Running Away with Sustainability

By Adam Eisman – Contributing Writer
Posted on Sunday 3rd May 2009

While many people who derive enjoyment from nature, from activities like biking, skiing, and running, are ardent supporters of the sustainability movement, their activities are also causing some hardships for Mother Nature. Running is an activity that requires very little in energy consumption; however a lot of the supplies, like running shoes and racing uniforms are made from materials that, on aggregate, can be harmful to the environment. A committed runner can deposit upwards of 5,000 pounds of CO2 each year.

This may seem surprising, as running necessitates very little in terms of transportation, or equipment, however when broken down it is a problem that is all too real. A runner who gets out there on a regular basis will need about 3 pairs of new running shoes each year. With the transportation and packaging of these products, we’re looking at about 430 pounds of CO2 each year. This does not even include the fact that most running shoes have soles that will take hundreds of years to decompose in the landfill.

Some running companies are doing something to stem the use of harmful materials. Brooks, a company that is attempting to use bio-mimicry to develop new shoes, has created a new type of sole that allows microbes to digest and reuse the materials in the shoe, cutting the time it spends in the landfill down to about 20 years. Nike is getting in on the action as well, utilizing old shoes and sneakers as a material in the construction of running tracks and basketball courts around the world.

Runners also use up an additional 315 pounds of CO2 for their socks, shorts, running tights, and running shirts each year. On top of that, it takes 225 pounds of CO2 each week to do all that laundry. The industry has taken note of this problem and is making some changes to rectify these excessive emissions.

Brooks, the same company working on new sole technology, has created a new, lighter-weight cardboard box that weighs 13% less than the traditional box, but carries the same heft. This slight change in production has the ability to save enough energy to power 672,246 homes, at 3,361,233 kW of energy.

Some companies are focusing more on reusing, instead of reducing, which even better. Patagonia is one of these companies, and has a program in which older polyester pieces can be broken down and remade into new polyester garments. Research shows that ECOCIRCLE, the process by which this occurs, will result in 76% energy savings as well as a 71% reduction in greenhouse gases, when compared to the process utilizing new materials each time.

There are plenty of ways to get your run on without trashing the environment, but like everything else, when looking for eco-bargains, it’s important to watch your step.

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