Making guiding more sustainable: 3 leaders share their stories

Top tips and tricks for making your unit more environmentally friendly

22 April 2024

4 out of 5 girls think that youth organisations like Girlguiding should be doing more to help the environment.

That’s one of the reasons why we’re sharing more information about Girlguiding’s environmental commitments, and our ambitions for a greener Girlguiding future.  

We know that many units are already doing incredible things – making sustainable decisions, and keeping environmental values at their core. We caught up with 3 leaders to find out more about what they’re doing.   

Heather – 10th Falmouth Guides and 1st Falmouth Rangers 

When Heather and the other leaders of 10th Falmouth Guides organised a camp a few years ago, they made sure sustainability was at the heart of their planning. ‘As a leadership team, we’re quite environmentally aware,’ Heather shared. ‘We wanted to really think about the impact we were having as a guide camp.’ 

To do this, Heather and the other leaders considered everything from how to feed people through to waste and recycling. ‘When we’re looking at feeding 30 odd people in a field, it’s quite a challenge... even just keeping what you have cold because the camp at the time was in a field with no power.’  

The team relied on ice packs and ice blocks, as well as looking at what food could be accessed locally or brought to the site – like milk delivered in glass bottles to the campsite, and fruit and veg from the local form shop. All these simple steps helped the camp to avoid food waste. And when it came to recycling, one of the leaders put in a request for an extra set of recycling bags. They took the bags with them on the trip, and they now live permanently in the guide shed ready for other occasions.  

‘A lot of it is just thinking before you start doing, more than anything else! Thinking, what actually am I going to end up with that I don’t need?’ - Heather reflecting on her top tips for other leaders.

Helena - 2nd Coney Hall Guides and Rangers 

Helena, Sue, Shirley and Sarah’s unit takes a girl-led approach to sustainability. The girls help drive the environmentally-friendly choices which the unit makes – such as avoiding single use items as much as possible, being sure to reuse resources (for example, using both sides of piece of paper!) and doing activities online where possible to prevent excessive printing.  

Some of the Rangers and leaders are part of a local environmental action group and regularly bring their insights and enthusiasm back to unit meetings. Through this group, the unit has been involved in a wildlife reserve in their local park. They enjoyed an evening there last summer, helping to build a bug hotel and butterfly area. 

Helena recommends choosing things that are built to last, and adapting activities to make this possible. For example, Helena has invested in reusable LED lights rather than glowsticks. These can be used again and again, as opposed to a single-use glowstick. Similarly, Helena has swapped the balloon net recommended in the macrame master unit meeting activity to using the same macrame method to create keyrings and bracelets instead, as these are items her unit will get more use from.  

'Use what's in the cupboard first!' - Helena's key advice to leaders thinking about sustainable changes.

Sarah – 1st Callander Guides 

‘Girls don’t want us just to talk the talk – they want us to walk the walk,’ reflected Sarah, when thinking about how young members in her unit felt about the environment. ‘They challenge me with the little things, and it makes me think – what can I do? How can we be better?’ 

One of the things 1st Callander Guides have done to try and do things more sustainably is set up an informal lift-sharing network. Through WhatsApp messages and a willingness to help out, young members often share lifts to and from unit meetings or excursions. Sarah estimates that there’s a 40-mile diameter for girls who come to her unit. As a rural town, this lift-sharing network is not only good for the environment because it cuts down on car emissions- it also makes the unit more accessible for those who don’t drive, or have other commitments.  

1st Callander Guides are not only giving back to the environment, but also their community, through their upcycled free library project. Originally an activity completed to earn their upcycling interest badge, young members have established a small community library which is housed in their unit. The library is now a few years old. The unit find it's particularly well used during the summer months, when tourists can often be found using it.

‘It’s great – it gives [the girls] something, and they learned to use all kinds of tools doing it.’  - Sarah on the community library built by her unit.