Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Green Is A Choice

Go green. It’s the latest catch phrase to encourage us to make ecologically sound choices to preserve the health of our world. Chances are we know what to do to live green in our homes and workplaces. But what about being a green athlete? As competitive athletes, we seek to live a fit life but how can we balance our athletic activities with environmental fitness?

Ours is a consumptive sport. Consumption of calories, hydration, fuel, time and – simply put – consumption of all kinds of “energy.” Cover any race course and you cannot help but notice the wasteful consumption of paper cups, water bottles and empty wrappers. True, we need to eat and drink, we like to race – but can we do it a better way?

When you think about the environmental cost of our sport – traveling to destination races, fuel at every mile of the race course and all of the training – it quickly adds up. According to the Council for Responsible Sport, in 2007 the Ironman Hawaii hosted 1,787 athletes. Only 68 were from the state of Hawaii. Other competitors traveled roughly 18, 312, 992 miles round-trip. Long airline flights produce an average of 1.3068 lbs of CO2 equivalent per passenger mile. Collectively these athletes produced 23,931,418 lbs of greenhouse gases traveling to and from the race. This is equivalent to the yearly carbon footprint (electricity and natural gas) of 972 average American homes. The cost to offset this footprint? $108,530 in carbon-offsetting projects.

Our sport relies on the world – and its health; clean air, clean water, clean earth. From the local road race to the Ironman, our races can cover all the way up to 140.6 miles by way or land and water, breathing in the air. For the sustainability of our sport – and more importantly our world – how can cover those miles in training and racing with as little impact as possible?

Small changes start with each athlete and over time will add up to a big difference. Every day you make choices on how you train and what you do – choices that inevitably can leave a footprint in the earth. Here are a few tips for how to leave your footprints few and far between while pursuing sport.

1: Resist the convenience of buying bottled water. Purchase a filter for your tap to fill your bottles at home instead.

2: Avoid buying pre-packaged or bottled sports drink. Most drinks are available in powder that comes in a large tub. Not sure if that tub can be recycled? Visit How Can I Recycle This for quick answers to recycling questions (http://www.recyclethis.co.uk/).

3: Incorporate bike commuting into your training plan. An easy spin to the pool or running path is the perfect opportunity to make a recovery ride or brick workout into a more purposeful and greener activity.

4: Recycle your running shoes. Some organizations recycle shoes into playground material, others donate shoes to those less fortunate or in need. Soles 4 Souls distributes footwear as part of relief efforts (
www.soles4souls.org). Visit here to find a local store or organization that recycles in your area visit www.recycledrunners.com

5: Not sure what to do with old race medals? Consider donating your old medals to Medals 4 Mettle. This unique organization collects medals from challenging events (marathons, triathlons) to give to children overcoming health challenges. For more information, see http://www.medals4mettle.org/

6: Turn your race shirts into a source of warmth. Directions for how to recycle your old race t-shirts into a crafty quilt are here: www.runtheplanet.com/trainingracing/other/rtpquilt.asp

7: Carpool to training and racing events. For every mile you drive, your car emits 4 pounds of carbon into the atmosphere. Reduce your carbon footprint by sharing the ride!

8: Race and support local events. Racing locally not only saves you time but also saves you travel expenses and makes your trip less costly on the environment. Give back to local events by volunteering services or time to help race directors save money and keep entry fees down.

9: Make your own sports drink and snacks. Gels, tubs of powder, bar wrappers – all add up in your pocket and in landfills. Save money and packaging by trying some of these recipes: www.cptips.com/hmdesnk.htm

10: Taking an ice bath after a hard workout? Rather than draining the water from your bathtub, pick up a kiddie pool for your backyard. After your ice bath, dump the water into your yard or garden. Better yet, find a cool lake to stand in for 10 minutes with no waste.

11: Recycle empty “Gu” packets with Gu Energy’s Stash Your Trash program. Send 50 empty packets to Gu and they will donate $5 to charity (www.guenergy.com/about_us/enviro-community_stash-your-trash).

12: Support races with green initiatives. The Council for Responsible Sport (
www.resport.org) encourages environmental responsibility in race organization by providing standards for events. For a list of eco-friendly events, www.afitplanet.com/partners/

13: Cut down on cups. Encourage other athletes to use a Fuel Belt or hydration system when racing to cut down on the number of plastic or paper cups used on course. To find eco-friendly suggestions for race supplies, visit http://www.ecoproducts.com/

14: Buy in bulk. Rather than buying a box of 20 gels, consider Hammer Gel Jug or CarbBoom’s Big Boom 24-ounce recyclable bottle of energy gel. To avoid the risk of littering gel packets during a race, use a gel flask mounted to your bike.

15: Be a savvy shopper. Make your next tri-gear purchase one from natural or recycled fibers. Eco Athlete is a resource for sustainable gear and products (http://www.ecoathlete.org/).

16: Pack it in, pack it out. After races, take personal responsibility in packing out all of your own waste rather than littering or leaving it behind in transition.

17: Encourage local race directors or assist them in establishing events with green practices. Athletes for a Fit Planet (
www.afitplanet.com) provides environmental solutions and resources for race directors and events.

18: Save your swim caps from races – either recycle them for your own personal use or donate them. Eco Athlete collects swim caps for a future project to recycle them for flip flops (http://www.ecoathlete.org/).

19: If you can’t change, then contribute. For one year of flying to races, consider purchasing a Carbon Offset from Terra Pass (
www.terrapass.com). Each purchased pass supports clean energy and projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

20: Share with your friends. Each item purchased must be manufactured, packaged and shipped. All production that requires consumption of energy. Consider a shared purchase with friends or rent equipment from local stores or Race Day Wheels (
www.racedaywheels.com). Not only will this lessen the impact of our purchases but also cut costs to you and a friend.

21: When in ____, go green. 3rd Whale Mobile and Greenopia (www.greenopia.com/USA/) are iPhone Apps that use GPS to locate “green” restaurants, stores and other destinations in a growing numbers of cities around the US. When traveling to your next race, use this app to make choices that support green values.

22: Wear your promise. Green Laces places is turning the concept of going green into a social phenomenon by asking you to make a promise. With a $5 donation, you receive a pair of green laces to remind yourself and show others that you have made a promise to the earth (http://www.greenlaces.org/).

23: Old bike = new bike. Donate your old bike or bike part to a local organization specializing in bike rebuilding. In Chicago, Working Bikes Cooperative collects old bikes and parts for repair and redistribution to those in need both locally and abroad (http://workingbikes.org/).

24: Keep current. “Grist” is a great website for the latest in living green. It’s worth a look to see if what you can do on a daily basis, from the choices you make, the news you read and the action you take to live a greener lifestyle (

26: Spread the word. Do you have an idea about something we can do or something you already do to train and race a little greener? The best suggestion will win a gift certificate to TriSports.com – a company that has taken the initiative in greener practices with their TriEarth program (

*Send your ideas to multisportmastery at comcast dot net*

This week, commit to being a greener athlete. Maybe it’s bringing a travel mug along for your morning jolt of coffee. Maybe it’s committing to racing more locally. Or maybe it’s riding your bike to work one day a week. Whatever it is, one change at a time, one person at a time, one step that adds up to a big difference. What can you do to make less footprints in training, in racing, in daily life?

Let’s hear about it!


BriGaal said...

I'm all for going green, but my husband and I were affected by a 'going green' campaign recently. We sponsor a rather large triathlon series in North Carolina which decided to 'go green' (unbeknownst to us). What this meant is that most races would not have bags or inserts - sounds great, right? This impacts our sponsorship greatly because now instead of getting our postcards into bags, they sit on a table and hardly anyone picks them up. Yes, you could argue that people just throw away the contents of the bags, but probably half at least glance at what is in there.

The series is top notch and has done other things to not let our sponsorship dollars go to waste since this was not something that was publicized beforehand. It is all good.

But just wanted to play devil's advocate for one second. There is always another side to the story, right? I would never have thought that 'going green' would have a negative impact, but if a lot of races pick this up there might be a lot less sponsors unless races revamp their way of thinking.

Wes said...

This doesn't have anything to do with our web site colors, does it? :-)

D said...

I use Fig Newton's and bananas as my ride nutrition. Banana peels are biodegradable & Newton's have very little trash (the box is recyclable!).
Another great thing about the powdered drinks is that they don't contain HFCS. While not necessarily "green", it's better for the body!

E.L.F. said...

That's an interesting point, Bri. I wonder if there is a way that sponsors can get their name out for a race that has a little less "waste" involved but just as much power. I don't know - maybe someone out there has an idea. I know personally that I recycle most of the stuff in those bags. Especially when I do a non-local race, it ends up being a lot of "stuff" from stores or companies that I do not plan to visit since I'm only there for a few days. Any other ideas?

cheryl said...

I’m not sure you can get sponsors to not pass out their info. That’s probably small potatoes compared to some other things that you can do at a race:
Half IM or shorter – no bottles should be provided on the bike, carry your own – the half IM’s end up with a lot of plastic bottle waste (yes, it can be recycled, but not having any is WAY better than recycling)
I think the idea of carrying your own fluid for the run is great (for anything half IM or shorter)

Race directors should NOT give out awards (plaques, medals…), most people do not want them, often they end up in trash or a box, only later to go to the trash. Instead , if they want to spend that money, they should donate it to kids groups for bikes or other exercise gear.

RD’s should provide the option to get a shirt or not, and if you want a shirt, you pay extra for it, and they should not order extras.

At home, ride bike for transportation when possible, we are athletes after all. Reduce the amount of water you use - it is a scarce resource – reduce the number of showers you take (if you swim in the evening, and are planning a run in the AM before work, don’t shower after the swim – the chlorine is self cleaning – just wait until after your run). Don’t do too small loads of laundry (we generate a lot of it), its not an efficient use of water. Don’t wash your winter outer layers too frequently.

K.Michele said...

Putting sponsors names on a t-shirt, cloth bag (the kind you can carry your groceries in)or water bottles given out at bottle exchange fixes the problem from the first comment (not to mention, in the back of the pack people actually tend to race in race t-shirts - if you get stuck running behind one of those people, the sponsor's names are seared into your brain) and giving out re-usuable water bottles at the bottle exchange cuts down on waste. For post race bbq's etc. there are more and more environmentaly friendly paper plates. EarthShell brand uses mostly corn, potatoes and lime stone to make their plates and bowls and they're made in Missouri so they're not being shipped from overseas etc.

cheryl said...

I imagine an alternative for sponsors not providing paper will be tough. But RD's can do away with other things that I think are probably more wasteful. Awards (plaques and medals, things that are only good at collecting dust or filling up boxes, or trash cans). They can take that money and instead of buying silly awards (for adults), donate money or athletic gear to boys and girls clubs. They could also accept donations of gently used gears at races, and athletes could bring donations, and the RD's (or another volunteer) could take it to boys/girls clubs.

Half IM or shorter could do away with water/drink bottles on the bike. We should be able to carry what we need, and that would save a lot of waste (even if it is recyclable - recycling uses a lot of energy, compared to not using it at all).

At home, we should be more conscious of water usage. Water is a scarce resource. Cut down on showers (if you swim at night, and know you have a run in the AM before work, don't shower after the swim - chlorins is self-cleaning-wait until after your run the next morning).

Jessi said...

I did the Langley half-marathon a year or so ago, and they gave out a canvas bag instead of the usual plastic race bags stuffed with flyers. In place of the flyers, they plastered their sponsors names all over the canvas bag.

To be honest, I always recycle the race flyers without even looking at them. But this canvas bag covered in sponsor logos? I look at it every day every day when I use the bag to grocery shop.

Dave Jewell said...

A couple comments:
Bri - Interesting Post. On future sponsorhips ask the race directors for the email list or ask them to send the email for you. You'll have better response on email. I spent 12 years in the Direct Mail business and we switched everything to email. (most of you are probably sick of my former company emails) It works.

- Running shoes - Most companies are now using recycled parts for their shoes. The biggest problem of shoe making is the waste. The company I work for (One of the big ones) recycles all shoe waste and our molding process creates very little waste in the first place.

- Finally I challenge everyone to come live in Germany (I gave it away). Going Green is a way of life in the country. No pestisides, Recycle everything. Our garbage can is about the size of your average Kitchen garbage can. It gets picked up twice a month and it is never full. More bikes in the lot than cars. Personally I've ridden 90% of the days to work so far this year.

cheryl said...

Another green training tip -if you do a lot of run training in the dark hours, and wear a headlamp, use rechargeable batteries in the headlamp.

Kona Shelley said...

All good points and counterpoints, made me think about a lot and thanks for that!!