Global warming, climate change, the climate emergency – terminology has evolved in the past three decades as the situation has worsened. Malcolm Bradbrook looks at what we can so to minimise our impact in the environment while loving our fitness and adventure.
The environmental challenge has many differed strands, from the climate emergency caused by air pollution and global warming to the amount of plastic littering our planet.
Being environmentally aware, as most of us are as we spend most of our lives celebrating the great outdoors, it is natural to want to minimise the damage that we do to the world as we go about the sport we love.
New gadgets, new races, new shoes, new bikes, and more fill up our baskets online as we seek to keep up both in terms of speed and with the latest fashion.
But there is plenty we can do and green living as a ‘weekend warrior’ best falls into three categories; the events we chose, the kit we buy, and our behaviour.
Elite ultra runner Damian Hall who has smashed winter and overall records at the Paddy Buckley Round, a 61-mile Welsh fell running challenge. This year, however, he announced that even though he was in the form of his life, he would focus his entire season around being carbon neutral.
This year he will take just one international flight for a pre-arranged event in Japan and will take the train to Ultra Trail Mont Blanc, an event which has secured some of his greatest successes.
In an announcement on Instagram, he stated: ‘When I plotted my 2019 schedule, I wasn’t quite aware how urgent our climate and ecological emergency is. I am ashamed of how much I flew last year.’
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All my racing and training in 2020 will be carbon neutral (including Brecon Beacons bimbles). . When I plotted my 2019 race schedule I wasn’t aware quite how urgent our climate and ecological emergency is (we may only have 10 years to slow the tide). I’m ashamed of how much I flew last year. . Doing high-profile international ultras has become my work and I have a family to support, so it’s difficult to stop flying entirely. . However I’ve come up with a 2020 schedule with more domestic races and only one return flight. (I plan to take trains to UTMB). . Admittedly it’s a long one. But it’s something I agreed to 18 months ago and visiting Japan is a once-in-a-life-time opportunity which is hard to turn down. I’ve agonised over it and I’ve already offset it, though I know that’s not perfect. Nothing about our predicament is. . I’ve turned away some very appealing races aboard (in Mexico for example) and decided against both Lavaredo and Diagonale des Fous this year, because of the carbon footprint. #GetTheViolinsOut #FirstWorldProblems . Anyway, my year’s looking a little bit like this…. How’s yours? . March, The Grizzly April, Ultra-Trail Mt Fuji (A race) June, Ultra-Trail Snowdonia 50 July, Wendover Woods Night 50K August, Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (A race) . #ultrarunning #trailrunning #mountainrunning #inov8 #Tomax #XR #Suunto #Petzl #sungod #33Fuel #mountainfuel #stufflikethat
This year he races much closer to home including The Grizzly, a 20mile event featuring 3000ft of ascent in Devon, Ultra Trail Snowdonia, and Wendover Woods Night 50k. He has turned down events in Mexico, Italy and the Reunion Islands to stick to his plan.
Damian is not a lone voice in seeking to reduce his footprint and it is by no means restricted to the professionals.
Business owner Gope Walker is another who has forsaken his winter training in Majorca and events in the Alps to focus on events closer to home.
He became hooked on multi-sport in 2001 having watched the London Triathlon. He was overweight at nearly 13stone and having suffered epilepsy had not learnt to swim as a child. In his first event at the age of 30, the 750m swim took 24 minutes and he was assigned his own safety canoe such were the concerns of the race organisers. But a few years later he progressed to half iron distance and by 2014 qualified to represent Great Britain in the European Championships as an age grouper.
In 2020 he has given up flying completely despite running Data Kraken, a global IT consultancy.
He said: ‘I definitely don’t miss flying and there are places in the UK that can offer the mountains, sunshine in the summer and fantastic food so holiday-wise I’m happy to stay local too.
‘I’m one person out of 8 billion-odd, if I can make it work it might and it’s easy then it might just inspire one other, and they inspire another then you never know what might happen.’
Establishing eco credentials has become essential for all brands and different tactics are being used to reduce the impact on the environment.
But the challenge to that has come in the form of the latest carbon-plated running shoe technology. The controversial Nike Vaporfly is reputed to only last 200 miles and some other shoes only claiming to be at their optimum for 50 miles.
Meanwhile, Salomon has announced a concept running shoe which can be returned to the company to be recycled into ski boots at the end of his use.
‘We recognize that we have to do better for the environment,’ explains Guillaume Meyzenq, Vice President of Salomon Footwear. ‘We are showing it is possible to find alternative materials to create performance footwear.
Other companies are trying a different tack, with leading cycling brand Endura announcing that from 2020 it will plant a million trees every year to offset its activities. This is on top of going PFC-free since 2018, offering a repair service to increase the lifespan of its kit and donating one per cent of profits to charities.
Pamela Barclay, Endura’s co-founder, said: ‘We would hate to look back and think we could have done something and didn’t. If we don’t stop climate change, we won’t have a world to clean up.’
It’s not just established brands but new companies are coming to the fore with a green-ethos built in fom the first day. BAM is one of these brands. It was founded by former pole-vaulter and current adventurer, David Gordon.
He explains: ‘Right from the outset it was important for me to come up with a business that was environmentally friendly and sustainable. I was – and still am – motivated to show the world that you can build a successful business whilst doing the right thing environmentally and ethically.’
As the name suggests, BAM uses bamboo fibres rather than cotton or more harmful products. Bamboo grows quickly and does not need to be replanted and uses less water than other plants while being cultivated.
Not all bamboo-based garments are eco-friendly because much depends on how it is treated but David has visited each layer of the process from the bamboo plantations right through to the garment factory to ensure that the highest standards are maintained.
He added: ‘I think most people now are aware of the damage that the clothing industry has on the planet, from water pollution to landfill. It’s not enough to pay lip service to the problem by bringing out a couple of token sustainable pieces in a collection to tick a box. ‘
A runner determined to change the mindset within endurance events is Windsor-based IT consultant Rima Chang.
She has become a well-known figure in marathon and ultra-running as she completes events dragging tyres weighing up to 10kg. Her running raises awareness of, and funds for, environmental issues around the world.
Rima said: “I hate the amount of rubbish people throw away so I focus on reducing disposable plastic.People are overwhelmed about the number of changes they have to make in order to be more “sustainable”.
“They prefer to divert the issues towards the government or pretend that it isn’t happening. I focus people on one achievable goal – reduce the use of disposable plastic.”
Rima has successfully campaigned for events around the world to reduce the number of bottles they give out. It was her input that first encouraged Rome Marathon to reduce its impact.
Organisers have reduced plastic bottle use from 200,000 four years ago to 70,000 now. They use cardboard cups for liquid energy drinks and recyclable plastic cups for water.
Last year Rima cycled from the UK to marathons in Geneva and Nice and her dedication wowed organisers to the extent that they vowed to go cupless in 2020.
She added: “The challenge with all big events can sometimes be sponsorship deals but some action is better than no action and I am hopeful that we will start seeing some big improvements soon.
“To all the runners out there I have one plea: ‘Leave no trace’.”