportunity to change behaviour. “They have enough money to transform, and they tend to be a role model for lower classes in society, so their inspirational impact is large.”
Carl is concerned about the future and thinks that the trend will be the same in the mountain- and outdoor society as in the rest of society. “Some will grasp the problem and act while others cannot understand or just neglect the problem and their responsibility. In the diving industry, for example, travel organizers can just change to another destination when the coral reefs die without changing mindset. The effects of climate change will be extra evident in the mountains and I am afraid that many organizers of mountain travels will not reflect on it.”
My reflection from the interview with Carl is that he is clearly a person who is living his mission, being a proof of concept. Before telling others what to do, he wants to perform it himself as well as he can. He has changed focus since I met him many years ago, back in time when he wore a military uniform. But his energy and spirit are clearly the same.