Sunday, April 22, 2012

THE RACE: Top 12 Earth Day Tips to Be a Greener Athlete

How much have you considered your environmental impact as an athlete?  Well, as Kermit says, it ain't easy bein' green, and many of us overlook simple ways in which we can green up our athletic endeavors.  With Earth Day upon us, here are my top 12 tips for 2012 to make sure that while your next workout or race doesn't put Mother Earth in last place:

Brooks Green Silence with biodegradable technology
  1. Green Your Shoes:  You don't literally have to wear green shoes, but you can certainly select more environmentally friendly ones.  The midsoles of most running shoes contain Ethylene Vinyl Acetate, which is one of the most non-biodegradable aspects of running shoes and can last up to 1,000 years in a landfill.  Brooks has developed a midsole technology they call BioMoGo, that degrades 50% faster than standard midsoles.  The company has used this technology in their Green Silence racing shoe, which also contains 75% post-consumer recycled materials, 100% post-consumer recycled laces, biodegradable insole, and water-based adhesives (but no, the shoe won't fall apart in the rain).  New Balance also sells a green shoe called the New Balance 70 - a trail running shoe with a reduced waste design, an upper with natural and recycled components, a rice husk rubber outsole, and water-based adhesives.  
  2. Green Your Clothes:  There are numerous companies now using recycled and/or organic materials for athletic clothing.  Atayne has 100% recycled performance running, biking, and hiking apparel.  Technical All Season Comfort by thriv np, Inc. uses a revolutionary Bamboo Performance Technology for its sports tops and bottoms that's lightweight, moisture wicking, breathable, anti-odor, and SPF-50.  Gaiam has yoga and fitness clothing made from eco-friendly materials such as rayon from sustainable bamboo, 100% organic cotton, and ActiveSoy (an organic cotton/soy blend).  For swimmers and triathletes, the DeSoto company employs a GreenGoma limestone rubber technology to replace the petroleum in its wetsuits.    
  3. Drip Dry Your Clothes:  About 70% of the carbon footprint from apparel comes from washing and drying, most of which comes from the clothes dryer.  Hang your athletic gear up to dry instead of using the clothes dryer.  It's not only gentler on the planet, but also on the clothing.   
  4. Bring A Reusable Bottle:  Whether it's your workout or a race, bring your own reusable water bottle.  Avoid using bottled water, which creates significant pollution.  According to National Geographic's Green Living, Americans drink 29 billion bottles of water every year - more than any other nation.  Only about 13% of those end up being recycled.  In 2005, approximately 2 million tons of water bottles ended up in landfills, which take centuries to decompose.  In addition, the production of plastic water bottles requires millions of barrels of oil every year and the transportation of bottled water releases thousands of tons of carbon dioxide.  On top of that, think of all the hundreds of thousands of paper cups that are used at athletic events.  So take your own water bottle or sports belt and fill it up at the water stops.  Make sure the bottle is BPA- and phthalate-free (note that many Nalgene bottles contain BPA).  
  5. Lose the Packaging:  Instead of using sports drinks in plastic water bottles or gels and bars in wrappers, used powdered sports drinks and take local, organic foods like fruits or make your own energy bars.  
  6. Choose a Safer Sunscreen:  Your skin is your body's largest organ, which makes it a significant conveyor of toxics to your body.  According to MindBodyGreen, your skim absorbs 60% of any topical product you use.  The FDA has no standards for sunscreens, so you need to be careful in choosing a sunscreen to protect you during training and races.  The Environmental Working Group has released its extensive sunscreen guide reviewing 292 brands and over 1,700 products.  EWG recommends brands that contain zinc and titanium rather than potentially hormone-disrupting chemicals like oxybenzone, or Vitamin A (which can be carcinogenic on sun-exposed skin).  
  7. Repurpose and Reuse Gear:  Athletic gear is expensive, so help yourself and others by repurposing your gear and reusing other people's gear. Instead of throwing out your running shoes, donate them to an organization like Soles4Souls, which collects new shoes to give to the victims of catastrophic events and collects used shoes to support micro-business efforts to eradicate poverty.  Runners World also has collected a list of charities where you can donate your used running shoes.  You also can recycle your used running shoes into materials used for sports surfaces like basketball courts.  Recycled offers a nationwide directory of locations to drop off your old running shoes for recycling.  Also, don't forget to look for gently used equipment, like bikes or treadmills, for yourself instead of spending lots of money on brand new equipment.    
  8. Find Green Races:  A Fit Planet has an entire calendar of green races that have taken the Pledge of Sustainability and committed to various eco-friendly practices such as reducing paper waste, providing recycling bins, and providing t-shirts made only of organic cotton.  You can search by event type (triathlon, running, swimming, biking, even hockey) and distance.  You may be surprised at some of the green events - like the 2012 New York City Triathlon and the 2012 Marine Corps Marathon.    
  9. Travel Together:  This is a simple, but effective one:  carpool to events and workouts.    
  10. Purchase Carbon Offsets:  Whether you're traveling by plane or car, you can offset your carbon emissions.  Websites like Terrapass provide a calculator for computing your carbon footprint.  For example, for my 2010 Subaru Outback, I produce approximately 8,444 pounds of carbon dioxide if I drive 10,000 miles a year.  For only $53.55, I can purchase offsets for 9,000 pounds of carbon dioxide.  Many green events (like those by A Fit Planet) may also offer carbon offsets for that particular event.  
  11. Adopt a Trail:  Next time you're running or biking along your favorite trail or road, take a look at how much garbage you see along the way.  Then get some of your friends together and either officially or unofficially adopt the trail by having a trash pick-up day.  
  12. Unplug Your Technology:  Finally, all those Garmins, Computrainers, and iPods that you leave plugged in to charge them up - unplug them once they're charged.  In addition to saving electricity, you'll also save your device's battery life, which can start to decrease with too much charging.  So unless your device won't get you through your next workout or race, let it drain down before re-charging it.   
Happy green training and racing, everyone! 

Do you have any other green tips for athletes?   

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