Ten tips on how you can have a positive impact on climate change as an outdoor sports athlete
Last weekend I bike packed a section of the Kintyre Way from Tarbet to Skipness, with my daughter Aimee, for a night of wild camping. Part of the route was also a section of the Wild About Argyll Bike packing Trail and I had wanted to explore it for a while. We had a fairly epic and eventful two days through remote wilderness, passing no one for around 8km, reaching the stunning beach at Skipness with a backdrop of the rugged ridges on the Isle of Arran and finding a remote camp spot with a perfect waterfall. Trips like this make me fully appreciate the simple pleasures of being outdoors, in nature, slow travel, good food, a snug tent for the night, kit adapted to be as minimal as possible and using our own energy to get from A to B. For me many of these things are part of how I can have a positive impact on climate change as an outdoor sport enthusiast. In this blog I look at the positive changes stemming from the green recovery from coronavirus and the impact sport can have as a force for good in the climate change challenge. No longer is it possible to contemplate offsetting our flights by buying trees, we need to make changes at the societal and cultural level as well as making individual lifestyle changes. I consider how we can make sustainable choices and give tips to help you consider what you buy, how you travel, where you holiday and how sustainable sport can help lead the way in making a positive impact on climate change.
"you might just find it gives you more pleasure from taking the slow and sustainable approach .... and it might just change your mindset to life itself"
There are probably more options than you would first think when it comes to making personal choices that have a positive impact on climate change. We have been conditioned to believe that when we adapt our lifestyle to help combat global warming we will feel more limited, it might be less attractive and not as adventurous. No longer can we idolise a jet set lifestyle that has previously been seen by many to be the ultimate dream. I want to give you more ideas about personal change that you can make which might not only help tackle climate change, especially if we all push for societal and cultural too, but might just give you more pleasure by taking the slow and sustainable approach to outdoor sports and perhaps even change your mindset to life itself! So as well as just doing more sport such as running, cycling and swimming outdoors, which are not only free, help connect us to nature and done locally is low impact, we can also make choices in what we eat, what events we attend and how we get there. We might take longer holidays travelling with sustainable transport, we could buy only what we need and not what we desire, we should reuse, recycle, repair and repurpose as much kit as possible and when we need to we can choose to buy from sustainable brands. As well as all this we can learn from athletes who are setting the example and have already made personal pledges for climate change as well as supporting key charities that are protecting the planet. Lastly but not least we can try to make sure that we leave no trace behind and ensure the wilderness remains pristine and enjoyable for others when our adventures are finished.
"the coronavirus pandemic has probably been the single biggest positive influence on climate change this decade"
Coronavirus hit the world at around the same time that the world was refocusing attention back on tackling climate change. The UN Climate Change Conference COP26 that was due to be held in Glasgow in 2020 was cancelled and while the coronavirus pandemic took over in the media, the world continued to experience climate events on a new scale. During April Siberia experienced a period of unusually high temperatures, including a record-breaking 38 degrees C in the town of Verkhoyansk on 20 June, causing wide-scale impacts including wildfires, loss of permafrost, and an invasion of pests. In February swarms of locusts destroyed crops in Africa which was thought to have been triggered by changes in the ocean circulating systems with rare cyclone storms and extreme temperature gradients in the Indian Ocean, that also contributed to the massive wildfires that hit Australia in March. But despite continued global warming the coronavirus pandemic has probably been the single biggest positive influence on climate change this decade.
"massively reduced air pollution and carbon emissions"
Over the past four months we have seen a massive boom in cycling with bikes selling out and people rediscovering the pleasure of two wheels. Governments across the UK are investing millions of pounds in active transport and temporary space for cycling including pop-up cycle lanes. According to CyclingUK 36% of people are rethinking their long term travel plans and aim to reduce their car use. Meanwhile in the past couple of weeks there has been an explosion of people visiting the countryside and wild camping which is great for reconnecting us with nature although with some problems of toileting and littering. Overhead we noticed the lack of aeroplane vapour trails as flights round the world ground to a halt, at the same time as much reduced car use on our roads together resulting in massively reduced air pollution and carbon emissions. In terms of health we are seeing a green recovery that encourages health and fitness and in addition to cycling, walking and running there is a focus on eating well with leading healthcare professionals and politicians focusing on reduce obesity and preventing chronic disease.
"a way forward that values both our health and the health of our planet"
So for this blog I want to consider how you can have a positive impact on climate change, building on the positive stories already demonstrating societal change and being helped by the pandemic refocusing our need to value our health more. I hope that these changes will lead to us finding a way forward that values both our health and the health of our planet. In the blog I will explore our food supply, our travel, the brands we buy our sport gear from, the initiatives our there that help us reuse our kit, the events that we participate in and the values that we take forward with a green recovery mindset. This is an opportunity to rethink and make new choices and I look at examples of athletes and companies that are setting the bar high and setting us a great example to follow.
Top Ten Tips on how you can have a positive impact on climate change
- Just do more sport, outside and in nature
- Eat well with slow food and nourish yourself
- Select events carefully
- Find your new slow adventure travel experiences
- Buy what you need and really what do you need?
- Reuse, recycle, repair and repurpose
- Choose your brands carefully
- Learn from athletes leading the climate change charge
- Lend your support to charities protecting the planet
- Leave nothing behind, take nothing but photos
1. Just do more sport, outside and in nature
So I thought I would start with this one which should be easy for most of you, just do more sport, outside and in nature! When you are running, swimming and cycling outside experiencing nature and the elements it is not only good for you physically and mentally, but it gives you more appreciation of the environment and how as humans we are but one element in the complex chain of life on earth. Noticing small things as you pass by, an old oak tree, a buzzy bee, wildflowers blooming, ants crossing the path, butterflies fluttering and birds overhead. As athletes participating in outdoors sports we are in effect dancing with nature whenever we are climbing hills, swimming in the sea or passing through forests. Whether we consciously realise it or not we are likely using nature as a positive mental force as well as it bringing personal meaning to our lives. As a result it is likely that we will make decisions that support biodiversity and environmental protection at a subconscious level and that can only be good for the planet!
2. Eat well with slow food and nourish yourself
So this tip is all about making healthy choices for yourself and the planet and while there has been a lot of publicity about this relating both to covid-19 and global warming it is not as straight forward as it might seem. Eating well is about making sure that as athletes we get the right balance of the macronutrients of protein, fat and carbohydrate but also the right micronutrients. You might not know but micronutrients are very important for our bodies to function optimally and this includes vitamins such as A, Bs, C, E, D and K as well as minerals such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, selenium and iron. Macronutrients are our main source of fuel for the body and give us the basic building blocks for the tissues in our body such as our muscles. Micronutrients act as co-factors and are needed for hundreds of chemical reactions that our bodies are constantly balancing, such as producing ATP our main energy source or for our liver to detoxify and eliminate waste products.
Making sure we get the right nutrients is important for our health and how and where we get them from as food is also important. The Slow Food Movement is about connecting the pleasure of food to local communities and the environment that it was produced in, aiming to raise awareness of sustainability issues in the food we eat. Putting the planet first has promoted the rise of vegan and vegetarian lifestyles being highlighted in 2019 by the UN asking people to take a pledge to eat less meat and dairy. Across the UK most of our meat and dairy comes from unsustainable intensive farming methods and which are contributing to carbon release and global warming. But it is more complicated than this as you could eat plenty of fruit and vegetables that have been shipped by air from halfway around the world and are therefore have a high carbon footprint. So choosing to eat seasonally and buy locally massively reduce the carbon footprint of your food. If you do choose to eat meat you can buy grass-raised beef, lamb, pork, ideally from a farm managed on regenerative methods where the soil is being rebuilt and is actually drawing down and capturing carbon as well as producing nutrient rich meat.
3. Select events carefully
As an athlete you are likely to want to compete at events, they are not only sociable, enjoyable but help us to increase our fitness by having a goal we want to achieve. Whether it is completing your first 5k or competing at the Commonwealth Games most athletes have a goal in mind which helps to motivate us, help get us out when the weather is terrible and when the winter draws in and we are tempted just to sit by the fire! Athletes at all levels are beginning to make decisions on which events to attend or not attend based on their personal values which include environmental considerations. It might be about the values of the event itself, is it run on sustainable lines for example does it provide event T-shirts whether or not they are wanted, has it got rid of single-use plastic, is litter reduced and recycled or are prizes sustainably minded? Athletes are also making decisions on what events to attend based on how easy it is to get there, whether they can get there without flying and how many hours/days they will need to travel for. It is great to see more events taking steps to build sustainability into their plans and we hope to see much more of this in future. It is important to remember it is only because you, the athletes who are making demands that this is happening, so keep asking your event organisers and race directors what they are doing to be sustainable and change will keep coming!
4. Find your new slow adventure travel experiences
When I was doing a bit of research for this blog, I discovered some amazing examples of athletes slowing down their travel and mindset to take account of the need to use more carbon friendly transport to replace flying. This included ultrarunners taking the train to events in Europe, mountaineers taking several trains to climb a 5,000m peak in Asia and cyclists using the ferry and their own cycling power to get to events in the UK and Europe! Slowing down the travel experience enables you to appreciate the whole event differently, you get to meet different people, pass through new places and try new food. In the future we may well need to take more time off work, maybe employers will be more flexible or we can work remotely from the train, either way we are probably going to need to take longer to get from A to B if we want to go a long distance.
5. Buy what you need and really what do you need?
This is perhaps one of the most difficult areas for us since we are conditioned to want new things, after all that is why advertising work so well! If you couldn’t manipulate our brains to think we really need that new bike, that new piece of gear or that new pair of shoes, then there certainly wouldn’t be as much choice out there! It is quite easy to fall into the trap of seeing a friends new piece of kit and thinking that you need it too or simply just being tempted by a more brightly coloured pair of shoes or perhaps you tell yourself that a certain piece of gear might help you go faster. Most of us can probably think of something that we bought that we didn’t really need rather we just wanted it, but perhaps thinking about sustainability is making us question that a little more than we used to. At Patagonia they have one of the best reputations for sustainability and actually try not to encourage people to keep replacing their kit by extending its life with repair schemes and good design so it really lasts a lifetime. They boldly state that they are in business to save our planet and play a very active role in environmental activism and invest a lot to support environmental causes.
6. Reuse, repair, recycle and repurpose
I think this should be the motto that we all call to mind when we try to decide if we need new kit and what to do with our old kit. Luckily it is getting easier and easier to do all of this with use of technology using Facebook and eBay to sell unwanted items. Even better there are now more brands helping you repair broken or worn out gear such as Alpkit’s repair stations at which they will not only repair their own branded goods, but they will repair ANY brand! It can’t get much better than that for a sustainable approach to reusing and repairing your gear. If you aren’t sure what to do with your old sporty clothing, you could consider Rerun who are a community interest company with the aim of extending the life of running clothing to save it from landfill. Interestingly 70% of their donations are race T-shirts which just goes to show they are mostly unwanted. You can go on their website and find your local drop off point or even arrange for it to be collected by courier and of course you should buy your next running top from them!
7. Choose your brands carefully
That all leads me on to choosing your brands carefully when you do need to buy something new. It is becoming more difficult to find out how good a brand really is at sustainability with many of them jumping on the band wagon to promote their eco-credentials and while any move towards sustainability is good, some are doing much more than others. There are a few ways to find out which brands are the best when it comes to protecting the planet, one way is to do your research carefully and have a good look at their website to see what real action is being taken, for example do they use environmentally friendly power sources and water saving systems, are their materials organic or recycled, what packaging do they use and will they repair or support reuse of products? As some of you will know I had to consider a lot of different options to try to reduce the carbon footprint of Skirr Skin before we launched and if you want to know more you can read about it here.
Another way to find out how good a brand is might be to check out their credentials and see if they donate any of their funding to support environmental causes, such as 1% for the planet which is basically a self-tax. You could check to see if they hold some kind of accreditation, such as through the Soil Association for organic clothing. Are they a Certified B Corporation, which are externally validated to meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose? B Corps are accelerating a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy. There aren’t many Certified B Corporations in the UK in the outdoor/adventure sports world, one of them is Finisterre who make sustainable products for adventure inspired by the sea and surfing. Another outdoor and bike brand Alpkit are actively working on it and hoping to be certified very soon. Alpkit are very proud of their eco stance with their Alpkit Foundation organising direct action to clear up litter in some of the busiest national parks.
There are many other brands out there who are setting their own high standards and doing their bit to change the industry along the way. These include Findra who make environmentally friendly merino clothing for outdoor adventures and have a 10-point criteria defining their definition of ethical fashion and sustainability. They have led in fabric innovation using waste coffee grounds in their water proof jackets and British reared and processed lambs wool. Another is Presca who produce cycling and running gear made from recycled plastic bottles, fishing gear and elastane, manufactured in the UK and Europe and packaged in home-compostable bags. Active Root a sports drink brand created a revolutionary new sports gel, the customer buys a tub of GelMix powder and a soft flask and by adding GelMix Powder and water to the flask a new type of gel product is made and as the soft flask is washable no single use plastics are used in the process. New startups are coming along all the time, a new one for adventure enthusiasts is Wildside with a range of organic T-shirts inspired by nature. Another new venture with major ambitions is Sustained Sport with the aim to make it easier for athletes looking for ethical and sustainable sports brands by bringing them together in a one stop shop.
8. Learn from athletes leading the climate change charge
Leading athletes are making big personal pledges to change their lifestyle to protect the planet and commit to helping reduce climate change. These athletes are in turn pushing national and international organisations in sport to protect the planet and that has prompted the establishment of new organisations championing sustainability in sport. These include the British Association for Sustainability in Sport, which wants to harness the power of sport to build a sustainable future and Sport and Sustainability International, which aims to use sport to help create a more sustainable world. Athletes making an outstanding commitment include ultrarunner Damian Hall who is an Extinction Rebellion Activist, organises litters picks in areas he is running in and who has committed to reduce his air travel. Hill runner Finlay Wild has committed to FlightFree2020 only going to races he can get to without flying and says there would still be a still a lifetime of events he can participate in. The Planet Earth Games, running throughout August, is a new sport initiative aiming to help people get active and learn how to help protect the planet. They have several sporting ambassadors including rower, Melissa Wilson, canoeist Etienne Stott and runner Sophie Rooney. Each making their own personal commitment to help reduce our carbon footprint and encourage us to make our own pledges.
9. Lend your support to organisations protecting the planet
As well as companies putting aside some of their profits to plough back into environmentally causes, we too can do the same and choose to direct some of our own cash toward causes aimed at protecting our planet. I thought I would mention a couple of my personal favourites, the Soil Association, who are the UK's leading food and farming charity and organic certification body, and work to save our soils and make good food the easy choice for us all; Plantlife who work nationally and internationally to save threatened wild flowers, plants and fungi; Rewilding Britain who have launched a new project to rapidly and massively upscale rewilding to help tackle the nature and climate emergency as well as boost a green recover from Covid-19; Sustrans the charity making it easier for people to walk and cycle and the Marine Conservation Society who want to ensure our seas are healthy, pollution free and protected. Of course you can choose which ever charity you want, it might be one doing good work locally or tacking a specific environmental challenge such as eco-friendly power or transport. Many of these charities are making a significant difference to our lives and with a major impact biodiversity, preventing overgrazing and encouraging the return of native wildlife to our countryside, they are teaching us more about nature and how we impact it and how we can make the right choices for the environment.
10. Leave nothing behind, take nothing but photos
I really believe in getting out in nature as much as possible with the amazing benefits we get from physical activity, the sunshine and feeling at one with nature. Whether you are out for a short run, an overnight bivy, bike packing or just having a picnic lets try to make sure that we leave nothing behind and take home all of our rubbish to keep our environment safe and healthy for us as well as wildlife. But make sure you remember to take a photo so that you can look back and smile or share it with us to make us smile too!
"it is amazing how much we need to consider but also how much impact we can all have on the environment in which we live"
I feel like we have been on quite a journey but it is amazing how much we need to consider and also how much impact we can have on the environment in which we live. I hope I have managed to inspire you about the positive impact on climate change you can have as an outdoor sport athlete. At Skirr Skin our mission includes protecting our natural outdoor playground and as a new brand we have big goals and as we grow, we are aiming to become a B corporation and put aside 1% of our profits for environmental causes. As the founder of Skirr Skin I have been personally implementing many of these top ten tips over the past ten years, we now eat much more seasonally, buy local food where possible, have used ferries and trains more, had bike packing holidays and reduced our flying. I’m sure I can make more changes and I have really enjoy the slow food and slow adventure experiences we have had as a family; recycling more of our used kit especially as our children grow out of wetsuits and walking boots and taking part in eco-friendly event. I’m sure there is much more I can do and each year we manage to make more changes, over the past few months during lockdown we have used our car much less and grown more of our own food. I would love to hear what changes you have made and what you would recommend as your own top tips.
At Skirr we believe we make the best eco-friendly anti-chafing sport body balm and eco-friendly soap. We use natural and organic ingredients and package our products in recycled cardboard and vegware compostable paper. These are just some of our own eco-credentials in our aim to protect our natural playground and the planet. If you use an anti-chafing balm then make sure you purchase our Sport Body Balm when you next need one!