As I hike a lot I have a lot of time to think about the environment. Most effective to protect the environment would be to change and to question your personal behavior again and again.
As this is a hiking blog, I will cover environmental issues related to hiking only. If you live on the trails for months, you already do more to protect the environment than if you live in a fancy house with heating or climate control on.
However, seldom people live on trails for months. There are maybe 10’000 long distance hikers per year but hundreds of millions of ordinary hikers, just out for a day hike, overnighters or just half an hour. It has a huge impact how these people move to the trail and go home again. Where I live, it is common to load your dog into your ridiculous gas-guzzler and drive out of the city. Not just on weekends but every time.
As LNT principles are unheard of here, nobody has a trowel. Used toilet paper survives a winter. And how it is done here, handkerchiefs survive even much longer. I see used TP all the time and not only in remote areas. It is much better to use the Skurka method. I do it personally and it also helps to reduce chafing.
Some organizations recommend the usage of toilet paper because it decomposes quicker but they also say you can cover it with stones…
If you have the need to join an advocacy group for mountain environmentalism in Switzerland, Mountain Wilderness is probably a good choice.
Smokers don’t pack out their cigarette butts here. However, I hike often in semi urban environments. As Switzerland is a rich country (don’t ask why), we have excellent cleaning services, the city I live in, gets cleaned round the clock by the authorities with superb methods. When I do hike on the weekends however, these brave women and men simply can’t cope with the size of their task, especially not in summertime.
If you hike through certain areas here, you can forget your private groundskeepers initiatives. Unless you have the logistics at hand to remove 1000 pounds of trash during just one hike. Even on my hike on the via alpina, through the heartland of Switzerlands most touristy alps, I wasn’t able to remove as much trash as I wanted. There was simply too much.
LNT should only be the beginning. As a hiker I try to reduce my impact further.
This starts with gear: I never buy throwaway gear and I buy the most responsible food possible (depending on budget and availability).
Another possibility is to combine your hike with activism. Carrot Quinn, for example, raises money to protect the arctic while she hikes trough the brooks range.
Where I hike, cutting switchbacks and walking right next to the path is usually no issue. As the entire neighborhood of the path is sometimes a cow swamp. In sensible areas you should never cut the switchbacks and stay on the trails always, regardless if the area is protected somehow or not.
The same is valid for camping while hiking. It starts with the size of your tent and the places you pitch it. Always search for the place you do the least damage to nature. Never start a new fire ring, regardless if its theoretically allowed or not.