His Holiness the 17th Karmapa raised the subject of environmental protection at various occasions and talks but it was first in 2007 when he began strongly advocating for environmental protection activities within the Kagyu community. At the 2007 Kagyu Monlam in Bodh Gaya, His Holiness made environmental protection a priority and said that he would like to see practical results within the Kagyu community. He made a special request to his monasteries that they plant 1,000 trees if they could. He also encouraged the congregation of his followers around the world to take individual responsibility for protecting the environment in their own respective countries. In the following year, all monasteries under him planted trees, and some monasteries planted several thousand saplings.

His Holiness holds the Chinese version of the Environmental Guidelines during the launch in January 2008

His Holiness holds the Chinese version of the Environmental Guidelines during the launch in January 2008

On doing so, he said:

This booklet is but a small drop in a huge ocean. The challenge of environmental degradation is far more complex and extensive than anything we alone can tackle. However, if we can all contribute a single drop of clean water, those drops will accumulate into a fresh pond, then a clear stream and eventually a vast pure ocean. This is my aspiration.

The Guidelines lay out environmental issues most important in the Himalayas and in Tibet; Forests, Water, Wildlife, Waste and Climate Change and offers solutions based on the most recent scientific and practical knowledge available. The booklet was initially produced in English and Chinese and distributed widely. The Tibetan translation was led by His Holiness himself and is available now. It was very popular and the supply couldn’t meet the demand so His Holiness made the Guidelines available online in all three languages.

In March of 2009, His Holiness hosted the First Environmental Conference for Kagyu Monasteries, Centers and Community in Sarnath. It was attended by 60 representatives from 22 monasteries and nunneries, and had honored guests such as HE Thrangu Rinpoche and HE Drupon Rinpoche.

The purpose of the conference was to train the representatives on environmental issues and to make them understand why environmental protection is so important in the Himalayas and in Tibet. The five day conference resulted in monastery representatives gaining a science-based understanding of these issues, being part of working groups to develop site-based solutions for their environmental problems, and making commitments to work on environmental issues that most affect their own community. Two days were set aside for problem solving and strategy development and ended up generating the 108 Things You Can Do To Save the Environment.

Another important outcome of the workshop was the nominations of environmental coordinators from attending monasteries and nunneries. These coordinators are now in charge of managing environmental activities in their locations. In some of the larger monasteries like Rumtek in Sikkim, environmental planning is taking place with NGOs such as WWF to begin work on restoring their water source area, forestation and alternative energy programs. Similarly, other monasteries have set up waste management or forest protection activities.

The Second Conference on Environmental Protection for Kagyu Monasteries and Centers was held in Gyuto in October 2009. 34 monasteries sent their representatives, many of whom had attended the 1st conference. Those monasteries that had created environmental goals made progress reports. Similar to the first conference, three days were put aside for providing science based training on environmental issues but this time with a practical hands-on approach. Working jointly with local Dharamsala NGOs, the attendees were able to see demonstration sites on water restoration, environmentally designed nunneries, waste management and composting and so on. The attendees also participated in a river clean up.

This conference benefitted greatly from the expertise of Nepal Buddhist Federation, Wildlife Trust of India, TESI Environmental Movement and WWF India. Both conferences were facilitated by Dekila Chungyalpa from World Wildlife Fund US.

One of the main results of this workshop was an agreement among the attending monasteries to create an association of monasteries that have launched environmental projects. Initially conceptualized as a Kagyu NGO, His Holiness was requested by Gyuto Monastery and NBF representatives to consider keeping the association open for all Tibetan Buddhist monasteries. His Holiness agreed, saying:

Whatever I do, I want it to have a long term impact and for it to be practical. If I have the opportunity, I want to create long term change and improvement of the environment in Tibet and Himalayas, especially to benefit the forests, the water and wildlife of this region.