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
Bolder Boulder 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, Bolder Boulder 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% of the Bolder Boulder 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 8 to 4 pages and the online registrations have increased from 15% to 50%. 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%
increase from 2006. The result of their conservation efforts saved the
* 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 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 2-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.
The Eugene Marathon has also generated considerable media attention by adopting green policies. Special initiatives for the May 4, 2008 event include partnering with the Eugene Water and Electric Board and the local Hilton to use sustainable power during the 3 days of the event, using a Solar Sun Rover as power at the finish, organizing special recycling volunteers and encouraging all runners to participate in their green mission.
Since Green appears to be the "New Pink" when it comes to affiliating with worthy causes, marketers are tripping over each other to associate with pro-green organizations and products. Therefore having a green platform can also help an event recruit sponsors. The San Francisco Marathon organizers, for example, have lined up an impressive list of sponsors including Clif Bar, Hyatt, JetBlue, Cytomax, Hint Water and Saturn to help implement their green plan (see http://www.runsfm.com/about/green.html for details).
To view details of other green events, check out Runner's World new pro-environment web community at www.runnersworld-greenteam.com . With its partner, Nature's Path, sustainability resources including green tips for race directors are provided. Eco-friendly suggestions cover every aspect of the event such as serving organic pasta at pre-event dinners, encouraging runners to recycle shoes on race day and replacing pace cars with bike police. Events that become an official Greenteam race are being promoted in Runner's World magazine ads and the website. Featured Greenteam events not already mentioned include the Portland Marathon, Rock 'n' Roll San Jose Half-Marathon, IMT Des Moines Marathon, AT&T Austin Marathon, Toronto Marathon and the Yuengling Shamrock Marathon and Half-Marathon.
Eco-Responsibility of Running Shoe Companies Evolving
Large companies such as Nike, wanting to avoid PR problems such as those caused by labor practices of the 90s, are taking a lead in the area of green policies and action. According to Joel Makower, executive editor of GreenBiz.com, "Nike is making bold moves to eliminate toxic materials, improve recyclability and generally reduce waste and emissions of their products and their manufacturing processes."
Highlights of their green efforts include:
* Production of Nike Considered products such as the trail running shoe Humara which uses less raw material, generates less waste in manufacturing, is PVC free and uses water-based adhesives instead of petroleum.
* Recycling effort called 'Reuse-A-Shoe' that has recycled more than 20 million pairs of athletic shoes and created more than 250 sport surfaces.
* Member of the Paper Working Group which collaborates to make environmentally preferable paper products more affordable and widely available.
Brooks earned the Runner's World International 'Innovation Award' in 2006 for
environmental stewardship efforts. They have an easy to find Green Room on their
website which describes their technologies and practices in a way that makes it
understandable to the average consumer:
* BioMoGo is a new midsole foam for footwear coming July '08 that will biodegrade in 20 years - 50 times faster than standard midsoles. That change is expected to save more than 30 million lbs. of landfill in the next 20 years.
* Collateral materials from brochures to hangtags are scrutinized for their environmental impact. By using more responsible materials for Fall 2008 catalogs Brooks saved 47 trees; 19,026 gallons of water; exhaust emissions equivalent to driving a compact car 5,322 miles and 2,174 lbs. of solid waste.
* In 2008, new eco-friendly shoe boxes will contribute to the saving of 13,827 trees; 5,693,282 gallons of water; enough power for 650,661 homes and 48,800 less tons of air pollution.
* HPR (High Performance Rubber) Green outsole featured in all trail running shoes is made from sand rather than oil.
* In early 2008 Brooks will be scored and counseled by the Bainbridge Graduate Institute on the company's baseline carbon footprint and how to improve.
Adidas is now 99% PVC-free worldwide. In 2007, the company conducted energy efficiency workshops for 101 suppliers in Vietnam and South-China. The adidas American headquarters has earned 'Salmon Safe' certification which involves an in-depth assessment of land management practices that could affect water quality and fish habitat. They are also participating with City of Portland to eliminate non-native vegetation.
An ASICS Eco Plan mark has been developed to identify products that satisfy certain standards: reduce environmental impact, save energy and resources in manufacturing, reduce wastes by extending product life, recycle products towards the goal of a recycling oriented society and consider packaging as part of the product that should also be simplified and recycled.
New Balance is the only athletic footwear company that maintains U.S. production factories. It also uses 100% recycled materials in most shoe boxes and all stuffing and wrapping. New Balance has phased out all PVC and has many vegan options and is known as one of the most socially responsible of the big shoe manufacturers.
In the coming years, if the greening of the Running Industry continues to evolve, the sport's 40 million participants will also be inspired to reduce their carbon footprints.