The Greening of the Running Industry

What once was a relatively small group of tree-hugging consumers has grown into a large population of carbon-neutral wannabes. The running industry is beginning to respond to this new eco-sensitive community by developing green products and events.

In the short term, green efforts offer promotional benefits and over a number of years, events, vendors and manufacturers are seeing significant energy and cost savings associated with sustainable practices. But in the long run industry entities hope their collective efforts will result in clean air and attractive natural areas to fully support the low energy, health-improving activity of running, the most natural of sports.

Greener Events Becoming More Popular

BolderBOULDER was one of the first major road races to implement resource conservation efforts although race director Cliff Bosley acknowledges that initial efforts in the mid-90s were informal and modest. In 1999, BolderBOULDER began tracking the amount of waste that was collected along the course and at the finish area. Every year as the field and spectator numbers have increased, the amount of non-recyclable garbage has decreased. With the help of the University of Colorado Recycling Program, an environmental impact report is produced after each race and recommendations are made for ways to improve.

Fifteen years ago the local bus service began offering a park-and-ride service, which about 27 percent of the BolderBOULDER entrants used in 2007. In 2003, race organizers began using a usable lunch bag for post-race refreshments and items are selected that have minimal packaging. Over the last five years, the entry form has been reduced from eight to four pages and the online registrations have increased from 15 percent to 50 percent. All unused food and drinks, averaging about 10,000 lbs. per year, are donated to the Boulder Community Food Share.

At last year's event, 15,906 lbs. of race day garbage were recycled, a 41 percent increase from 2006. The result of their conservation efforts saved the equivalent of:

  • 37 forty foot Douglas-fir trees
  • 41,300 gallons of water
  • 332 million BTU energy
  • 7 Metric Tons of Carbon Emission (MTCE)
  • 3,000 gallons of gasoline

Bosley believes that a mindset of minimizing waste and saving resources not only is the right thing to do for the environment, but also can help an event's bottom line.

Trail runners didn't need Al Gore to bring home the importance of minimizing our ecological footprint so the first 'Green Running Event' was probably a trail run. Nancy Hobbs, executive director of the American Trail Running Association, says the organization is very supportive of the green event concept. "We hope that race directors stage their races with the environment in mind. Of utmost importance is to use eco-friendly course markings such as flour, and at the very least to remove any and all markings once the event is completed. We like to encourage runners to carry their own water and / or fill up their bottles at aid stations rather than using paper cups. These are just a few ways to mitigate the impact to our natural resources."

One candidate for the first authentic green race is the Keweenaw Trail Running Festival, which began in 2000. The director, Jeff Crumbaugh has been improving his pro-environment efforts every year. In 2006, there were no garbage bags to take to the landfill after a two-day event that included a meal for 300 runners. Finishers are served a breakfast featuring organic, locally grown foods that minimize use of fossil fuels required for transportation. Real dinnerware replaces Styrofoam cups and paper plates.

Bringing in real dinnerware and refilling participant water bottles is not going to work very well for the typical road race. But running events of any type and size can get cost effective promotions by taking some modest eco-friendly steps. See the March 9 Running USA wire, for example, with an article about green efforts of the GO! St. Louis Marathon. Another example is the Carlsbad Marathon, organized by In Motion, which joined forces with "Keep California Beautiful" to make the January 2008 event litter free. Guided by the slogan 'only our feet hit the ground' all participants were invited to be 'Eco-Runners' who took steps such as wearing their own water belt or throwing cups and gels in trash cans along the course to ensure that the event left no trash. As an incentive, participants who made an Eco-Runner or Walker pledge at the expo had a chance to win $50 gift certificates along the course.

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