Do you have an eco-friendly race?
Climate change is undoubtedly a ‘hot’ topic right now and nothing seems greener than getting outdoors for a race. Yet if you’ve ever attended one, you’ve seen the amount of trash that can pile up in bins and potentially litters the course. Now add in the materials used in race gear and merchandise, the pace cars, the power it takes to charge all the electronics at the start and finish line – every aspect of race planning has the potential to pollute. Luckily, many aspects have a green alternative. Let’s dig in to how to create an eco-friendly race.
From participant and volunteer registration to communications and advertising, it’s possible to create a virtually paper-free process. Most race organizers use online race registration software these days and require participants to provide an email address for updates (race registration software has many other benefits as well). Invest your advertising dollars in digital: chances are anywhere you would advertise with flyers has an online home, too. This will save trees and put you well on your way to creating an eco-friendly race.
If you do find yourself needing paper, find some that is made from recycled materials and use sustainable non-toxic inks like those made from soy and vegetables as opposed to petroleum. Look for ways to reuse your paper: some races, like The Run for Clean Air, print their bibs on seeded paper that participants can plant afterwards. And of course, if you can’t find a way to reuse it, recycle it!
Save the Air, Carpool
For huge races like the TCS New York City Marathon, people travel from all over the world to race. But even if it’s not a world marathon, chances are people still aren’t walking to your event. Reduce pollution, traffic, and parking space by providing participants and spectators with incentives and information on public transit and ridesharing companies (hmmm, this seems like a great local sponsor idea). Depending on your resources, consider a shuttle to and from the race. Rent bike racks for those looking to get their pre-race warm-up in. Again, think about whether or not you could offset the cost of some of these things with sponsorships or donation requests (like the racks or shuttles).
Now, think about your own race vehicles: the pace cars and security vehicles that potentially patrol the course. Look into replacing these with bicycles, hybrid/biodiesel cars, or electric scooters. After all, who needs a car when you’re going less than 15 mph?
A lot of water is needed to keep the masses hydrated. While some eco-friendly races require participants to bring their own reusable water bottles or waist packs, we realize this isn’t a viable option for everyone (carrying a water bottle for 26.2 miles can get old pretty fast). Offer water along the course in compostable or biodegradable cups or take it a step further like the ING Hartford Marathon and install a 70-foot long water fountain at the finish line, an invention that eliminated the need for 20,000 water bottles in just two years.
When it comes to food, buy in bulk and stick with biodegradable or compostable plates, napkins, and utensils. Limit the distance food has to travel to your race by providing locally-sourced food when possible; some races will even offer a post-race farmers’ market! Provide clearly marked containers for trash, recyclables, and compost and include easy-to-read guides on each container. At the end of the day, see if a local food bank or charity will accept your leftover food and drinks.
Trade standard cotton and synthetic fibers typically used in race shirts for more sustainable and environmentally-friendly alternatives like organic cotton, bamboo, and recycled materials. Ditch the plastic goodie bags and opt for reusable cloth versions filled with eco-friendly goodies. You can even make your finisher medals from recycled materials like glass, metal, or wood! The Portland Marathon goes extra green by giving out tree seedlings as awards.
In addition to the plethora of cups scattered along the course, you’ll also find plenty of discarded clothing. Instead of tossing these, donate the gently used clothing to local thrift stores. You can also encourage athletes to bring along their worn-out shoes (you know they have some) for donation to thrift stores or non-profits like Soles 4 Souls.
There are many more aspects of eco-friendly race planning than can be addressed in this article, like using solar power or eco-friendly porta-potties. In moving towards a truly ‘green’ race, use this Carbon Footprint Calculator to get an idea of your race’s current status and use the Council for Responsible Sports’ certification checklist to see what other areas you could improve in.
For the areas you can’t sacrifice, consider buying carbon offsets or offering them to participants for purchase. Carbon offsets are a way to make up for one’s CO2 emissions by investing in green technologies.
A lot may have to change to ‘green’ your race, but we assure you the effort is worth it in the end. You’ll get brownie points for being socially responsible, be seen as a leader in the industry, and will be playing a key role in protecting the great outdoors that we all love to race in so much.
Download our eGuide on how to make race day a success for more race day tips.
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