Racing to Zero

April 22, 2022

80% of Mass Participation Races Could Be Carbon Neutral by 2030, Predicts the Council for Responsible Sport

/ENDURANCE SPORTSWIRE/ – The Council for Responsible Sport, a nonprofit organization that envisions a world where responsibly produced sports events are the norm, predicts that mass participation races will soon lead the way in sports event sustainability, anticipating that 80% of the thousands of races held annually across the globe could have a “net zero” or neutral carbon footprint by the year 2030. Doing so would eliminate several million tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

“With widespread adoption of new technology and a steadfast commitment to improving their sustainability, mass participation races can help accelerate the pace of action toward the urgent humanitarian goal of limiting global warming.” said Shelley Villalobos, executive director, Council for Responsible Sport. “On Earth Day in 2022, carbon neutral endurance races are closer to reality than ever before.”

Hitting this target requires every stakeholder involved in mass participation races – from the Abbott World Marathon Majors to the neighborhood 5k – to adopt more sustainable actions.

Racing Against the Clock

Few runners want extreme weather on race day or hotter temperatures during their long months of training, but the races they participate in contribute to climate change. To limit global warming to a safe level for humanity, the International Panel on Climate Change says the world must eliminate the excess greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions from human activities in the atmosphere no later than mid-century, ideally sooner. Future races can achieve net zero GHG emissions, generate less waste, and create a better experience for runners, spectators, and host cities alike. Mass participation races will show their solidarity by:

  • Rethinking travel by incorporating the cost of GHG emissions “offsets” into the price of event registrations ($2-5 per participant) and investing those funds into projects that directly help prevent and reduce climate changing emissions
  • Pacing runners with electric vehicles instead of combustion engine motorcycles and SUVs
  • Requiring runners to bring their own reusable water containers instead of setting up water stations with single-use cups
  • Tracking runners with reusable chips instead of bibs
  • Giving participants virtual swag-bags instead of merchandise from running expos that inevitably ends up in landfills
  • Selecting vendors who are themselves ‘carbon neutral’ businesses to help stage and deliver events
  • Sourcing food from local vendors, using durable dishware in hospitality areas and composting event food waste
  • Developing partnerships and sponsorships with organizations equally committed to the net-zero emissions journey
  • Encouraging the use of mass transit and low carbon transportation options

Tech for Good

At races of the future, attendees won’t download apps just to study course maps or track their friends or family members. They’ll be able to calculate their carbon footprint and be prompted to take actions to reduce it. This type of calculator, already in the works by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) for the 2022 TCS Toronto Waterfront Marathon, will become commonplace, helping to generate public awareness of the climate changing impacts of everyday decisions and activities.

“Participants of mass participation races are in a unique position to take a leadership role in demonstrating how to infuse sustainability into all events, because a healthy environment is critical to their daily training leading up to a race,” said Frank Diana, Managing Partner and Futurist, TCS. “Like all complex challenges, sustainable mass participation events will not be solved with a ‘silver bullet’ technology, but rather a combination of technological advancements, economic incentives, geopolitical support, and societal influences. It will be through the combinatorial effects of these factors that events will contribute to a sustainable future.”

Race apps will also be upgraded to provide participants and spectators with the most sustainable ways of navigating host cities to view and cheer on their runners.

Travel Smarter

The pandemic fueled a new wave of runners, most of whom ran virtual races while in-person races were cancelled for nearly two years. Now, travel to physical events has returned in earnest. Travel to and from events generates the biggest share of climate changing emissions from mass participation events. Travel to races falls within the 14% share of global greenhouse gas emissions that transportation causes.  Transforming transportation through deep decarbonization will be key to achieving a net-zero carbon economy.

While virtual races are among the most sustainable options for runners, they are no substitute for the thrill and energy of live events like those of the Abbott World Marathon Major Series. Runners and spectators will still travel to iconic events like the Boston Marathon and the TCS New York City Marathon. The good news is they can increasingly demonstrate their care for the planet by compensating for climate changing emissions resulting from their travel. For example, they can support innovative low-emissions technologies such as sustainable aviation fuel and carbon removal techniques, as well as traditional offsets. In addition to offsetting the carbon footprint of their travel, runners ready to do their part may choose to reduce the number of flights they take each year or participate in local events where air travel is not necessary.

“The mass participation sport sector must play a role in the fight against climate change. Raising awareness and creating a more proactive approach for those who enjoy sports will make material and much needed progress towards climate neutrality by 2030,” said Villalobos.


About the Council for Responsible Sport

The Council for Responsible Sport is a 501 (c)(3) not-for-profit organization with a vision of a world where responsibly produced sports events are the norm. It has been helping people measure, manage and verify the social and environmental impacts of their events since 2007. Responsible Sport Certified events are some of the world’s leading examples of sport going beyond competitions to generate positive impacts. www.CouncilforResponsibleSport.org