BHAGs—Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals. That’s something that we constantly strive for here at Natural Habitat Adventures. And while the term itself is not officially part of our esteemed Core Ideologies, it lives in the culture of our workplace and our global community.

Our most recent BHAG came in the form of eliminating waste at our annual guide training—99% of it, that is. Instead, we would divert potential waste by reducing, reusing, recycling, or composting materials that would normally go to a landfill. Last fall, Nat Hab announced the World’s First Zero Waste Adventure, and ever since, our company has also began looking at ways we can make “zero waste” not only a singular adventure, but a lifestyle.

So, as we welcomed 32 guides from all over the world into the mountains of Colorado for a six-day retreat, we fully embraced our BHAG and went for it—the world’s first zero waste guide training.

Zero waste at Nat Hab

© Court Whelan

Here’s what turned this lofty goal into reality:

Each house had 11 labeled disposal bins for our guides and staff to use as a sorting mechanism: plastic to be taken to the Boulder County Recycling Center, clear plastic, colored plastic, colored glass, clear glass, cardboard, paper, aluminum, compost (food waste only), compost (non-food waste), and TerraCycle (an innovative company that recycles many single-use plastic snack wrappers that most recycling centers cannot accept).

Our visiting Expedition Leaders did a fantastic job with carefully disposing of items in the appropriate bins. Then the Nat Hab Operations staff sorted the contents of the bins a second time to ensure that everything that could be diverted from the landfill was sorted appropriately. We did this to the best of our abilities, sorting only items that were left in the bins (if any items were thrown away elsewhere in the house or disposed of by the guides otherwise, we considered those out of our control). Similar to how we will determine “zero waste” for the World’s First Zero Waste Adventure, we did not count items related to personal hygiene or that posed a bio-hazard, most of which were left in bathroom waste bins. It is also important to note that the waste we collected and diverted was produced at the four houses. We did not count waste produced at restaurants or outside venues that we visited for meals and training sessions.

Expedition Leaders in Frisco

© Devon Petersen

Lastly, we brought a great deal of leftover food items back to the Nat Hab office headquarters in Boulder. Field Staff Director Renata Haas shared an all-office email encouraging people to take the leftover food that was up for grabs and we believe that all of it went to good use and that the packaging was disposed of properly. Renata even made homemade ice cream with the leftover milk!

We returned a week later with mounds of compost, TerraCycle and additional recycling, heavy enough to fill a Sprinter van. But in return, all of our trash from the six-day guide training event fit into a single glass jar. And while there was tremendous preparation and effort put into this endeavor, we left with our hearts a bit fuller knowing that we had reduced our impact on the Earth.

We couldn’t have made this happen without the incredible efforts of our guide training zero waste team—Kelly Pleffner, Francisco “Paco” Di Poi, Paul Conzemius, Flannery Davis and Ami Jones—in addition to all of the guides and staff who were willing to follow our team’s instructions.

Between buying groceries that had little or no packaging (or packaging that could be recycled), setting up of all of the bins and labeling them to make sure guides and staff knew what went where, weighing, sorting and taking loads of recycling to the recycling center in Frisco mid-week, doing a final sweep of all four houses before removing the recycling and compost, the support of this dedicated team and our company helped us achieve our Big Hairy Audacious Goal.


  • 4 ski houses
  • 6 days, 4 nights
  • 52 people
    • 28 guides, 4 field staff, 20 Operations staff
  • TerraCycle: 8 lbs.
  • Recycling: 195 lbs.
  • Compost: 133.5 lbs.
  • Landfill: 1 Mason jar
One jar of trash for guide training

© Court Whelan

This guest post was written by Nat Hab Operations Coordinator Flannery Davis.