How to Be a Green Triathlete

Green Triathlon Events

A traditional triathlon consists of three separate events -- swimming, biking and running -- rolled into one race. The rise in the popularity of triathlons brings with it a rise in the amount of waste generated at each event. From paper cups left on the roads to race T-shirts made in factories overseas, triathlons have more of an impact of the environment that you might think.

In addition to pre-race bags filled with plastic and paper promotional materials, other waste includes plastic bottles and food packages strewn along the course, as well as fossil fuels consumed by boats, staging cars, motorcycles and buses for transporting athletes.

This problem hasn't slipped by race organizers and triathletes unnoticed. The awareness of the impact one race has on its immediate environment -- and the waste stream as a whole -- is changing the culture of consumption in triathlons. In 2007, the Council for Responsible Sport was founded by the Directors of the Freshwater Trust Portland Triathlon with the goal of helping race organizers green their events in the categories of waste, climate, equipment and materials, community outreach, health promotion and innovation.

Each category is organized on a point system -- the more green points a triathlon earns, the higher it is ranked as a sustainable sporting event. In order to be certified as "green" by the Council for Responsible Sport, triathlons must satisfy a list of criteria including:

  • Recycling of cardboard, paper, metal, plastic and glass
  • Food waste composted or donated to local charities
  • Reduction of how much waste one participant creates
  • Use of alternative fuels to power race vehicles and transport athletes
  • Consumption of local foods

In 2007, three triathlons in Boulder, Colo., sponsored by Tri Sustainability made huge inroads into building greener races. With a mission of "zero waste, carbon neutral and local," the triathlon organizers worked with local groups to offset the impact of the events on the surrounding environment. The results speak for themselves. Tri Sustainability recycled 3,350 gallons of commingled containers (plastic, paper and metal), more than 4,000 pounds of cardboard (which spared 38 trees) and collected 19,649 pounds of compostable material [source: Turner]. Tri Sustainability plans to increase greening efforts while continuing to refine its approach to creating environmentally friendly triathlons.

Athletes train long and hard to perform to the best of their abilities. Planners of "green" triathlons are now doing the same, setting goals to minimize their impact while promoting environmental awareness. In the next section, we'll learn about the latest trends in athletic gear.