Of course, race directors don't have total control over the shade of green they can achieve. For one thing, they are held hostage by the array of local services and infrastructure available to them. Cities like San Francisco have curbside composting. But many towns across the country don't yet have curbside recycling. Transportation options make a difference, too. For suburban and rural races, the only way to get to the race is to drive--hopefully with more than one person in the car. Participants in city races have more options. For example, many triathletes competing in the Nautica New York City Triathlon take the subway to the race.
More: How to Race Green
Still, there are a few common factors that races should be doing to give you assurance that their efforts are genuine. The shade of green a race achieves, however, depends on the race director's commitment, the resources available (people and money) and the local infrastructure.
Here are three questions you might want to ask before you click the 'register here' button.
1. Are they transparent? If the race says they are recycling and composting, they should be willing to share the results. For large races, this is typically tonnage data they get from their waste hauler for trash, recycling and compost. For smaller events, race directors should at least count the bags and share the results and pictures. The same thing applies to other quantitative results, such as the percent of online, paperless registrations, whether the food served is local and/or organic, what the medals and T-shirts are made from, and even the carbon and water footprint of the race.
More: A Green Guide
2. Are they making a long-term commitment? Like companies and households, races can't just flip a switch and become 100 percent green. Being environmentally responsible is a process, not a destination. In fact, there are new ideas and practices emerging constantly and opportunities to tweak a process to make the race greener. Ideally, race directors should make a few changes every year and then build on those changes in subsequent years. So for instance, this year they might introduce recycling and set a five-year goal of reducing landfill waste to less than 10 percent of the total waste stream. Then next year they add composting of food waste and report the improvement. Regardless of the specific goals, they should be communicating their plans and reporting their results.
More: The Runner's Footprint
3. Do they engage the athletes? If you race a lot you no doubt you have one or two favorite races. It could be because of the goodies at the aid stations, the enthusiastic volunteers, the high-energy announcer, or perhaps the post-race food or music. Regardless, the race director has done something creative that stands out. Same goes for greening the race--the effort should be engaging. For instance, some race directors offer athletes the opportunity to clean out their closets and garages by recycling old shoes, T-shirts, swim caps, wetsuits and old bike inner tubes. They invite local environmental groups to provide education about a local issue and offer athletes the opportunity to get involved. Or they provide fresh, locally grown food instead of the usual bagels and bananas. Some even give prizes for the greenest athlete or team.
More: Eco-Friendly EatingSearch for a green race.
Bruce Rayner is Chief Green Officer of Athletes for a Fit Planet and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Athletes for a Fit Planet is a USAT GoGreen partner company. The company provides environmental services to event organizers and resources for athletes, including the Green Events Calendar.
This article originally was published in USA Triathlon Life magazine. USA Triathlon is proud to serve as the national governing body for triathlon--the fastest growing sport in the world - as well as duathlon, aquathlon and winter triathlon in the United States. Visit usatriathlon.org.