By Joey O’Brien, ESRAG Director

The Banff Marathon was Canada’s first signatory to the United Nations sectorial call for partnerships under “sport for climate action.”  We hit 100% waste diversion in 2018. This is for an event with about 10,000 people over three days in three venues. It takes a number of years to refine the processes to attain this level. This link describes the sustainability features of the Marathon, including waste diversion, procurement, green energy, raising participants’ awareness, mitigating impacts on the park environment and wildlife, and responsible transportation.

We created this model with the 2014 Alberta Winter Games. I was blessed with my daughter Stephanie’s being the race director for the first few years, and she let me run amok to affect all aspects of the Games. One of the early committee members commented, “you aren’t going to make me do something I don’t want to.” At the end of the event, she was showing me the choices she made through a sustainability lens. Now, the whole team simply does what they did last year, which is wonderful. 

For the longest time the Alberta Winter Games could claim to be the world’s most sustainable multisport games. 

Banff is Canada’s first national park and has the highest number of visitors of all of them. Because it was so busy, park managers were culling activities they did not perceive as conducive to the park’s mandate. The Banff Marathon was a new event when we started working to make it zero waste, and was at risk. Now the Banff National Park applies the Marathon’s world-leading sustainability practices to all events. When licensed activities apply to hold their events at the park, they often complain about how strict the sustainability requirements are. The officials simply say, “talk the folks at the Banff Marathon.  It does not seem to be a problem for them”. 

Event sustainability and the ten steps to meet the United Nations sectorial call for partnerships: If there was one aspect of common living in today’s life, it might be organizing and/or attending events.  As someone who organizes events and event sustainability, I can testify that they have a HUGE impact on our planetary systems.  We regularly compete with other leading marathons for the title of “world’s greenest marathon.”  We accomplish this by measuring and offsetting the scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions as one of our ten steps. 

Scope 1 GHG emissions are from sources that you own or control, such as company vehicles.  Scope 2 are indirect emissions from sources that you own or control, like the electricity your building purchases from a utility. Scope 3 emissions come from sources you don’t own or control, but which are used in connection with your organization’s activity, such as contracted solid waste disposal and employee travel and commuting.

There are many steps to reducing the environmental impact of an event. They are sorted into the following areas:

  • Communications 
  • Waste management 
  • Calculating, mitigating, and/or offsetting scope 1, 2 and 3 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions    
  • Calculating the energy footprint and offsetting the consumption of electricity and liquid fuels
  • Extra deliverables based upon the needs of the jurisdiction. In Banff we need a wildlife expert to communicate with Parks officials about wildlife issues (bears and cougars mostly).

Each of these topics could be the subject of a 100-page dissertation, but in this article I will focus on waste management.  Here is a simple outline of TZW (Towards Zero Waste). 

  • Work with the organizing committee and all vendors to only allow products your local waste management authority has diversionary programs for. 
  • Disney research showed that the average person will walk 22 steps to dispose of waste, and not more, so it’s important to place waste-separating sites close to waste generation. 
  • TZW facilities must be manned at all times. A simple moment of inattention, and your staff will be doing “secondary separation.” You cannot count on your event participants to successfully make even binary choices. 
  • Staffing is critical. Local high school students who belong to their sustainability programs are excellent ambassadors (and they care!).  
  • The phrase “you care about the things you measure” is true in this world. Accurately measuring all aspects and reporting is important. A post-event report is necessary to drive year-over year improvements. 

During the pandemic we changed our protocols and did not allow “secondary separation.” This kicked us back to 90% waste diversion until the most recent marathon, when we developed a partnership with Eco Growth Environmental  to take any mixed waste to them for processing. Now we are back to 100% waste diversion.