A greener Run Ottawa

By Ian Fraser, the Executive Director and Race Director at Run Ottawa

With COP26 taking place in Scotland, environmental stewardship and social responsibility are front of mind for most of us right now.

Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend is one of North America’s largest running festivals and hosting over 30,000 guests a year creates a unique set of challenges around minimizing our impact on the environment. There are so many points to take into consideration every May from the obvious, like what to do with 700,000 used cups, all the way to make sure our event vehicles are not idling needlessly.

I’m proud to say that as an organization, Run Ottawa has been working on its environmental strategy for some time now. For example, we recycle all of the 700,000 cups that get pressed into action at Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend. Along with this initiative, we also work with our nutrition partners to ensure that their packaging meets our standards around either composting or recycling. In addition, we have eliminated non-recyclable sponges on race day by adding more misting units.

What does the future look like? Edible water? Yup, that’s right. We have started discussions with a UK-based company that has a water “orb” where the fluid is contained in a clear, see-through seaweed-based “skin” that encapsulates your hydration. You may even see these at our aid stations by 2023. We continue to regularly work with all our event partners in an effort to create mutual alignment around best practices for not only packaging but also for processes and procedures. 

We are also very excited to roll out our carbon offset program for 2023. Our work continues on this front to define where and how the offset funds should be allocated and to choose the best partner for our specific needs.

Over the last 2 years, it’s been amazing to see so many people taking advantage of our Green Bib Program that aims to keep unwanted medals and event shirts out of landfills. For many of our participants a medal and t-shirt are important and to a large degree define the race day experience. There are also particiapnts (like me) who tuck both items in a drawer somewhere to never see the light of day again until it’s time to dispose of them. When you sign-up for a Green Bib at registration, instead of receiving these items a portion of your entry fee will be allocated to a local, community-based charity.

In September of this year, we joined the Sports for Climate Action Framework as part of the United Nations Global Climate Action plan. By signing our Letter of Commitment, we agree to setting an interim and long-term emissions reduction target of 50% by 2030 and a net-zero target by 2040. Run Ottawa also commits to consistently measuring and publicly disclosing its annual climate footprint and emissions reductions progress. Finally, we also pledge to create a concrete plan to achieve these goals within the next 12 months and to communicate our plan and progress to our partners and stakeholders along with the community at large.

The world has changed so much since that first National Capital Marathon back in 1975 when environmental action revolved around not littering, making sure tanker ships were safely designed and seaworthy and that we were aware of endangered and soon to be extinct wildlife. Over the ensuing decades we have come to realize that our planet is fragile and vulnerable. Without immediate and profound action, the next few hundred years will likely see catastrophic climate-based events for all those living here. In the same way those few hundred intrepid runners back in ’75 could likely never imagine their fringe passtime turning into the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend of today, the world has had to wake up to the stark reality that lies ahead.

We all need to do what we can to make a real difference when it comes to our environmental footprint. We’re looking forward to reporting back on our progress around the Sports for Climate Action Framework and all of the innovative pieces that we hope will have an impact.