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{Cleanbiz Asia article: Green Running}

The Road to Sustainability in Running in Hong Kong and Beyond: A marathon, not a sprint

EFor businesses, avoiding ‘green wash’ is not easy. How do we judge whether a business is truly interested in reducing its emissions and waste, or just wanting to look as if they are doing so? Looking at what a company spends its profits on is one way. Running is a popular sport in Hong Kong and on an international level. Thousands of people take part in marathons all over the globe. In 2010, half a million Americans took part in marathons. Races need sponsors. And race organisers across the world are trying to make their events greener. Sponsorship can help race organizers introduce green measures to their races and in turn, helps the sponsor become aligned with enabling sustainability in the community.

The Hong Kong Distance Runner’s Club’s (HKDRC) 35th Green Half Marathon and 10K run will take place on 4 November 2012. For the past two years the numbers of runners taking part, as well as the number of sponsors of the race, have both increased quite dramatically. Why? One reason is because the HKDRC has been striving to reduce the race’s carbon footprint, making it more family friendly (by adding the 10k option) and by adding green touches, in turn attracting green conscious sponsors.

Proving those who say turning green is expensive wrong, the race has gone from strength to strength since making the conscious decision to start reducing its carbon footprint.

The HKDRC aims to make its 2012 race day as green as possible by giving out sustainable souvenirs and prizes, cutting down as much as possible on unnecessary waste (by using re-usable runner’s bibs, offering runners foldable, re-usable bottles for water), providing free bus shuttles to the start of the race, encouraging runners to use public transport rather than private cars and providing plants as prizes and organic vegetables at the end of the race for a ‘green’ post race snack!

In addition, with the help of Civic Exchange, the race organisers have composed a green quiz that they add to the race entry form each year to raise awareness about low carbon living.

There’s still some way to go of course, online registration would further reduce the impact of the race on waste generated. The HKDRC are not the only race organisers to implement more sustainable measures to reduce the impact of their races – many race organisers in Hong Kong and internationally (New York, London and Paris are just a few examples) have gone down the sustainable route.

What the race organisers rely on is a supply of green products they to offer runners – be it organic cotton t-shirts, places to recycle their old trainers or organic energy bars. This is a call to business to ensure these things are available, at a decent price. What is clear is that plenty of runners would like to be greener, and more and more race organisers are experiencing the benefits of making their running races greener, and it is business which could help them out, and in turn, benefit in a shaky economic climate.

Running in itself can, on the surface, seem to be a low carbon sport. After all, most people don’t drive to get to a run, runners don’t give off carbon emissions, and you don’t need elaborate ‘equipment’, unlike, for example, cycling or rowing.

However, the gear associated with running (trainers, shorts and sports bras) have large carbon footprints. More companies in Hong Kong would do well to offer sports gear made from organic cotton, hemp and bamboo, as well as organic energy bars, re-usable water bottles and recycling facilities for running gear.

Trainers are the main problem, in terms of a runner’s footprint - environmental impacts, carbon footprints, and toxic substances are hard to gauge in a product with 50 components coming from dozens of different places.

Up next are t-shirts and shorts. Twenty five percent of all pesticides are used to produce non-organic cotton. More than 8000 chemicals are used to manufacture textiles. Pesticides contribute significantly to the worldwide drop in honeybee population and directly cause the death of more than 67 millions bird deaths annually. Using hemp, bamboo and organic cotton will reduce these effects in the long term. This should be encouraged by sports gear brands, race organisers and runners clubs alike.

Food, clothes and water bottle companies are latching on to the profitable idea that plenty of runners care about the environment and want to reduce the impact their hobby has on the Earth.

Nike, for example, sponsored nine teams in the 2010 World Cup, all of whom wore shirts made from recycled plastic. Nike do not use sustainability to sell their products. Instead marketing their products based on what they perceive most customers value above the carbon footprint of their new trainers – their performance. However, why not do both? It’s obviously working for the HKDRC.

Businesses in Hong Kong should seriously consider becoming sponsors for the hundreds of races which go on in HK). A great way to align their brands with being greener, reaching out to a wide assortment of the HK population and making a difference to what is already a very popular running scene.

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