The American rock climber Tommy Caldwell is one of the strongest athletes in the world and was in the global news for his ascent of the Nose and the Fitz Roy Traverse in Patagonia. At the latest with the ascent of the probably most difficult big wall climb in the world, The Dawn Wall, he gained worldwide fame. Tommy is heavily involved in the global climate debate and is accordingly careful in the choice of his sponsors. LACRUX spoke to Tommy about sustainability and his role as a professional athlete and therefore his role as an ambassador.
An interview with Tommy Caldwell - ambassador of mountaineering equipment manufacturer Edelrid
In 2014 you did the historical ascent of the Fitz Roy Traverse, in 2015 another historical ascent of The Dawn Wall. What's next?
Climbing seems to have unintentionally taken a back burner to other opportunities that have come up lately. I wrote a book and have been doing tons of events surrounding movies, festivals, and doing my best to be a good family man. I also spend a fair amount of time advocating for climate change solutions. I miss climbing however and recently found another pretty extraordinary looking free climb on El Cap. I’ll return there this fall and have a go.
You are father of two little kids. How did they change your life?
The main change is probably the way that I spend my time. Kids now come first. It makes time management tricky, but the motivation to do what’s right and life with passion is bigger than ever. I also tend to pick climbing objectives that I am relatively certain I will live through these days. In the future this will likely mean more time on good rock and less on snow.
Did they change the way of how you think about the future, topics like climate change and sustainability?
Absolutely! Before having kids I tended to think my interactions with the world in terms of my lifespan. Since having kids I consider not only there futures but the future of all humans. So I spend a lot of good chunk of my time considering impact and working to get people to vote for representatives that will work to protect.
There are many rope and climbing product companies out there. How come you are ambassador of the German company Edelrid with its headquarter in the little town of Isny im Allgäu?
My relationship with Edelrid started with my good friend Carsten Von Birckhahn. He was the brand manager for Edelrid and had an incredible vision for a company based in sustainability and innovation. I felt that by working with Edelrid I would have the opportunity to build products that changed the way we moved in the mountains, but also to show the industry that we could do less harm in production.
Facts about Edelrid
- 60% Made in Germany
Today, over 60% of Edelrid sales are generated with products "Made in Germany". For Edelrid, "Made in Germany" is not just a slogan, but a commitment to the brand and to Germany as a production location.
- 38% of the products are Bluedesign certified
The Bluesign system is the strictest environmental standard for the production of textile products. Instead of just looking at the finished product, the Bluesign system checks the upstream production processes of all the processed components of a product.
- 100% PFC-free
Since 2018 Edelrid produces and sells the world's first ropes with a PFC-free coating. With the Eco-Dry refinement technology, Edelrid has succeeded in developing a process that is 100% PFC-free and in no way inferior to high-performance PFCs.
- 90% organic cotton
In the clothing collection sets Edelrid on certified organic cotton, which is produced fairly. It is produced under strict ecological conditions - without chemical fertilizers, without pesticides and with a lower water consumption than with conventional cultivation methods. Genetic engineering is also taboo.
For you, personally, what’s the difference between Edelrid and other brands?
I prefer to work with family owned brands that have a primary focus on sustainability. The other climbing gear and rope manufactures are miles behind Edelrid on this way.
What's your favorite Edelrid product?
These days I really enjoy the Canary ropeIts light, handles well and has a high sheath proportion which makes it last much longer. Although, there are some pretty amazing products in development that I can’t wait to start testing.
Edelrid Swift Eco Dry 8.9
Another highlight among the Edelrid ropes is the Swift Eco Dry. The Swift Eco Dry is the first PFC-free rope on the market that, thanks to its special treatment, meets the UIAA standard for water-repellent ropes. More sustainability is not possible. Learn more.
You are a member of Protect our winters (POW), a nonprofit organization who unites outdoor people and raises its voice for a political change. How do you define/see your role in this nonprofit specifically and in society generally concerning the climate change discussion?
I like Yvon Chouinard’s quote here. As our fearless leader at Patagonia, “When you have the opportunity and the ability to do good and you do nothing, that’s evil.” I understand at some level that I have a voice that people will listen to. I believe climate change is threatening the future for my children and for all life on Earth. It’s hard to imagine a cause more noble than that. POW educates outdoor people and gives them a platform for change. 80 percent of climate change effect can be dictated by policy change. My job is to amplify POW’s stance and therefore do my part to save humanity.
5700'000 people follow you on Instagram, 99'000 on Facebook. Your voice counts for many people. Are you soaked in sweat every time before publishing a post?
I am relatively used being a public person. In general I believe people are good, so as long as I am doing what feels true and genuine I don’t sweat how big my audience is.
Selected celebration of Tommy Caldwell
2005 climbing The Nose on El Capitan
2014 Feb: Fitz Roy Traverse
2015 Jan: Ascent of the Dawn Wall
2018: Speed record of The Nose
What do you tell people who are blaming you for travelling, including flying, a lot as a professional athlete and therefore doing no good for the planet?
I would counter with questioning the “doing no good” part. Everyone has to decide what their role is in the climate change fight. We should all fight to reduce our consumption, but those of us that are the messengers have to travel for our voices to be heard. Here is a great quote.
“Of course we all use fossil fuels, and people in the northern States of the United States wore cloths made of cotton picked by slaves. But that did not make them hypocrites when they joined the abolition movement. It just meant thy were also part of the slave economy, and they knew it. That is why they acted to change the system, Not just their clothes.”
As a professional athlete you are travelling more than most of the people, which is not the best for the climate. How do you – on a daily basis – make sure your footprint is not too big?
In truth my carbon footprint is quite heavy due to my travel. I buy offsets even though I know it is a flawed system because I believe that it must do at least some good. I have also systematically started to make lifestyle changes that will reduce my consumption. I eat vegetarian. My home operates primarily of solar. I reduce my travel when possible and commute by bike as much as possible when home. I audit my trash. I spend a large percentage of my time these days fighting for climate change policy and lobby to get the leaders in office that will make good policy. I work for and buy from companies that strive to find climate solutions.
His offspring is also committed to the climate
How can climbers in particular try to do better, concerning their impact on our environment?
They can follow the examples of people like Alex Honnold and myself. They can live simply of less and learn to love their local climbing areas. And they can work to get people into public office that pay attention to the climate crisis.
Trailer of the movie The Dawn Wall with Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson
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Credits: Pictures Edelrid & Red Bull Content Pool