Racing Toward a Greener Event

Monterey, CA – Early Sunday morning as runners take off on a 13.1 mile loop on the Monterey Bay, Jeff Henderson pulls out a packet of paper. It lists all the environmentally friendly practices at the Big Sur Half Marathon. Henderson will make sure what's on paper reflects reality on race day. "I looked over this beforehand just to have a good idea of what I was looking for. Things like redundant travel eliminated for all participants. They have a looped course, so that means they don't have to shuttle people anywhere. So we already know that," says Henderson. He's one of the founders of the Council for Responsible Sport, also known as ReSport. He says one of the goals of ReSport is combating what he calls green washing. "A number of races over the last five years have started promoting eco-friendly practices with no mechanism in place for actually verifying that that's the case," he explains.

ReSport certifies athletic events across that nation that meet its green standards in the categories of waste, climate, equipment and materials, community outreach and health promotion. Athletic events can earn credits in each category. 22 credits equal the base level of certification and it goes up from there. As Henderson walks the quarter mile or so from the race start to the finish line, he goes down the list. "So there's supposedly eco friendly chemicals in the porta potties. I can't verify that, but that comes in their documentation after the fact," he continues, "We'll look at their infrastructure, most all the stuff is rented, so it's reused."

The list includes everything from carpooling participants to the event to virtual goodie bags and the elimination of plastic water bottles. Along the course volunteers offer runners water and Gatorade in compostable cups. Organizers are trying to limit waste to less than a pound per participant. So everywhere there's a trash can, there's also a can for compost, one for recycling and a volunteer. "Now these people are really on the ball, but the minute they turn their backs, somebody puts something in the wrong place and now they turn around and they get it out," says Karen Ferlito. She's the Big Sur International Marathon's Green Team Director. She spent months working on the green action plan for this race and the full marathon in April. Ferlito says getting certified is the right thing to do. It sets a good example for runners and other races. There's also a potential side benefit.
"For people that recycling and sustainability is important, they'll be able to look at that and say, Wow I have the choice between two races which one do I want to do. Well this one is green and this one isn't. I'm going to go with the green one," she adds.

Runner Ellen Tani participates in a lot of races and says she feel better paying for a race that's environmentally conscious, "well the first thing I noticed the virtual packet. Usually you get a bag of swag, half of which you don't want, which is usually a big waste of paper for races maybe you do or don't want to do. So they emailed pretty regularly and they sent out a couple of links where you could kind of check out things online and if you we're interested you could go to their web site or print out the coupon."

ReSport's Henderson loved this idea of the virtual goodie bag, but says the race likely won't earn a credit for it. Even though organizers eliminated all the stuff that goes in a goodie bag, most runners still received a plastic bag to hold their race day t-shirts, extra shoes or sweats. Again Green Director Karen Ferlito, "Right now we have a contract with Gu and they're a really valuable sponsor to us and we have to use their bags. And the word is they have a warehouse with several hundred thousand in warehouses. So as soon as we and other races that they sponsor go through those, we hope Gu will be looking toward a more sustainable bag.

Henderson says balancing the needs of sponsors, runners and environment will always be a challenge for races, "They want to put on an enjoyable race for participants first and foremost. And sometimes that means doing things that aren't the best practice environmentally." ReSport will let organizers know if their efforts earned certification in about a month. If they keep up the same green practices, the certification is good for two years.