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Your Footprint

Like most sports, in running you leave more than your footprint behind.

Like almost all human activity, running has a considerable carbon footprint. On race day this impact is seen in the piles of paper cups near water stops. Or the trail of GU packs and other running trash left along the road.

The biggest environmental impact of running is from things you may never have thought about.

In a 2008 Runner’s World article Jason Stevenson wrote about a study the magazine did on an average runner’s environmental impact from travel and clothes, as measured by CO2 emissions. Here is what they found:

GEAR (Source for all gear-related carbon figures: Economic Input-Output Cycle Assessment (EIO-LCA), Green Design Institute, Carnegie-Mellon University.

  • Running socks, 3 pair of synthetic socks per year: 89 lbs CO2
  • Running shoes, 3 pair of shoes per year: 430 lbs CO2 (According to a Runner’s World survey, the average participant purchases 3.1 pairs of shoes per year.)
  • Running shorts, 2 pairs per year: 99 lbs CO2
  • Running Tights, 1 pair per year: 79 lbs CO2
  • Running shirt:, 1 per year: 48 lbs CO2
  • Washing and dry running gear, 1 load per week: 225 lbs CO2 (source of laundry figure: Hans Fedderke)


GRAND TOTAL: 5,449 lbs CO2

While each of us is different, this study provides an eye-opening example of a typical runner. I have never driven more than two hours to a race so I can cut out the destination race (4,080lbs CO2) from my total impact. I don’t get new shorts, socks and tights every year, but like most of you I do get lots of running shirts every year. I probably got 20 shirts last year. The supply chain to get those 20 shirts to me produced 960lbs of CO2 based on 2008 Runner’s World numbers. (48lbs x 20 shirts).

And while most of us do not fly 1,500 miles each way to a destination race most of us do drive 20+ miles round trip to a lot of local 5K and 10Ks. Many of the 20 races I ran last year were within 10 miles of my house or I took public transportation. I had three races where I traveled over 200 miles round trip. Using Google Maps and rough numbers I came up with 1,450 miles or 72.5 miles round trip on average last year.

Using 2008 Runner’s World numbers: 333lbs of CO2 from 384 miles equals 0.87lbs of CO2 per mile driven. My 1,450 miles at 0.87lbs per mile totals 1,261.5lbs of CO2. These are rough numbers. Click HERE to read the full Runner’s World article and to visit the web sites referenced to help you figure out your footprint.

Quickly estimate of your footprint

Go to Google Maps and figure out the distance to each of your races last year and double that number to get your round trip number. Add up the mileage for all of these races and multiply by 0.87. This will give you a rough CO2 emissions number. You can be more precise by using the mileage your car gets and by calculating exact distances. It’s up to you, but the back of the envelope numbers are pretty easy to pull together.

Then look at how many shirts you got at races or bought on your own last year. What other articles of clothing did you get? I put this table together using the Runner’s World info. You can plug-in your quantities and figure your own impact.

Item Co2/item Qty Total Co2
Socks 3 pair 89lbs
Shoes 140lbs
Shorts 49lbs
Tights 79lbs
Shirt 48lbs
Grand Total

My footprint looks like this:

Travel – 1,261.5lbs

Clothes/shoes – 1,329lbs

Total estimated CO2 emissions for 2012 – 2,590.5lbs.

This is a rough number but it’s a larger footprint than I would have imagined.

What can you do?

Another 2008 Runner’s World article by Scott Douglas, “Going Green,” had these tips for reducing your footprint from running:

  • Drive to run only when necessary.
  • Carpool to races.
  • Use running as transportation.
  • Purchase carbon offsets for the miles you drive to run.
  • Wear your current running clothes until they’re no longer functional.
  • When it’s time to buy new gear, consider ones made of natural fibers or sustainably produced polyesters.
  • Find a second use for all of your shoes you no longer run in.
  • Drink tap water, filtered if preferred, instead of bottled water.
  • Buy sport drink in powder form to reduce packaging and shipping.
  • Try making your own sport bars.
  • Wash your running gear in cold water with earth-friendly detergents. Hang to dry. Green virtue aside, they’ll last longer this way. 

I think Scott presents a lot of good ideas but some are not practical for most of us. I’d love to run to work but the roads are treacherous and I don’t have time to make my own sports bars. I do drink tap water, car pool too many of my races, recycle my old shoes and try to take care of my running clothes so they will last a long time. You can probably find a few items on his list that you can use to reduce your environmental impact. To read Scott’s complete article click HERE.

Finding a second use for shoes can be a challenge. I have several pairs of “yard” shoes by the front and back door of my house. If I’m mowing the lawn or working in the garden they are great. But how many pair do I need?

Here are some options for when your house starts to look like a used running shoe store.

You can donate them to Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program, which recycles the shoes to help surface new tracks and for other uses. Other programs include Soles4Souls, Shoe4Africa, or One World Running, that give shoes to needy people. I’m a little skeptical of the environmental soundness of shipping used running shoes to Africa. It would probably take less energy to make them there and it would make local jobs. But, it does make me feel a little bit better when I toss my shoes in the box at Marathon Sports.

A 2011 Runner’s World article by Jenny Hadfield, “Nine Ways to Run Green for Earth Day,” listed nine ways to be green on and off the road. Check it out HERE. She had some great and practical ideas.

How races are going green

Many races are going green and many have had green initiatives for years. When was the last time you used a paper registration? I’ve used paper registrations in the past to save processing fees. But I’ve found that if I plan ahead and take advantage of the early registration discount I often save more than the cost of processing.

On-line registration – eliminates all of the paper and all of the energy used by the Post Office to transport it. As a bonus to you, often you get an immediate confirmation of your on-line registration.

Race day transportation. Many races, including the BAA Boston Marathon use biodiesel, natural gas or other low-impact fuels to transport runners and spectators. The BAA uses natural gas, hybrid and electric vehicles to transport race officials, members of the media and photographers in the lead procession to cut down on exhaust and noise.

To off set the carbon produced by all of the buses that take runners from Boston out to Hopkinton on race day, the BAA purchases carbon off-sets. Some races have gone to 100% bicycle power to move food, water, garbage, staff and emergency workers. Other races insist on alternative fuel vehicles.

plastic cup, your footprint, green running
How do you fold a plastic cup?

Water cups. Every runner has gone through a water stop and then tossed their cup. Most cups are tossed in the road and a volunteer picks them up. Even if the race director uses paper cups they still end up in the trash.

For runners it is easier to pinch and drink from a paper cup than it is from a plastic cup. However, paper cups may actually have a larger carbon footprint than paper cups.

Some races have runners carry their own water bottles with them and then refill them at the water stops!

At the ING Hartford Marathon finish they have a 40-person water fountain, or as we call it in New England – a water bubbler (pronounced bub-la). They estimate that they save 10,000 water bottles each year and have been using the bub-la since 2007. Hartford gives out a reusable tote bag and a full reusable water bottle at the end of the race.

Those reusable items are not only good for the environment; they are good for the sponsors. ING sponsors Hartford and I still use the ING water bottle and tote bag. My wife re-uses some of the other tote bags I’ve received to take things to work.

Swag bag, water bottle, your footprint
Swag bag and water bottle from ING Hartford Marathon

The ING Hartford Marathon is a national leader in green racing. They also use biodegradable paper at all events, recycle at all events, have environmentally friendly purchasing policies and a 5-year greening plan in development.

No matter how hard a race organizer works to run a green operation, ultimately it is up to us runners. I see lots of trash in recycle barrels and recyclables in trash barrels at every race I go to. This has to stop.

The Hartford Marathon Foundation produces over 30 races annually: everything from 5Ks to Triathlons. Their efforts to RUN Green have a significant impact.

In 2008, Runners World published their 10 Greenest Races list and Hartford was #6. The greenest race in 2008 was the Austin Marathon. Austin used 100% on-line registration, solar-powered and bio-diesel power generators, bio-diesel support vehicles, recycling stations and compost bins throughout the course, they donated discarded clothing to charity and had a farmer’s market at the finish line. The Portland Marathon (#8) also uses bicycles for support vehicles and instead of finisher’s medals they hand out tree seedlings.

The Canmore Rocky Mountain Half Marathon, 10k and 5k is amazing. Check out this list of environmental greenness:

  • Recycling virtually everything, resulting in a waste-free Start/Finish zone.
  • 100% disposable water bottle free.
  • Winner medals made from 100% recycled glass, made in North America.
  • Runner’s swag made from recycled materials.
  • Brewing BC roasted coffee.
  • Operating support-bicycles along the race course, as opposed to carbon generating support-vehicles.
  • Administering a paper-free registration process.
  • Serving only BC fruit & locally made baked goods.
  • Providing our volunteers with shirts made from 100% organic cotton, Made in Canada.
  • Printing all promotional posters and brochures on 100% recycled paper.
  • We exclusively use compostable cups* sourced from renewable materials.
  • We have an environmental assessment completed every year by Bow Valley Waste Management.

I hate to travel over an hour for a 10K or 5K, but I could go to Alberta to run this half marathon. A winner’s medal made from recycled glass? They don’t say what the average Joe gets for a finisher’s medal. I think they should all be made from recycled material. It’s not like they need to hold up a bridge! Runner’s World ranked them #4 in their 2008 article.

Ultimately this is all up to you and me

We can car pool to far off races or we can drive alone. We can throw compostable plates and utensils into trash barrels or we can throw them into the compost barrels that the race sponsors provide for us.

Race organizers are not going to take us by the hand. Many of them have made the effort but we need to do our part as runners, as adults. If we can run a 5K like big boys and girls, than we can surely tell a recycle barrel from a trash barrel. And BTW – the trash barrels at races should be almost empty. Right?

Over 38 million plastic water bottles go to the dump every year in America alone. The average American uses 167 plastic water bottles each year. The average runner could probably use double that number, but should be using none.

My little contribution

At many races, including The Boston Marathon and the Ready Set 1st Run on New

Mylar blanket, green running
Mylar blanket from the ING Hartford Marathon

Year’s Day in Lowell, they give out those Mylar film blankets. When you are hot and sweaty after a race those thin little sheets can be a life saver. But they are another one of those one-use throw away items. We have all done it.

In the trunk of my car I keep a box with a few things I might need if I break down, such as a pair of gloves and some tools. I also have one of those Mylar blankets all rolled up in a

Mylar blanket, swag
Mylar blanket folded

rubber band. It doesn’t take up much space. If I broke down on a cold winter night it would help keep me warm. If I saw an accident it could help someone who was in shock. I’ll probably never use it, but I thought it was a good way to re-purpose the item and keep it out of the trash. I avoid taking those blankets at races now.

Your little contribution

It is up to each of us to be smart about our actions. In our daily activities and in our training we need to be smart. If you have the will power to train for and finish a race than you have the ability to reduce your carbon footprint.

In life and in running there are things you can control and things you cannot control. The things that you cannot control you can take steps to mitigate their impact: you cannot control the weather but you can be prepared for a range of conditions. The race director may not provide enough food but you can toss a few items into your bag to bring along.

Your carbon footprint and the impact of your activities on this planet are within your control. You can car pool to races, use a re-usable water bottle, throw recyclables into the right barrel etc. As in dieting and weight control, drastic actions are not required to make a big impact.

Here is another post on running green. All that you can’t leave behind.

Be mindful and purposeful in your actions.

Run well my Friends,

Andy, pub-4167727599129474, DIRECT, f08c47fec0942fa0

6 responses to “Your Footprint”

  1. Sue C. Avatar
    Sue C.

    Maybe when our cups run out, we can switch to paper cups at our water stops on
    Sunday Long Runs? I myself, have started using bananas and dates for fuel on long runs and try to stay away from GU.

    1. imarunner2012 Avatar

      Hi, that would be a good idea. Other people have told that they eat dates also. I’ve been eating a fig newton like cookie that seems to help.

  2. Army Amy Avatar

    Lots of information! Very interesting and sadly not something I had even considered before. I think I’m being greener this year (not many new running clothes, no races, no driving to run anywhere – I just run from home), but it is partly just because I live in an area that isn’t so runner-y. If I hadn’t moved, I’d still be running races, driving all over the place, getting new gear. I’m glad you included lots of suggestions. Things to think about!*

    1. imarunner2012 Avatar

      Hi, I appreciate your comment. I was suprised when I saw the numbers. I do a lot of the things I suggest but may do more carpooling to races and get my running club to stop using plastic cups.

  3. lachavalina Avatar

    This is a great post! I usually don’t go through nearly the amount of gear cited by Runner’s World, though that’s more due to my financial state than it is to my environmental consciousness. I am traveling to a few races this year, though, and it’s worth considering the impact of that.

    1. imarunner2012 Avatar

      Thank you, I appreciate your comment. I get a new shirt at almost every race and I never thought about the environmental aspects of a nice new t-shirt.
      Hopefully this articel will make people think about these things a little bit.