The cacophony of marketing around Earth Day reminded me how companies promote environmental attributes of products we don’t need to get us to buy them. This is effectively ‘greenwashing’ that yields limited benefits at best and a negative footprint at worst.
Sometimes we need new, ready-made things, but, more often, we can reuse, buy used or make something easily, and get a better, cheaper, more healthful product. It’s easy to forget this since marketers are skilled at wooing us, we’re encouraged to seek upward mobility and novelty, and our ever-hastening culture has devalued making things ourselves, gardening, basic cooking and the like.
I’ve worked to be more conscious about this with running, seeking to maximize and improve performance while honoring a guiding principle that defines sustainability to me: “live simply so that others may simply live.” (Or, following this blog’s theme, unplug from consumerism and run acoustically.) Below are examples of things I do, some long term and some more recent changes. This is being shared for informational purposes only and not intended to be preachy or judgmental, as that’s not my style. We all have different backgrounds and resource demands in our lives, and I’m the first to admit there are many things I can improve!
When I started running, “technical” fabrics and performance-optimizing clothing weren’t on the market. I wore basic clothing and never really bought into the marketing around newfangled stuff. More apparel uses fabrics marketed as environmentally friendly, such as organic cotton, wool, bamboo, hemp and recycled poly which are great if new things are needed. However, the most sustainable choices are items we have or can get used, which also saves money. I’ve found great shorts, tops and running tights at thrift stores and yard sales. Last fall, I arm sleeves made of bamboo grabbed my interest but I made my own from old kids’ leggings (super easy) and a tank top (a bit more work). Old nylons and wool socks also do the job with no sewing required. Retired apparel can be donated if still in good shape or used to stuff pillows, stuffed animals, etc.
Running bras and socks I prefer new, so I look for durable, responsibly made products, sourced and manufactured as close as possible. Patagonia’s recycled poly bra has held up (no pun intended) for over two years and thousands of miles. I hand wash it in shower water and air dry it (like the rest of my running clothes), which probably helps. For socks, I look for recycled poly and organic natural fibers. “Eco-friendly” materials aren’t guaranteed to be grown, harvested or manufactured with good labor or environmental practices. Bamboo may be grown on deforested rainforest and processed with harsh chemicals, for examples, and sweatshops are a reality in the US and abroad. More businesses are sharing supplier information (check websites) so it’s easier to size up options. Companies that aren’t transparent lose the race with me.
While some may say barefoot running is the most environmentally friendly way to go go go, I like wearing shoes and think they’re generally better new. This is one of the more challenging areas since options are limited and those don’t fit every foot or situation.
For road running, Brooks’ Green Silence is marketed as the greenest option on the market, with 60% recycled content, biodegradable components, less materials, and other positive attributes. Brooks has several environmental initiatives and a great supplier responsibility program. Check out an article I wrote on the shoe and company here.
My preferred terrain is mountain trail. Brooks’ Cascadia is a great, durable trail shoe with recycled content and a biodegradable midsole, though a bit heavy for me. I like the New Balance 100, which is light and thus saves on materials but otherwise not distinct in terms of sustainability. New Balance retains some US manufacturing presence and has good environmental practices. They also sponsor ultrarunner Kyle Skaggs, who’s an organic farmer, which gets big points from me.
Old shoes are great for walking and hiking after their life in the fast lane ends. They can also be donated for reuse or recycled, and many stores and races collect them for such programs. I started planting things in them to extend their useful life and try to close the loop on my end.
All for now…