I've written about how running races and triathlons are increasingly "greening" their operations—making their practices more sustainable to reduce their environmental impact. But what can you, whether you're a gym rat or a racing veteran, do? Here's a list of suggestions, including ours and others offered by Athletes for a Fit Planet, the Council for Responsible Sport, and Runner's World magazine.
1. Don't drive to work out, if you can help it. Work out at home or nearby. If you're a gymgoer, join one within walking or biking distance of your home. Added bonus: You'll be more likely to go if it's closer. Or join one near work so you can make it part of your daily routine without adding more car miles. If you're racing, try to carpool or take public transportation.
2. At the gym, don't be a towel hog. Just because you aren't the one doing the laundry doesn't mean it's OK to use four towels per shower at the local Y. Better yet, bring your own, and wash it once a week.
3. Be aware of your equipment. Some manufacturers are attempting to use more sustainable materials and practices; patronize them. Brooks, for example, now makes a running shoe with a midsole that decomposes in a landfill a lot faster than those in other shoes. You can also buy exercise apparel made of recycled polyester, organic cotton, or wool.
4. Recycle what you can. Don't ditch old shoes and clothes; wear them as long as you can, and then donate them to charity or recycle them. (To find out how to recycle or donate old shoes, go to www.runnersworld.com/donate.) It goes without saying you should recycle plastic drink bottles; better yet, use your own refillable one as much as possible.
5. Reduce your gear consumption. Ignore some of the shiny new products, and make do with what you have. As a bonus, this will save you money. (Here's a list of 5 ways your workout can weather the recession.) And when you do a race, don't take the goody bag or free T-shirt if you're just going to throw it away in a few months.
6. Buy food and drink in bulk. Sports bars, gels, and drinks are sold in conveniently small packages that you can take along on your ride or hike. But instead, buy the largest sizes available, then chop up bars, put gels in a refillable flask, and use your own bottle for liquids.
7. Don't pollute. While you're training or racing, do what campers do and pack out waste until you can find a place to trash, compost, or recycle it. You can go above and beyond by devoting, say, one hike or run a month to cleaning up the trash left by others on your favorite route.
Corrected on 3/12/09: An earlier version of this article misstated the name of one of the organizations offering tips. It is the Council for Responsible Sport.