Head Start

Improving Race Sustainability

August 23, 2021 Bruce Rayner Episode 12
Head Start
Improving Race Sustainability
Show Notes Transcript

Making races more sustainable is on more and more race directors’ radar these days - which is awesome. But when it comes to moving from theory to practice, working to affect actual change in your race that has a meaningful impact on your event’s environmental footprint, things sometimes get a little bit confusing.

Where do you even start? How do you benchmark where you’re currently at with your event, so you can measure your progress going forward? What things should you focus on? And what does making progress even look like, when it comes to making your race greener?

These questions and more is what we’ll be discussing today with the help of my guest, Bruce Rayner. Bruce is the Chief Green Officer at Athletes for a Fit Planet and has been working at the forefront of event sustainability for years, having helped countless races, major road races and triathlons as well as local events, become more sustainable by reducing their environmental footprint. 

So if you’re ready to work on making your event more sustainable today, you’ll get a great head start out of the next hour or so.

In this episode: 

  • A look at the progress the endurance events industry has made towards greater sustainability
  • The reasons still holding back race directors from committing more strongly to the sustainability effort 
  • How to start benchmarking your waste and carbon footprint
  • Primary vs secondary waste: what counts as your race’s waste and carbon footprint?
  • Who should cover the offsetting cost for participant travel, the event or the participant?
  • What is carbon offsetting and how can it help events get to carbon neutrality?
  • Asking participants to cover their carbon footprint through their registration fee
  • Are participants willing to pay a “green” surcharge to cover the offsetting cost of their travel?
  • Why it’s important for races to be transparent with participants on what their carbon footprint is
  • The marketing benefit of promoting your race’s environmental credentials
  • How to avoid recyclable waste contamination by getting your volunteers to sort it
  • Recovering and recycling discarded water cups and bottles at aid stations
  • The advantage of using compostable cups vs recyclable paper cups
  • Is cupless racing possible for road races?
  • The role of businesses and local government as sustainability sponsors for races

Links:

Thanks to GiveSignup|RunSignup for supporting quality content for race directors by sponsoring this episode. More than 22,000 in-person, virtual, and hybrid events use GiveSignup|RunSignup's free and integrated solution to save time, grow their events, and raise more. If you'd like to learn more about GiveSignup|RunSignup's all-in-one technology solution for endurance and fundraising events visit runsignup.com.

You can find more free resources on planning, promoting and organizing  races on our website RaceDirectorsHQ.com.

You can also share your questions about making your race more sustainable or anything else in our race directors Facebook group, Race Directors Hub.


Panos:

Hi. Welcome to Head Start, the podcast for race directors and the business of putting on races. Making races more sustainable is on more and more race directors' radar these days - which is awesome. But when it comes to moving from theory to practice, working to affect actual change in your race that has a meaningful impact on your event's environmental footprint, things sometimes get a little bit confusing. Where do you even start? How do you benchmark where you're currently at with your event, so you can measure your progress going forward? What things should you focus on? And what does making progress even look like, when it comes to making your race greener? These questions and more is what we'll be discussing today with the help of my guest, Bruce Rayner. Bruce is the Chief Green Officer at Athletes for a Fit Planet and has been working at the forefront of event sustainability for years, having helped countless races, including the Big Sur Marathon, Marine Corps Marathon and others, become more sustainable by reducing their environmental footprint. So if you're ready to work on making your event more sustainable today, you'll get a great head start out of the next hour or so. Before we go into all that though, a quick shout out to our podcast sponsor, GiveSignup|RunSignup, the leading all-in-one technology solution for endurance and fundraising events. More than 22,000 in-person, virtual, and hybrid events use GiveSignup|RunSignup's free and integrated solution to save time, grow their events, and raise more. And it's through the support of the folks at GiveSignup|RunSignup that we can focus on bringing you great free content like today's podcast. Okay, let's get into this amazing episode. Bruce, welcome to the podcast!

Bruce:

It's great to be here, Panos. Great to see you.

Panos:

You too!

Bruce:

Looking forward to our conversation today about sustainability.

Panos:

So am I. Thanks a lot for coming on. So we were talking the other day, and I noticed - not that I'm like Sherlock Holmes or anything - from your accent that you're actually British. So you're originally from Britain but have been living in the US for a while. So how long have you been living in the US?

Bruce:

A few decades. Back in my younger years, I also spent some time in Australia as an exchange student and also teaching economics at Adelaide University for a few years.

Panos:

That's nice. And now you're based in Maine, right?

Bruce:

Based in Maine, which is, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the location of Maine, we are on the upper right-hand corner of the United States, right on the Canadian border. And it's a beautiful state - lots of nature, lots of great beaches, good swimming, good surfing, good cycling, good running - it's a great place to be.

Panos:

Perfect. So you've made it your mission over the last several years to help events improve their environmental footprint by making events a little bit greener for everyone, which I think is great and we need a lot more of. And you're doing this through a company you set up called Athletes for a Fit Planet. So why don't you tell our listeners a little bit more about Athletes for a Fit Planet? What do you do? What races you've worked with and your history with that so far?

Bruce:

Yeah. So, actually, it's been more than a few years, back in 2007. Just to back up a little bit, I'm a runner, a triathlete, and a cyclist. I've ridden my bicycle a long time ago across three continents - Australia, US, and Europe - to Israel. I've competed in a number of Ironman events and many marathons. My typical routine these days is trail running. That's my go-to. I find a lot of peace and tranquility with running trails. Yeah. As far as launching Athletes for Fit Planet, I was a Half Ironman race back in 2007. It wasn't an Ironman race. It was just a Half Ironman distance race. And I got to the finish line, they handed me that obligatory plastic water bottle. I drank it and I looked around to see where I could throw it away, and all I saw was this big barrel of overflowing trash, and that was it. And, so, I put my water bottle into my bag. I took it home and I recycled it. And then I started to think, "Races - all kinds of races - need some help in becoming aware of the importance of sustainability and being a sustainable race." Now, 2007 was the year after Al Gore came out with that book and video about an unconventional truth. And, so, it was just at the dawn of that new era of environmentalism in the early 2000s. So I've made a lot of phone calls around to race directors, to organizations, to people I knew in the industry, to find out what they were doing to be sustainable. And I found very little emphasis that they were placing to be more sustainable and more green. And, so, I thought this is an opportunity. One of the organizations I did connect with was the Council of Responsible Sport. It just launched in 2007. And the Council for Responsible Sport is a certification organization for races to become more sustainable. And, so, I thought, "Okay. This is a great opportunity for me. The Council creates athletes for a paid plan, provides services and consultation to events, helps them to become aware, to start to implement a program, and also acts as a stepping stone for race directors to one day achieve certification from the council. The council has done a phenomenal job certifying many events over the years. And I'm very lucky to have participated in some of those events to actually achieve certification. So over the years, we've worked with a number of major marathons, road races, triathlons, across the US up to Canada. We also worked with a colleague of mine on Athletes for a Fit Planet at that time. In the UK, we actually certify the EDF Birmingham Half Marathon back in 2010. But, primarily, the races we support are in the US where I have access to team members that we can bring to events. The objective of Athletes for Fit Planet is to make ourselves redundant, to basically give the toolset to the race director, have them elevate sustainability to be a core value and objective of the event and, then, off you go. Take it from there. My typical engagement period is two or three years. We have worked with some races for longer. But the idea is to embed a structure to become sustainable and to manage sustainability. And, then, as I said, just get out of the way and let them take it from there.

Panos:

Okay, right. You've been around since 2007. You've been working with events. You've seen how the industry has progressed. So, in your opinion, have we come far, since your experience with that triathlon bottle in 2007?

Bruce:

Oh, absolutely. The awareness amongst the race director community has elevated significantly. And it's largely because a lot of the race director conferences incorporate some set of presentations and keynotes about sustainability. Over the years, it has dramatically increased. So there's no question that the awareness is there. And the willingness of race directors to do the right thing is definitely front and center. So that has been a big change.

Panos:

So in terms of your experience, then, what is stopping more race directors from doing more in this kind of area? Is it cost, you think? Is it people not having the tools or the education or not knowing how to proceed? What do you think is the biggest impediment to this movement gaining momentum?

Bruce:

Yeah. So it's both of those things and a few other things as well. I think the race director has so many things that they have to manage - a multitude of challenges ahead of them from when they start to plan. It could be a year before the event, at least 4-6 months. And, so, they're flat out. The challenge that they have is to really structure how they address sustainability. In the first year, the sustainability plan would be to limit it to just a very small number of initiatives, focus on those, and make sure you do the right thing. That would be the first thing. Once they've established those few things, then they can start to expand from the second year onwards. And I think that's the key. Don't try and boil the ocean in the first year. Don't try and do everything that's possible in the first year. Pick a few key elements. And those elements primarily would be recycling and composting. On the waste front, you can make significant gains in one or two years by, at least, integrating recycling and composting into your event. We can get into the details of how that works later. But that is for the first year. The other thing I would recommend for year one is to, at least, measure your carbon footprint and measure your water footprint. That way you have a baseline in which to actually implement change and make progress. Reducing your carbon footprint is probably the biggest challenge for any race.

Panos:

Let's talk about that baseline which, as you say, is really important, because it's the place where you'd begin and benchmark against so that you know whether you're making any progress - right? So let's say I'm on day one and I look forward to many years of working on making my race greener, how can I measure where I currently stand? How can I measure my race's current footprint and impact on the environment?

Bruce:

Well, as I said, the two primary things I would suggest would be to, at least, measure your waste, whether it's recycling, landfill, compost, or whatever those elements are. Also, what you produce at the end of the race is determined by what you purchase and the things you do at the very early stages of planning for the race. So what do you provide in terms of water to the athletes? What do you provide, in terms of swag, medals, T-shirts, and that kind of thing? What are your plans in terms of where you purchase these things? Is it local? The more local, the lower the footprint. So, you want to consider those things upfront. So that's the first step - to get a handle on it. In terms of measuring, it is a question of calculating all those invoices and costs of landfill and disposing of landfill waste. They'll provide you with the tonnage. So you have that data.

Panos:

So basically, I just go by the total weight of all the waste I produce - all the rubbish bags and stuff that I produce. Exactly. The swag that I give out that isn't really part of my waste - like, how do I know about other sources of waste that I cannot measure directly from my event? Or is that not part of it, maybe? The other sources of waste would be the waste from vendors who are on-site, who you don't have any responsibility for. I mean, sustainability is important in every element of the event, whether it's an independent vendor or the food service provider. If you have a meal, or if you have post-race food available, you want to make sure that they do the right thing when you're contracted with them upfront early in the process. So where do the food service providers purchase their food from? Do they bring it from local sources? How is it packaged? Because that packaging will be part of your waste stream at the event on race day. In terms of the participants, what do their waste stream look like? It's primarily in terms of the element that is outside of the race itself. It's inconsequential, I would imagine. I mean, we don't really go into all of that, we just-- whatever gets disposed of into the bins at the event is what we measure. That's all we can measure. So I don't add on to the stuffs that are in my race bins. Like, I won't try and calculate what my vendors' waste - as part of my events - or my participants' waste and add that to my race.

Bruce:

So I understand what you're saying about the waste footprint that isn't a part of the event.

Panos:

Sort of like a secondary waste or something.

Bruce:

So upstream. So there are vendors that provide you a T-shirt with medals, swag, and all sorts of things. Say, for example, a T-shirt manufacturer in Central America uses a lot of water. They use chemicals. They pack it up into boxes. Maybe all the T-shirts are pre-packaged in plastic and, then, shipped to the race director. So that transportation, there's a carbon footprint. There's a carbon footprint from generating electricity for the manufacturing process. There's a chemical and water component. And, then, there's also the excess wastage that they produce. It's very difficult to capture that data. You have to have a willing provider who will actually calculate that for you, for your specific event. There are some challenges in making that happen. But if you are committed to that vendor, then it's worthwhile to sit down with them and say, "Look." And, especially, if you have a large race and it's a very high profile event, it's a good idea to sit down with them and say, "Look. We want to communicate our entire carbon waste and water footprint with all of our providers which includes you, our provider and major contributor. So work with us to help us measure what our wastewater and carbon footprint would be from your manufacturing process and from the transportation of that product to our event and the race that we do."

Panos:

But, normally, you'd say that those kinds of secondary sources of carbon contributions, waste, and water as well won't go into your races' environmental balance sheet, let's say. It's not something that usually would be part of that calculation.

Bruce:

That's correct. I think going forward, in the future, as companies become more cognizant of the footprint that they produce, they'd want to work with their partners to minimize the entire waste stream - make it as circular as possible - and also their carbon footprint. I think there will be opportunities for that. But it's very difficult to get that today.

Panos:

Sure. But I think it's a bit of a missed opportunity. I mean, obviously, I am completely new to this field. But with many things, it's all about incentives and measuring things. And I guess the problem with not including those numbers as part of the event footprint, which absolutely should be included, by the way, because if there are no races, those T-shirts wouldn't be produced for that race. So I think it's fair to include them. And I think the problem in not including them is that-- I don't know whether you had a chance to listen to this episode we did with a UK-based company called, "Trees Not Tees".

Bruce:

I did.

Panos:

So those guys are doing an excellent job - right? Basically, they're saying, "Let's make your race more environmentally friendly. We'll give participants the option to forfeit the T-shirt in favor of a tree in this more simplistic calculation of waste and carbon that doesn't include those second resources." You wouldn't see a benefit in having someone on board like Trees Not Tees - right? Because the carbon associated with a T-shirt and everything, technically, doesn't go into the calculation as you were saying.

Bruce:

That's correct. Yes. I mean, a carbon footprint is, typically, measured in terms of operational vehicles, generators, and things like that. There's travel to and from the event. Those are the two primary elements of the carbon footprint - it's the travel and the actual operations of the event.

Panos:

Does travel just for the event team or does travel include all the participants flying in from all over the world - from like a New York Marathon, something like that - for a big race. Would that include that bit?

Bruce:

Yes, yes. It includes all travel, all travel of all participants, volunteers, staff, and contractors who are on-site. Well, all of those people, basically, travel from their home or their workplace to the event. If we measure the distance and calculate that footprint, it's a big footprint for large events. It's a very big footprint. It's in the tens of thousands of metric tons of CO2. And the most significant, typically, the largest segment of the travel carbon footprint is from people traveling to the event by plane.

Panos:

So that's interesting because, in a way, in terms of accountability, I guess, I think that it would be equally valid to put the burden of the flight travel for someone who travels to the New York Marathon on the participant rather than the race - right? I think it's also fair to try and, basically, not make the race accountable for the people who travel to the event. It would probably send out the right signals in terms of incentives for participants to shift the burden of that onto the participant themselves - right?

Bruce:

Yes, it would be. I mean, it should be the individual's objective to reduce their carbon footprint - right? Whatever you do, you should try and minimize your footprint. When you drive the type of vehicle that you're using, you want to minimize your footprint. That should be part of your MO - your modus operandi - for just life. As far as the willingness of races to, basically, say, "You can't compete in my race unless you offset your carbon footprint from travel. And we want to see documentation from you that you have actually done that." Now, typically, it's only a few dollars, maybe $10 - $20 in the US - it's the typical amount of euros, I'm sure - to offset your carbon footprint. But, in this country, most people do not try to offset and reduce their carbon footprint. And race directors-- I can't speak for all of them, but race directors are hesitant to make such a demand because they might miss out on registrations. But there is a lot of discussion happening right now about how do you deal with the carbon footprint of your participants because it is by far the largest component of the footprint. And there are ways to address that. Some races include the average carbon footprint per athlete in the registration fee. That's one option. And, so, the races take it upon themselves to address their participants' footprint. The other option is to make it more of a, "If you would like, please offset your carbon footprint and you can do that by Trees Not Tees or some other program." An offset is not a direct removal of that CO2. It's not immediate carbon neutrality. For trees, it take a period of years to-- especially, when the trees haven't grown enough be able to absorb the carbon footprint. They cut the CO2 from the atmosphere. That's when it's most productive. But, it takes a while before trees get to that level. There are other offset options. But I think just in general, offsets are the only option today to reduce your events' carbon footprint. That's the only option. But it is something that a lot of races have started to engage and experiment with. I haven't seen a model that has been widely adopted by all events. I think, in Europe, you probably are maybe a little bit more vast than we are here in the States in terms of understanding carbon footprint and actually paying for it. But we do have a long way to go.

Panos:

Let's try and help people understand because I agree, lots of people are not 100% clear on how offsets can help mitigate the impact of carbon production, or like greenhouse equivalent production - right? Basically, the way this works - I'm taking this up myself to explain - as a European, as you say, because we're a little bit more sort of like--

Bruce:

Advanced.

Panos:

We're less confused about this point. So the way this works is that, basically, carbon-- this is, I suppose, the bit that should even appeal to US listeners from a market point of view, but basically, carbon has a price - right? And that price is the price you would need to pay, essentially. I mean, you can think of it as a tax, or you can think of it as just the cost of producing carbon. And, if you pay that money to someone, it's almost as if you're cleaning up your carbon production. I mean, you cannot eliminate carbon - right? I mean, you cannot stop flying. But what you can do is pay the market price of carbon so that, then, someone who has a project somewhere can offset that carbon by planting trees, making some improvements, and putting some process together that basically takes that carbon off the atmosphere - the same amount of carbon as you produce. And the earth being a global ecosystem, it doesn't really matter whether you produce carbon in Manchester. The carbon can be taken out in Honduras or something. So that's the price of carbon. And that's how offsetting works. And I agree that at the moment, it's the best tool we have in our arsenal to fight this because, essentially, what it does is it says, "Okay. We cannot avoid putting on races that have an impact and which produce carbon. We cannot avoid people flying, moving, or whatever. I mean, we can reduce it, but we cannot eliminate it. So then for the bits that we cannot eliminate, let's put some money aside that would, then, go to a project that would create an offset into the carbon that we release through those processes." And I think it's extremely valid. But as you said in our last discussion, it really depends on the kinds of projects that money goes towards - right? So all of these offsetting projects need to be valid, they need to be reliable, and they need to actually make an impact in taking out the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Bruce:

Yeah, that's true. And the quality of the carbon offset companies and organizations have increased. And the reliability and believability of these organizations has increased dramatically since the early days back in when we launched Fit Planet in 2008. Nobody had a clue what a carbon offset was. And there were some organizations that were doing a good job and were playing by the rules. And others were maybe not playing by the rules in terms of carbon. But you're right. There is a price for carbon. And if you are truly committed to being an environmentally sustainable human being, it's a cost that you should incur. So the price of reducing carbon footprint by about a tonne of CO2 in our offset project is about $15 in the US, plus or minus, somewhere in that range. And, so, for somebody who drives to the race, their carbon footprint would be a fraction of that. So it might be a few dollars. And, so, that can be incorporated into the race through the registration fee or as an option in a registration fee. And we've worked with carbon offset companies for many of the races. One of the ones I like is called Native Energy which is based in Burlington, Vermont. We have a number of projects with them. And when we work with an offset company, we always try to look for projects as local as possible to the event. So it can be a carbon sequestration project and that's the work that is providing offsets for the race in Maine - that type of thing. And you can find those. That's probably the one opportunity for launching an offset program.

Panos:

I hope you're so far enjoying our chat on race sustainability and getting some good pointers out of it. One really crucial thing to remember with any new initiative you undertake is to make sure to communicate information to participants about what you're doing and also about what you want them to do in the run-up to your race. And that's where the importance of a good email communication system comes in. Now, we've talked before about GiveSignup|RunSignups built-in tools, and how they integrate with your registration data, which is actually really important, and how they are also free to use. And their email marketing platform is no exception. So you can use the GiveSignup|RunSignup native emailing tool to send out all the emails you need to send to your participants for free, however large your participant list. And you can even schedule those emails months in advance, so you can build your entire email communication flow on day 1 and then just forget about it. And, yes, you get some really nice email templates you can use that are personalised with your participant data, or you can build your own, if that's what you want to do. And you can segment your emailing lists to, say, just your past participants or participants in a specific event, say, the 5K. Really, you can do pretty much most things you're already doing on your MailChimp or Constant Contact account. The difference, when you choose to do it on GiveSignup|RunSignup, is you keep all your data in one place and it costs you absolutely nothing. So you can take the money you save by not paying for a separate emailing service and put it somewhere else in your marketing to grow your event. So, if you're already a GiveSignup|RunSignup customer, do your email marketing from your race dashboard and be done with it. And if you're not, well, that's just one more thing GiveSignup|RunSignup can take care of for you. Ok, let's get back to talking race sustainability with Bruce Rayner

with an interesting question:

who should be paying for carbon offsets? Is it you, the race director, or the participant taking part in your race? So I think it's interesting to stick to carbon because you mentioned it is the biggest contributor to an overall--

Bruce:

It's the most challenging.

Panos:

Yes, and the most challenging as well. So, at the moment, I realize that running a race incurs a few dollars of liability in terms of my carbon footprint per participant - right? So, basically, I do the math, and it's coming out that, basically, I need to offset a bunch of carbon. What do races do from there? Do you try to put it back to the participant? Do you try to absorb it yourself to make the race greener and not change the cost of the race? What are the options from them?

Bruce:

Well, those are the options. I mean, the race can engage with participants, vendors, and whoever else coming to the event to offset their carbon footprint. And the easiest way to do that would be to estimate-- once you've measured your carbon footprint, you can estimate what the average total footprint per participant is and, then, just add that to your race registration. That would be the simplest way to do it. Then, you try to figure out what your participants and your vendors should pay for this year two, individually.

Panos:

So what do race directors usually choose to do? Do they choose to put it back to the participant or absorb the cost themselves?

Bruce:

It will be a combination of the two. Very few race directors are willing to offset the carbon footprint of their participants because it just adds cost. There's no practical reason for them to do it. I mean, the only way to do it is to include the participants in their cost - at least, share the cost. But race directors have their own margins. Depending on the size of the race, especially the smaller races, they don't have a lot of wiggle room when it comes to revenue. So the way to do it is to add the carbon footprint cost per unit to the registration fee. That would be the most practical thing to do. Then, you're solving it and not leaving it up to the participants to say, "Yeah. Maybe I'll do it. Maybe, I won't. I know I don't have to so I'm not going to." You got a lot of people in that category.

Panos:

Yeah, I think there's a couple of issues. That's exactly why I asked this question because I know people operate on very thin margins. And more to that point, I think morally, as I said earlier, it's really something that you need to put back to the participant because they're traveling and doing the polluting. I mean, they come to your event but they're doing the polluting. It must really be down to them to do the mitigation as well. So I totally understand that. Two points, I guess is, one, you shouldn't really be doing averages, I suppose. You need to be charging people to the extent that you can and have the information. You should charge them from wherever they come - right? I mean, if I live next to the race and another guy comes in from 2,000 miles away, I shouldn't really pay for them. It should be a little bit fairer, I guess. And the other point which is really important, if I decide to put a surcharge on my race for this and make it obligatory for everyone to pay that on top of the entry fee, will participants understand - once you make it clear to them - that you there's an extra $6 or something to mitigate the carbon impact of their travel? Are they willing to pay those $6? Because I was having another episode with another Brit, actually, a couple of episodes back on making races safer, which has in similar conundrums to making them greener, because it's fine for you to go out and pay the money for it. But, then, are participants willing to, then, get the cost passed on to them? And would they appreciate what you're doing for them at the end of the day?

Bruce:

That's a complex question. So yes, they would appreciate it. I think, in 2021, the vast majority of athletes are definitely supportive of environmentally responsible events that are making their lives more environmentally responsible and doing what's required to become more environmentally responsible. I think that should be a given at this point. But there are people who have participated in races over the years, they never had to pay this additional fee before. And, so, it'll be a little bit of an affront to them to actually shell out an extra five or ten bucks. Or if you fly from Rome to New York, it's a little bit more than that per seat per plane trip. I would say there's no model today that has sorted out how to do it. I think as the threat of serious climate change intensifies, the importance of mitigating climate change becomes an acceptable aspect of your life, and you have to manage it and pay for it. Then, I think, there will be a growing willingness to pay an offset for attending the race now. Having said that, I'm a big fan of racing locally as close to home as I possibly can. I'm in favor of riding my bicycle to a road race. In fact, we work with a world-class 10K called the Beach to Beacon 10K. It's here in the town that I live in Maine. It was initiated and first launched by Joan Benoit Samuelson who was the winner of the first women's marathon of the Olympics back in the day. We have a bike valet service at that race for locals to park their bikes and race. And that has helped the race to reduce its carbon footprint for no additional cost. You're just the participant who agrees to do something that is carbon-free or relatively carbon-free. That's one of the advantages of racing locally. You provide that option. The other option is mass transit. For example, in Washington, DC, for the Marine Corps marathon, everybody took the metro to the start of the race. It's tens of thousands of people packed like sardines in the metro and the local rail service. So those are things that will help. But you're right. We will not eliminate people who want to travel to the New York City Marathon, Boston marathon or wherever to run the race. It's on their bucket list. So they will do it, regardless.

Panos:

Yeah. But I think the difference with bucket list races is that, first of all, they're sold out. So they have price elasticity. They can bump up the fee by $5 and no one is going to-- it's not like they will lose significant numbers of athletes. The problem is what happens with smaller races when they try to tackle a race that doesn't have the pricing power of like New York which has like a ballot, and one in five people gets in or whatever - right? The challenge is when a local half marathon struggle to add another 5-10 dollars to the entry fee of the race that has a little bit of an impact and maybe attracts people across the States or whatever.

Bruce:

Yes. It's supply and demand - right? So if you have that local half-marathon, well, there might be another local half marathon 15 miles away that happens the following weekend. So, if I have to pay an extra $15 to offset my carbon footprint at this race, well, I can just wait till the next race and that will not charge that price. So, again, the smaller races, their challenge is managing their finances. They have that challenge, as we've talked about. So I think the key there is, make it optional. Make the contribution from the athletes optional but tell them exactly what the race's footprint is. You can calculate it in year one. Year two, you say, "Hey. Our carbon footprint is 750 tonnes of CO2. That's a big number for a local race. Okay, well, we want you to help us to offset this because the vast majority of our footprint comes from you, Mr. or Mrs. Participant and it should be your responsibility to do this." I think we have come to a point though, where there will be a model that will emerge where the carbon footprint is managed consistently across a lot of events. Maybe, not all of them, but a lot of the events. There'll be a model. The Trees Not Tees model is one of the great options because you're doing more than just reducing CO2, you're also eliminating products that are, typically, 100% polyester which means it's pumped out of the ground by the oil companies. The entire whole product is made from oil.

Panos:

Right. So another way to manage this situation, or maybe another component to this model that might emerge, as you said, can be promoting your race as greener and more environmentally responsible. That can appeal to more participants. So, basically, is there a marketing benefit to be able to say that my race is more sustainable? And although it's more expensive, if I communicated well, I may just attract the right crowd on the back of that.

Bruce:

Yes. I think you're seeing that in the trail running community, in terms of their commitment, because they're using pristine nature. And, so, I think they're more in tune with sustainable lifestyles than the typical road race marathoner. So it's happening. I think it's happening there. You'll attract more participants if you have a commitment and they can see that you're working hard to become more sustainable. I think that commitment is an important metric for participants to respond to, and I think they are responding to that.

Panos:

So, obviously, so long as people know what it is you're doing.

Bruce:

Absolutely. Communication. You're absolutely right, Panos. The communication of the efforts, sharing the data that you've collected on the total tonnage of waste and CO2, the total volume of plastic water bottles that you send to recycle are important components metrics that resonate with the typical athlete, I think, these days. It's just the cost. The cost of the footprint is the key issue.

Panos:

Yeah. And I have to say that, as you've pointed out earlier, trail running has been an amazing source of ideas and initiatives. And it's really the spearhead in all of this because of the nature of that sport and the way that community operates. All of their major approaches might be taken on to road races, even the cupless philosophy, like not carrying their own water container. Trees Not Tees came out of that. A lot of these initiatives first come out of trail running which is a much smaller sport but is much more environmentally attuned to the situation. And, then, I can definitely see, for instance, a trail race advertising its green credentials that resonate a lot with that kind of audience - right? People would choose to go to a greener race because it's greener. I'm not sure if it'll have the same impact on road races. Maybe, some of the local road races are like, "In a 10K, we've done all this work and our event is carbon neutral. It would have the same impact." But it definitely would in trail running, I think.

Bruce:

Yeah. I completely agree with you. Trail running's leading the way in many ways, actually. But the vast majority of events are not trail races.

Panos:

From that perspective, yes. Unfortunately, yes. Trail runs are not the biggest polluter.

Bruce:

Yeah. Follow the lead of the trail running community and do what you can. Measure and communicate. Then, we provide a report for clients we work with at the end of the day that quantifies everything we can possibly quantify. And it's up to them to communicate what they want to communicate. And some basically publish the report for all to see. Others will cherry-pick certain things. Also, certification. Certification by the Council of Responsible Sport is a huge feather in your cap for a race because that gives you legitimate third-party credibility, in terms of your sustainability practices. Because it's not just about the results, it's about the process, it's about the commitment to maintaining and expanding the process. It takes into account all aspects of the race from what you're purchasing up front to the end of the day at the race.

Panos:

We've discussed, I think, several aspects of the carbon footprint element quite extensively, I think. Going back to waste for a minute, I mean, that sounds, in some ways, a lot more straightforward for people - right? So recycle as much as you can. I guess, try to reduce the total volume of your waste. Are there any easy wins there for events and for race directors to keep in mind when trying to reduce waste?

Bruce:

Yeah. So the objective is to become a "zero-waste event." That means diverting 90% or more of the total waste stream to compost and recycling - not into landfills and not incinerated. We've had great success with races that have achieved that. Again, it's a multi-year process. You start small and you build up the ability to have your entire waste stream, up on race day, diverted from landfill. One of the mechanisms, one of the ways we enable that is by what Fit Planet developed - we call it the waystation. Typically, we'll have four units of 8ft tables set up in a square. And, then, you have the bins and the volunteers inside of that waystation. So you have the green team volunteers with the recycling bin, the redeemable bin, the landfill waste bin, the hard to recycle but Tetracycle-type products that you can get like GU wrappers and, then, the compost bin. So you have the bins and the volunteers inside this station. You have flags on the station that says recycling or waste waystation. And the athletes and participants just put their stuff on the tables. Then, the volunteers take it and they sort it. So there's no contamination. The worst thing you can have is recycling items that are contaminated. In the US, typically, above 10% of recyclable items are rejected. You do not want to get your recycling dumpster rejected, at the end of the day, after you put all that work into it. So this is the only way that we found to have a clean recycling stream and a clean compost stream. Otherwise, you'll have contamination.

Panos:

Okay. That's really smart. So, basically, if I understand correctly, what you're saying is that you do not rely on the participants to, basically, work out where to put stuff and which bin to dispose of waste into in the right way. So they just leave everything to the volunteers to basically sort out.

Bruce:

Exactly, you do not let the participant throw anything into a bin. Nothing. You have that table in front of the bins and a volunteer who knows what they're doing. I mean, it's a complex thing. Sometimes, some races have a variety of different kinds of plastics. Some are recyclable. Others are not. And, then, same thing with wrappers for compost. Is this wrapper compostable? Volunteers will know - either, yes or no - that wrapper is compostable because they'll be trained beforehand. And we provide them a list of everything that's thrown away, what they need to do, and which bin it needs to go in. It's a really important element. And it took us a few years managing waste at events to figure this out. We work with one marathon where we initiated this process. And they went from very low levels of recycling to very close to zero-waste. We had, basically, seven stations at the finish of this marathon and we did that for 30,000 plus people. It transformed the process.

Panos:

Yeah, That makes a lot of sense, actually. I mean, it takes me, sometimes, a couple of seconds to work out what bin to throw stuff in my house - right? It's not 100% obvious. And it's a well-known fact that contamination is a big problem. And you don't want to just throw away, do everything right and, then, it gets contaminated. It's really a shame. Sticking with waste, I would assume, perhaps, naively, you told me that water bottles are basically a huge contributor to races' waste footprint. I guess, more so for like a traditional road race. Is that the case?

Bruce:

Yeah, absolutely. Water bottles and cups are the main items that get disposed of a lot - on the course for the cups, and in the finish area for the bottles.

Panos:

So what happens when people go through an aid station, they take a bottle or a cup, they have a couple of sips and, then, they just throw it all over the place and, then, other runners come and step on that? Like that must be a total mess. How do you recover that material?

Bruce:

Rakes with leaf rakes. You'll see the volunteers. If there's a lull in the runner traffic, they'll jump out on the road and they'll rake up as many cups as they can. Because, basically, the cups are an accident waiting to happen. If the road's wet, the cups are slippery. It has happened to more than one runner. They slip and fall on it. But, yeah, they rake them up. They put them in bags and they put them aside. And when we work with big races that have cups on their course, we ensure that they bag the cups separately from all of the waste. It can be large five-gallon jugs or a fire hydrant that's hooked up to a filter, that's hooked up to a faucet that they can fill up the cups with. That kind of waste is separated as well. So there's a lot of cardboard at an aid station that gets crushed and recycled. There are the large containers to recycle. And, then, the cups, if a race can negotiate with the water provider - who is, typically, also the cup provider because their logo's on the cup - to provide compostable cups, then your aid stations are basically zero waste. You can take those cups and a compost container will come through at the end of the race, pick up all the cups, and take them to be shredded and composted in with all the other compost that they have on their operational side.

Panos:

Yeah. Because, basically, if I understand you correctly, a compostable cup is a much lower bar to hit because, essentially, you don't have to worry about it being contaminated or you don't have to try and recycle it. You just take the whole thing, put it into the compost bin, and you get like a shredded slur at the end of it which is much, much easier to recover more of them.

Bruce:

Yeah, exactly. And you can do that for large events. That's the way to go. The Seattle Rock 'n' Roll Marathon was one of the first races that we work with. This was way back in 2009, I think, they composted the cups on the course. This was in 2009. I think that might have been one of the first ones.

Panos:

Are compostable cups more expensive? Like why wouldn't people just use compostable cups to begin?

Bruce:

I think the reason why is because the cups that the vendors provide with their product, with their water were not compostable. The resin on the cups is synthetic. And, so, in large quantities, that is not compostable. And it has to be the paraffin wax lining with some other kind of organic material that coats that cup. I've seen races try with just uncoated cups but they leak and it doesn't work very well. Now, more of those water providers are transitioning to compostable cups. So it's become an easier option. And you should always ask race directors and their water providers, "Please provide us with compostable cups."

Panos:

Is there a cost difference or a significant cost difference between the compostable and the old school water cup that you would get?

Bruce:

Yeah. I'm not sure exactly what that cost differential is but I think there is still a cost differential. Of course, a lot of these water providers are donating their products to the event in exchange for sponsorship. That's one option.

Panos:

Let's go back to some of the stuff that we know is happening in trail races which, of course, have a completely different dynamic. What about striving to go completely cupless? So in trail races, there's this paradigm where race directors would ask participants to carry their own flask, or little bottle, or container so they don't have to. So there are no bottles or any kind of waste involved. Of course, you don't get the same traffic at an aid station that you would get in a trail race. Are people even thinking about going cupless in road races? Or do you think that's feasible at all as an alternative?

Bruce:

No, I don't. Especially for marathons and competitive races, you'll not have somebody carrying a waistband or a vest with a bladder in it that you can sip from as they're running. They'll not want to want to carry an extra two or five pounds of weight if they're a competitive runner. They're just not going to do that.

Panos:

Well, the competitive runners may not. I appreciate that. For most races, 95% of the people taking part, if not more, are not competitive runners - right?

Bruce:

A large percentage of runners are not competitive especially those at the back of the pack. I guess you could ask them to do this. But I don't think you'll get 100% compliance with the requirement of, "Hey. You have to carry your own hydration and nutrition." Yeah. So I think in trail running, when you have a water station in the middle of nowhere, miles from the road, that's totally inefficient for the race and it's difficult. So that's why trail events primarily require all athletes to carry their own. And people comply because it's part of being a trail runner. I mean, that's what you do. You carry it in and carry it out. Road races are different.

Panos:

I think we've covered quite a lot of ground on both waste and carbon, which are the two really key aspects of what goes into the environmental impact of a race. I think we went through some really, really interesting tips from experience there. We spoke earlier about using your races' environmental credentials as a way to promote and market them as greener events. So long as you communicated, there is an audience out there who will respond to that. So there's definitely some upside to try - and may even, like, commercial upside - to make your event more sustainable. One last thing, I want to discuss with you is - and this is, again, the European speaking, because we're very big on subsidies here - is there anywhere that people can turn to for financial support in terms of putting the effort i to make the races greener? Are there any grants that might be available for people - any kind of monetary incentive - that can help them along in the process of taking on that cost and that responsibility?

Bruce:

Well, first of all, they have to communicate what they're doing to the general public. And they have to have some kind of a track record in actual sustainable practices. So once they've established those baselines, then, there is an opportunity to find a sustainability sponsor - a sponsor that would offset the out-of-pocket cost of the sustainability efforts. And there are a few races that we've worked with that have identified, recruited, and successfully worked with companies that became their sustainability sponsor. I'm not sure if that's really been an effort that races have committed themselves to, but I think it is definitely part of the future for road races - and also trail races, of course - to recruit a sustainability sponsor, because once that sustainability sponsor comes on board, and if they are themselves a sustainable company and have a story to tell, then, it gives them the opportunity to communicate it to a friendly audience and to improve their business. Fit Planet launched with the idea that that was going to be the model. That was going to be the model for paying for the cost of the sustainability, frankly, the cost of our onsite services. It didn't work out back in the day in 2008. It's taken, I'd say, a decade for the race community, maybe not a decade, 7-8 years before the race community has sustainability as an objective on their website, or is communicating it to their participants. So once that happens, I think that opportunity is available to them.

Panos:

So the sustainability sponsor, would they be a corporate or a local business? Or, like, where do they come from?

Bruce:

For local race, it would be a local business, say, it's a company that is an organic grocery company or something like that, or it's a company that provides some kind of sustainable product. That's their core mission in life. But, yeah, I think that's one option. I think, if you're a small race, you'd want to ask the town if they have some money that they can contribute to the sustainable practices. That might be another opportunity because the town can then promote itself as being sustainable and that can get people to come to the shops and businesses. So that would be one option. I think at the larger scale of events, I think there's a growing opportunity to attract sustainable big brands and high-profile companies to take on that responsibility of covering, or at least helping to cover some of the costs. There's a lot of benefit from that exposure.

Panos:

Yeah, that's a great idea.

Bruce:

It hasn't become the standard model which is what we hoped it to be 5-10 years ago, but it is starting to happen.

Panos:

I can totally understand why it wouldn't have been the go-to option 10 years ago. But a lot has changed over the last 10 years. And I can definitely see something like that catching on. And lots of people, lots of brands potentially start to come on board as sustainability sponsors, because, the environment is a much hotter topic than it used to be. And there are lots of people that would love to be associated with that kind of aura. It's been more than an hour. I think it's been a super interesting discussion. I hope you agree.

Bruce:

It's been fun. Lots of fun.

Panos:

So how can people reach out to you if they need any help with their sustainability efforts with their races, or if they want to reach out to you to discuss any of the things we went over today on the episode?

Bruce:

The easiest way is to email me. It's bruce@afitplanet.com. That's the easiest way. Just drop me a line. Happy to chat. One of the things that I didn't mention earlier on was our pledge of sustainability. We have a pledge of sustainability that's available on our website, AFitPlanet.com. We're actually updating the website. It's in the process of being updated. But you can find the pledge of sustainability document that includes I think, 43 different elements, plans, and sustainable practices to implement at your event. And you can download it from the website. So feel free to grab that. I would also encourage race directors to reach out to the Council For Responsible Sport to understand what they do, how they do it and, also, to maybe consider certification at some point. We position the pledge of sustainability as an initial stepping stone to help races get established. And, then, maybe, a few years down the road, that's when they can go for the certification. Big fan of the council's work. They do a phenomenal job.

Panos:

Yeah. We should bring them on one of these days, so they can tell us their other part of the story because, yeah, they do a great job. And they've led in all of this. They've led the industry quite well so far. Thank you very much again for taking the time to share all this knowledge with us.

Bruce:

I really enjoyed it. It was a great session. Thanks.

Panos:

Likewise. We'll speak again soon. I hope everyone enjoyed this episode. And we'll catch up on the next episode.

Bruce:

Alright. Thank you very much.

Panos:

I hope you enjoyed this episode on race sustainability with Athletes for a Fit Planet Chief Green Officer, Bruce Rayner. You can find more resources on anything and everything to do with putting on races on our website RaceDirectors HQ.com. You can also share your questions about making your race more sustainable or anything else in our Facebook group, Race Directors Hub. If you enjoyed this episode don't forget to hit "Follow" on your favorite player and do check out our podcast back-catalogue for some more great content like this. Until our next episode, take care and keep putting on amazing races.