Wed August 31, 2011

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Going the Extra Mile

I've been a runner most of my life. I started running when I was in my teens and was immediately addicted. I've always found that running has been a great way to clear my head -- I've come up with some of my best ideas while jogging along city streets, or on riverside trails.


While running started out as just a way to get exercise, it quickly turned into a wonderful personal challenge for me. I began to run longer and longer distances and soon I was training for my first marathon. Training for a marathon is a process that I've come to both love and loathe, a process that's both exhausting and exhilarating. I ran my first marathon in 2006. And I was hooked...

You might think of running as a very 'green activity' -- just you and your running shoes pounding the pavement. Right?

Actually, that's not the case. In 2008, Runner's World magazine surveyed hundreds of runners and calculated the annual CO2 impact of a typical American runner, which includes everything from clothing and running shoes to traveling to and from marathons. They found that one runner generates approximately 5,449 pounds of CO2 in a year! That's equivalent to driving an SUV 300 miles every month for a year.

As the CEO of a 'green company' I found this very troubling. I'd been noticing some trends that weren't so environmentally appealing. For instance, I saw how along the marathon course runners were tossing off, and abandoning, clothes -- a lot of them.

As runners warm up we shed layers: warm up jackets and pants, long sleeve T's, hats, shirts and more. The more races I ran, the more concerned I grew that all that clothing might be thrown in the trash along with cups, water bottles and other discarded items along the race route.

This seemed like a huge waste to me, but it also seemed like a problem that I could help fix.

In 2008 my company, USAgain, which collects discarded clothes and shoes and puts them back in the use cycle, began partnering with marathons around the country. We have collected at the Twin Cities Marathon since 2008 and partnered with the San Francisco Marathon this year. At every marathon since then we've prevented an average of 500-600 pounds of clothing from being dumped in landfills. This is an incredible amount of clothing and almost all of it is perfectly wearable -- some of it is even new.

About 10.8 million tons of textiles end up in landfills every year. When it comes to marathons, there are hundreds of them annually in the United States, and thousands across the globe. USAgain is growing our reach in the marathon community so that we can do our part to make running just a little bit greener.

Some things that you can do as a runner -- even if you just jog a few miles a week -- to go the extra mile to help lessen your impact on the environment are: recycle your old running shoes by donating them to charity, or giving them to an organization that will reuse or recycle them. Wash your running clothes in cold water, with minimal detergent -- it's gentler on both clothes and environment. Buy organic cotton clothing when possible. Non-organic cotton is grown with tons of fertilizer and pesticides that pose health hazards to people and animals, not just pests.

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