Panelists share practical steps to reduce carbon footprint, reduce waste, and increase sustainability within trail running
Sustainability in Trail Running – An Inconvenient Truth, was the subject for the sixth webinar in an eight-webinar series produced by the US Trail Running Conference presented by Marathon Printing, and was live on Tuesday, July 25. The webinar series is free for all race directors and event organizers to access, and is held in partnership with the American Trail Running Association.
This webinar’s panelists featured experts and industry disruptors representing race production, sustainability consultants, and running brands. Shannon O’Grady, CPO / COO from Gnarly Sports Nutrition; Steve Aderholt from One Step Events and Cocodona 250; and Sam Burke from Tarkine Running. Terry Chiplin, founder of the US Trail Running Conference, was the moderator for the session.
Shannon O’Grady opened the session detailing the packaging problem that currently exists in sports nutrition. “One of our values is to improve our footprint in the sports nutrition space, and it’s great to see this topic being addressed from so many different angles as that’s the only way to move us onto a better path than the one we are currently on….Plastic packaging is rampant in most supplements, and particularly in sports nutrition…when you go into anywhere that you might buy sports nutrition products ata retailer, you will typically see a wall of plastic items. These include protein powders in plastic tubs, hydration products in plastic pouches, and single use products like gels. Many of these ‘seem’ recyclable, but many aren’t or don’t get recycled.”
O’Grady went on to explain what happens to the different types of plastic that we usually include in our recycle bins. “Most of these symbols, even though we see the triangle with the continuous arrows, these items are rarely recycled. Really the only two types of plastic that are recycled are type 1 & type 2; of those two types it’s important to note that it’s only clear and white plastic that is recycled the most, and colored plastic is hardly ever recycled.
“It’s also important to note that on top of that, even when we’re talking about type 1 and type 2 and white and clear plastics, hardly any of that plastic is recycled….our long term reliance on China for recycling meant that we had no long term infrastructure developed (in the US)…in 2018 when this got cut off we had a large problem with what were we going to do with the material we needed to recycle. Recent data shows that only 5-6% of plastics is actually getting recycled. That’s not something that is sustainable for our environment or the World.”
Solutions to the plastic packaging problem were then shared. She covered How2Recycle Drop Off Recycling, PCR containing plastic, Terra cycle programs, and plastic alternatives like biodegradable and compostable packaging, glass and metal.
O’Grady discussed changes that Gnarly Sports Nutrition have made to their packaging. “We were looking to cut down on the plastic in our line: it was both something that we wanted to do as a brand, and something that our consumers were regularly asking for. We are all end use consumers, and I can’t stress this enough, if you want to see change in the brands that you use, email them, let them know what is important to you, what helps you make a decision between one product and another. This is the only way, pressure from the consumer, that we are going to see brands take these steps.”
Gnarly moved from plastic to tin plated steel cans for powdered products; switched from non-recyclable pouches to drop off recyclable pouches; and switched from plastic bottles to glass bottles for encapsulated products. Gnarly are currently working on removing plastic scoops or switching to PCR scoops, and adding PCR containing film for single serve stickpacks.
“In terms of making a change that mattered in terms of the sustainability of Gnarly packaging, we definitely made a step in the right direction….for single serving packs, consumers could use a silicone bag and scoop a measure of product into that…this is something that you could do in terms of improving your footprint in trail running.”
Aderholt was the next presenter, and introduced his content with this sage advice for race directors and event organizers as an answer to a question from a participating race director: “The more we can do away with things, and focus on experiences, that’s really what the running race industry is all about, providing a challenging experience, that’s the best thing that we can do. The best goody bag is no goody bag at all; the second best goody bag is a bag that isn’t just going to get tossed, or hopefully recycled, or used for many years. A really good, more expensive goody bag is going to go a lot further in its use and life cycle than a plastic bag that is going to get tossed. BoCo makes a really great backpack that I used for Cocodona – it’s a lot more expensive for a race director if you are trying to keep your price point down.”
Aderholt then shared thoughts on a book, We Can’t Run Away From This by Damian Hall, that asks the question, ‘What if running in beautiful places was paradoxically contributing to the destruction of those precious environments and causing irreversible global harm to people and animals too?’
“The answer is yes, but personally I believe that exploring beautiful places makes us more willing and knowledgeable to protect those places. The Sierra Club for example, one of the mottos for their trips is Explore, Enjoy, Protect. If you explore a place and love it, you’re more likely to find out about the environmental issues surrounding that place, and other places and so start to protect it.”
Aderholt then moved onto the second element in his presentation. “Personally, and this is a contentious issue, the number one thing we can do to help our planet is to decide not have as many children, with population growth our impact is exponentially increasing…..we have been focused on the last R for quite a while (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle)….we need to focus on the first two Rs a lot more heavily rather than throwing something in the recycle bin and feeling good about it.”
“As race directors, it’s a hard switch to make, no more stuff is something that we should focus on in the race industry. From medals and shirts to goodie bags, and all the things that go in the goodie bags. The first step we can make is to give people the option to opt out of these things. I have been doing at my races opting out of shirts…a lot of us have way more race shirts than we need. I think we should go beyond that and have a ‘no stuff option’, so no buckle, no medal, no shirt, no goodie bag, and letting people opt in to these items. I am going to do that for Cocodona 250 this year, take the money that we save, and donate it to an environmental cause.”
“Really the best decision would be to provide a really good race experience and not even give the option for the stuff. It’s really scary as a race director, it is the most responsible thing that we can do….maybe you will have more or different people joining your race if you do, we will see.”
Aderholt completed his presentation by talking about carbon offsets. “The other big impact that we have around our races is the traveling to the race, and then the race has a carbon footprint as well. I highly encourage race directors to track their carbon footprint, and there are a number of ways to do this….It’s pretty easy to get a carbon footprint for staff travel and operations, and it’s inexpensive to offset that, there are a number of companies who will take that money and invest it into projects that will reduce or take carbon out of the cycle.”
“As participants, or for race directors, to encourage participants to purchase offsets associated with the travel. That’s more expensive as it’s a much larger footprint than the race operations. I think encouraging participants to do that, and that as we participate ourselves to then purchase those offsets. On the individual level it’s pretty inexpensive – I total up all my travel for the year, and at the end of year as a Christmas gift to myself, I purchase carbon offsets. Those are the things I think we can do better as race directors and ways that we can improve.”
The final presenter was Sam Burke, co-founder of Tarkine Running. He opened his segment by talking about how Tarkine Running came to be. “In 2017 I started with trips to Asia, all the tech and machinery is over there, and it’s going to be a few years before we have the machinery in Australia…I spent seventeen years working full time as a veterinarian so I’ve always been focused on the environmental side of it, wildlife work and that sort of stuff….I have always been a runner, and wanted to have a crack at the shoe game, but wanted to do it in a different way. Have a company a bit like what Patagonia does. They give back to their community, and they are not all talk, they actually do what they say. I wanted to set up a company that speaks and says exactly what it does. The shoes are as eco-friendly as they can be right now. We have a staff of six right now, so we are growing.”
He then shared how the name Tarkine came to be chosen. “The Tarkine is the second largest temperate rainforest in the World…they call it the last true wild place left on Earth, it’s so remote and so unknown, most Australians have never heard of it. It’s called Australian’s Amazon as it is the equivalent. Sadly it’s getting logged at a pretty crazy rate, and there are also some mines. It’s the most amazing place ever, and we teamed up with an organization that is trying to save the Tarkine; three percent of our income is channeled into these organizations, and we actually do it!”
Then Burke responded about the new trail shoe from Tarkine, the Trail Devil. “The first shoe was our Goshawk shoe, which is incredibly environmentally friendly; the outsole is recycled, the upper is recycled ocean trash, the laces are recycled, even the sock liner, we invented a way for this to decompose. The Trail Devil is less eco friendly than the Goshawk, so we had to reach that compromise, seeking to sponsor some of the best trail runners in the World. We are still using recycled uppers and laces, however the outsole on the shoe is not from recycled materials. We are working on ways to make this shoe more eco-friendly.”
“There is no way to say this shoe is completely eco-friendly, that just doesn’t exist yet. We pay for these shoes to be recycled, and that’s not rocket science; every brand can do that, they choose not to. There are some brands that have started doing it since we have been pushing it hard. We can recycle the midsole and the outsole into rubber products. It’s up to us as a company as we put this product out into the World, we need to take responsibility.”
Burke discussed durability in trail shoes, with some surprising statistics. “Every single item in a shoe is a compromise. Everything increases weight. Durability comes down to the strength of your fabric, are you using cheap or expensive stuff? So we are using the most expensive materials we can buy – we have pairs of Trail Devils that we have put over 2000 kms on (that’s nearly 1250 miles!). The shoe is definitely flatter than when it started, however the lugs are not that worn if you’re running trails. The midsole is not EVA, and lasts longer, and is also recyclable too. It’s about 5-6% heavier than the lightest trail shoe on the market, however with the slightly heavier midsole we can get a lot more life out of the shoe. It’s an incredibly durable shoe.”
Lastly Burke covered the end of life process for Tarkine Running shoes, a key differentiator that sets them apart in the shoe market. “In Australia we have recycling partners, and it’s an easy thing to drop shoes into that process. In the US we are about to announce in the next two months a whole range of recycle partners and all that information will be available at Tarkine.com. There will be various collection points – once shoes reach those points, we pay for the shoes to be recycled. We are in the final stages of closing out those arrangements, and the information will be available long before you have run a pair of Trail Devils into the ground!”
In closing, Aderholt and O’Grady covered answers to a participant question about food waste and composting at multi day stage races, including finding a local composting agent to work with. Aderholt recommended working with a partner that has a composting digester. “However you have to guard that compost bin from participants, and have a volunteer to make sure the right products go in.”
O’Grady added that she recommends “looking for something that is certified by CMA (Composting Manufacturers Alliance). There hasn’t been any auditing on whether or not something is actually compostable or not and to what degree it actually breaks down. CMA have come in and done that auditing, so they approve specific compostable material, so if they approve it you know that at least 90% of it breaks down.”
Active at Altitude, organizers of the US Trail Running Conference and the webinar series, reported more than 135 participants registered for the session, representing 34 states, as well as Canada, Bolivia, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, North Macedonia, Russia, England, UAE, India, Kenya, & Vietnam. A recording of this webinar is available on the US Trail Running Conference YouTube channel at the link below.
The next webinar is titled: Innovative Ideas on How to Grow Your Race, and takes place on Thursday, August 24, 2023, from 10.00 am to 11.00 am MST. Panelists will be Briston Rains, Texas Outlaw Running Company, Tim Tollefson, Mammoth Trailfest, Kim Field, All Things Fun Sports. This session is sponsored by Darn Tough Vermont, an American manufacturer of premium all-weather running, outdoor, and lifestyle socks, backed up by the industry’s original Unconditional Lifetime Guarantee and renowned for its exceptional Comfort, Durability, and Fit.
Who is this for? Race directors and event organizers who are interested in utilizing innovative ideas to help grow their race or races. Registration is free – see https://ustrailrunningconference.com/webinar-series/ for more details.
For details on the US Trail Running Conference and the webinar series, go to https://ustrailrunningconference.com/webinar-series/
Contact Event Director, Terry Chiplin for further information, email@example.com, or + 44 07474 648250
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