Striving for Zero Carbon Emissions to Mitigate Climate Disruption for Trail Races

Written by David Selden.  This article is a companion to our trail running race sustainability guidelines

Any sustainability plan should have a significant focus on the most challenging environmental, social, and national security issue of our time: climate change disruption. Travel to and from events likely accounts for more than 90% of all carbon dioxide (CO2) greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change.

Striving for zero emissions is a great way to reduce and mitigate runners’ impacts on climate change. Higher carbon dioxide emissions in our atmosphere increase the severity and frequency of forest fires, drought, sea level rise, floods, severe storms, and acidification of oceans. In addition greenhouse gases and a warming planet create survival challenges for the world’s people and species and are exacerbating problems of human migration and national security. Locally, mitigating climate change can help protect our trails and natural world from erosion, loss of plant and animal species biodiversity – things that have drawn us to running off-road.

Determining exact travel emissions would be impossible due to the many factors that impact the pollution emitted. Striving for zero emissions is possible by making a good estimate and offsetting the emissions through verified or certified projects.

The following are steps race directors can take to implement a “zero carbon” event:

  • Take a sample of registrants to see where they are traveling from and estimate which are going to drive and fly. (Or, if a race has been held many years in row, you may choose to use a previous year’s data.) Determine average round-trip mileage for car trip and plane trip. Multiply this mileage by number of people flying or driving to get total estimated flight and driving miles.
  • Use CO2 calculator to estimate tons or pounds of CO2 from impact of total estimated trips by car or plane. (Good calculators for car/air travel are at
  • Look for a CO2 offset project that is certified by a third party. See list of offset providers at this website and select a project to fund. Best offsets are third party certified/verified.
  • Make offset payment/donation to the project of your choice – local projects or projects that also have social benefits have a nice appeal! Publicize your effort to strive for a zero carbon event and its benefits!

Learn more about carbon offsets on this website.

In addition to offsetting, you may wish to offer a lower cost registration option with “less stuff,” allowing registrants to opt out of T-shirt, goodie bag, and other ancillary items. The manufacture and shipping of “stuff” is hard on the environment.

Other considerations for race directors:

  • Race Registration – online registration eliminates the need for paper registration. Races that offer race day registration will need paper forms, or a laptop (w/battery/electricity) for each race morning registration volunteer. Online reg costs a lot of money in credit card and other fees, which can be a disincentive for RDs and entrants.
  • Running stores do like to have registration forms in their stores to draw people in, and perhaps even offer in-store registration. An incentive to make purchases during time in the store.
  • Runner bibs – personalized and attractive bibs are more likely to be framed or displayed by race registrants rather than tossed in the trash. Shorter distance events like 5Ks and 10Ks that are held during drier times of year could consider paper bibs, if available. Ultrarunning races need the tyvek variety due to wear and tear over longer distances.
  • Safety pins – replace with waist belt, or ask registrants to reuse or recycle. Provide a box to place pins in after the race.
  • Runner tracking – utilize recycle-worthy timing chips
  • Awards – consider useable or unique items
  • Lost and Found items – donate any unclaimed apparel items to charity
  • Encourage car pooling to race start

Considerations for trail runners:

  • Bring your own safety pins, and always recycle pins – store in your car’s center console, or store in gear/shoe bag for easy access. Share your stockpile of pins with others.
  • Carpool or consider public transport to the race venue.
  • Bring your own hydration system to take advantage of cupless aid stations.
  • Be present at awards ceremony to receive your award to avoid race director having to mail awards post event.
  • Place recyclable materials in designated bins at the race venue.

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