Sustainability in the running community

There’s no reason that running should be an unsustainable sport – powered by your own legs to places that no car could go, running should be about being at one with nature. However, with the increasing popularity of large races and the rise of trail races across national parks and remote locations, it’s hard to see how the increased footfall could not affect the environment.

Here are some of my top tips of how to train and race more sustainably. I would love to hear yours too! Come and find me over on Instagram, YouTube or Twitter.

Prioritise races in your country

One of the perks of running is that you can do it anywhere, which makes it tempting to travel to other countries to explore and attend races. However, frequently flying can have a huge impact on your carbon footprint and isn’t necessary to find some awesome races. I say this as someone who has flown twice this year for races, but I would love to use the excellent rail system more here in the UK – there will be plenty of races in your own country, and these are a great way of discovering new towns, cities and national parks closer to home! If you do travel for races, consider offsetting your carbon from the flight.

Use a hydration pack

One of the major problems in road races (also trail races but less so), is the significant use of plastic at water station. In the London marathon alone, 47,000 plastic bottles were collected from the streets in 2018, many of which cannot be recycled as they are not empty. Using a hydration pack or belt is a simple measure that means you do not have to pick up as much single use plastic during your race. The added weight can be frustrating for some runners, but I always use one for longer races and rarely struggle.

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Hydration packs are a game changer on longer runs! And no plastic bottles in sight

Avoid discarding clothes at the start of a race

Carrying waterproof or warm clothes during a race can be frustrating, but with the right gear shouldn’t be a massive hindrance. Throwing out clothes, even where they are recycled, is a huge waste of the resources used to make them. Thankfully many of these clothes are donated to local charities, but where possible, hold onto the clothes you have.

Buy sustainable activewear

When you must buy new gear, ensure it is from a more sustainable activewear brand. There is no longer a compromise between sustainability and performance – check out this article for some of my favourite brands. But remember – the most sustainable option is to wear the clothes you already have!

Use a guppy bag

Much high-performance activewear is made from synthetic fibres that may shed into waterways during washing. Using a guppy bag reduces the impact your clothes have, freeing your water from microfibres and helping the ecosystem along the way.

Use your commute

One of the great things about being able to run is to use it to travel. If you live within running distance of work, use this as some of your training runs. It doesn’t have to be everyday – even just 2 days a week can significantly reduce your carbon footprint. Alternatively, run to your nearest carpool or train station if you live further away – avoid driving alone at all costs!

Don’t chuck gels/wrappers

If you can’t make your own energy supplies (gels, bars etc), pre-packaged food is sometimes necessary on a long run. However, avoid throwing packaging, even in races – it’s lazy, harmful and bad-form.

Recycle your shoes

If you’re a runner, you’re probably no stranger to having to chuck out old shoes. If they’re good enough to reuse, consider donating to refugees, charities or give to a friend. If they’re totally broken, there are several ways you can recycle. Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe programme down-cycles shoes into athletic surfaces and, until the 24th November, Runner’s Need stores are accepting old trainers in return for a £20 voucher for use in-store.

Buy powdered sports drinks

You may be tempted to invest in energy, protein and/or electrolyte drinks regularly, but each of these come with disposable (usually plastic) packaging that is harmful to the environment. Instead, purchase glucose, electrolyte and protein powders or tablets. Not only are these better for the environment, they are also far cheaper and take up less space!

 

I hope you found this helpful! What are some of your favourite tips for reducing your environmental impact when running? 

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Carbon offsetting

We all know flying is bad for the environment – it’s suggested that commercial flights account for just above 2% of global carbon emissions, including the large proportion of the world that don’t fly at all. Whilst shaming people about flying is not the answer, those of us who are able to do something about it probably should. Not flying is not always possible (and let’s be honest, we all love a holiday every now and again), so carbon-offsetting is becoming more and more popular, with new organisations popping up with various solutions to the problem.

Below are some that you suggested, with some honest input about my flying habits, costs and plans for the future. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

 

Hometree.ie at Moy Hill Farm

If you’re looking for a relatable, home-grown feel, Moy Hill Farm tree planting is perfect. My friend knows the owners and frequently visits, seeing her previously planted trees. “By pledging you will be supporting a regenerative eco system” – Moy Hill also works with community to grow food and regenerate woodland to benefit the local community and wildlife. So far the charity has planted 14,000 native trees, such as Oak, Hazel and Birch. It’s difficult to know exactly how much carbon 10 trees (the minimum amount you can pledge) will offset, but knowing you are contributing to an amazing community project to the benefit of the local wildlife and environment is great.

 

Chooose.Today

Chooose uses your donations to fund the best UN-verified COreducing projects in LEDCs. Just £2.50 per month (their ‘climate neutral’ option) offsets approximately 3 flights from Oslo to London per month. Donating different amounts per month allows you to be ‘climate positive’ (£3.99 per month) or a ‘climate champ’ (£7.98 per month), offsetting different amounts of flying. The website is easy to use and offers both subscriptions (donations per month) and one off donations (e.g. 6 month or 1 year options), depending on the amount you’re looking to offset and how much money you’re willing to part with. I love this idea and it’s super easy to use, but also think moving your money to an ethical bank (e.g. Triodos) could have a similar effect without actually costing you any money.

 

My Climate.org

The Swiss not for profit organisation Climate.org works with partners both locally and globally to educate and consult on climate-protection projects. For individuals, it also provides a calculator for you to be able to calculate accurately your emissions, whether flying, driving, or simply living at home. After putting in your details, it provides a cost to offsetting those specific journeys, supporting international projects and sustainable development worldwide. There is some choice as to where your money goes e.g. helping smallhold farmers reforest areas or enable efficient cookers for women in Kenya.

I love this idea because it is very specific as to how you can offset your lifestyle. It also makes you think twice about longhaul flights. If I were to offset all my flights this year, according to this calculator it would cost me £153, the vast majority because of travelling to Tokyo for the marathon. For shorter journeys (e.g. Copenhagen) a payment of £5 was enough (bearing in mind this doesn’t include other travel).

 

Climate Care

Climate Care turns ‘climate responsibilities into positive outcomes’ providing tailored programmes to help organisations and individuals offset carbon emissions. This isn’t their only selling point though – they also work with governments to deliver large-scale emissions reduction projects and work with communities in LEDCs to build sustainable projects, improving the lives of people and benefitting the environment.

They also provide a calculator, which once you’ve calculated how much carbon you want to offset, gives you a cost for doing so. On this calculator it would cost me £53.40 for this year’s flights, compared to the £153 of MyClimate.org, but this could reflect the type of projects they’re funding. If you don’t know how much carbon you need to offset, Climate Care also provides flight, car, energy, event and business to calculate approximate carbon emissions, before allowing you to checkout, funding various projects around the world.

 

Atmosfair.de

Atmosfair is a German non-profit organization that actively contributes to CO₂ mitigation by promoting, developing and financing renewable energies in over 15 countries worldwide. They rely on donations from individuals and businesses, working with both to mitigate emissions, with an emphasis on air travel, as currently there is no technological solution for greener air travel (e.g. electronic planes, although interestingly hybrid planes may soon be a reality). Atmosfair uses donations to fund the creation of renewable energy sources in countries where they hardly exist, but could be successfully utilised (e.g. solar power across the equator). In this way, atmosfair saves COthat would otherwise be released by the use of fossil fuels in these countries. Meanwhile, locals benefit by being able to access clean energy around the clock, often for the first time.
For personal offsetting, Atmosfair provides a calculator which separates out emissions by airline, so is even more personalised than the other calculators. As I travelled to Tokyo with British Airways, I found that I released 60% less COthan the average airline, taking my offsetting cost for this flight down to just £42.20, from £79 via MyClimate.org. The calculator gives an excellent breakdown of emissions, comparisons and costs for each flight taken, which I love.

 

Trees For Life

Slightly different to the above few organisations, Trees For Life focuses specifically on helping the Scottish Caledonian Forest ecosystem, providing a home for wildlife and regenerating old forest. Regenerating forest is a long process, but provides a multitude of environmental benefits. Whilst there is no calculator on the site to offset your specific emissions, donations to their accredited ‘Carbon Offsetting’ location are used to plant trees in their conservation estate, with the capacity to offset over 50,000 tonnes of CO2. Trees for Life also links to this carbon calculator to calculate how many trees you should plant to offset your particular emissions.
If you’re looking for something close to home (and are based in the UK!), this could be the project for you – it’s relatively small scale with measurable impacts, and speaks to my ecology brain!

 

TL;DR

I was interested to see that most of these companies don’t simply plant trees to offset carbon (what I thought might be the easiest and most marketing-friendly way of offsetting carbon). Most fund global projects to reduce future carbon emissions in one way or another, which means you’re not exactly offsetting your own carbon, but rather reducing carbon that might be released in future.

I love the idea of this, because offsetting carbon does nothing to actually change the fact that COwill always be released as long as non-renewables are still being used. Atmosfair, Climate Care and Chooose fund renewables and energy-saving projects in place of projects that would otherwise use non-renewables, thus changing the future potential emissions.

It’s hard to tell which is my favourite – Moy Hill Farm is close to home, easy and cheap, and provides the option to see the impact you’re having first hand, but no calculator or personalised offsetting that I can see. The Chooose Today subscription model is reasonably priced, scalable according to your income and travel plans and incredibly easy to use – I would say perfect for a present for a climate-conscious friend. MyClimate.org is expensive but comprehensive, and I can’t help but think trying to save money whilst offsetting carbon just means that you’ll be offsetting less carbon, but it’s hard to tell. Climate Care might be a favourite, because it costs less than MyClimate.org and seems to do a similar thing. German brand Atmosfair works closely with airlines, which I love – I think it’s time for the worst emitters to take responsibility for the own emissions, and I would feel more comfortable flying with an airline that I know offsets their carbon. It also provides the most comprehensive calculator that I saw, and reasonable costs too.

 

So, what did I do?

I pledged 10 native trees with Moy Hill Farm, because I love supporting small businesses (and to be honest it was the first one I saw and I wanted to do something there and then). This cost €30.

I offset my flights to and from Tokyo using Atmosfair, as it was the only one that allowed me to specify my airline. This cost €47.

The remaining 3.5T of carbon to be offset for this year’s past and upcoming flights, I used Climate Care. This cost £25.

In future I think I’d just use Atmosfair or Climate Care for all the reasons mentioned above and for simplicity. Don’t forget that if you don’t have money to spare like this, simple changes such as which bank you keep your money in can have huge impacts, either funding things such as arms and tobacco or more sustainable and ethical projects, such as renewable energy. The best one I’ve found is Triodos but I’d love to find some more!

Please comment below with your thoughts, questions and recommendations – I’d love to hear them all!