LAST UPDATED: 24 February 2023

Carbon Neutral Race Production

Practical tips and advice on reducing your race's carbon footprint from Blackfish Ventures' Porter Bratten.

Porter BrattenPorter Bratten

Carbon Neutral Race Production

In a previous episode of the podcast with guest Brian Schmidt of P3R, we saw how it is possible for even a very large race like the Pittsburgh Marathon to achieve zero waste status - that is, the goal of diverting more than 90% of total race waste away from landfill.

But what about carbon emissions? Is it equally feasible to aspire towards carbon neutrality, that is to say, putting on an event with net zero (or perhaps even negative) carbon footprint.

Well, that’s what we’ll be discussing today with my guest Porter Bratten, owner of Washington-based Blackfish Ventures and a passionate practitioner of sustainability in all the races he puts on. We’re going to be looking at what makes up a race’s carbon footprint, how to formulate a practically achievable carbon mitigation strategy, and how carbon offsetting can help bridge the gap to carbon neutrality where further improvements in lowering carbon emissions may not always be possible. 

In this episode:

  • What contributes to your race's carbon footprint
  • Direct emissions, indirect emissions and purchased energy
  • Understanding which emissions you can measure and control
  • Estimating your race's carbon footprint
  • Making participant carpooling work
  • Offering a no-medal/no-shirt option
  • Green electricity: what it is, how much it costs and how to get it
  • Involving your participants in your sustainability strategy
  • How carbon offsetting works
  • Doing due diligence on and selecting carbon offset projects
  • Using carbon offsetting to offset participant travel and shipping emissions
  • Are participants wiling to pay a "sustainability premium" for greener races?
  • Making the most of sustainability sponsors

Thanks to RunSignup for supporting quality content for race directors by sponsoring this episode. More than 26,000 in-person, virtual, and hybrid events use RunSignup's free and integrated solution to save time, grow their events, and raise more. If you'd like to learn more about RunSignup's all-in-one technology solution for endurance and fundraising events visit

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Episode transcript

Panos  2:09  
Porter, welcome back to the podcast!

Porter  2:11  
Hello. Thanks for having me.

Panos  2:13  
Well, thank you very much for coming on. How are things in Anacortes, Washington?

Porter  2:17  
Well, they're great. I'm a dad, a race director, and a race owner. Life is pretty good.

Panos  2:22  
You guys are starting to get a little bit cold out there?

Porter  2:25  
Yeah, we had a real hot-- I call it "hot-umn". Two weeks ago, it was still, like, in the 70s. And now it's in the 40s. And so, it's here - fall's here.

Panos  2:35  
Do you guys continue to put on through the winter - because I've seen some sort of videos from the San Juans and stuff that you get quite a lot of snow up there.

Porter  2:43  
We don't get much snow here. We're at, like, 10 feet above sea level. Although, ironically, in the past two years, we've had really intense cold snaps where it got down the teens last year and the sea actually froze over a little bit, which is crazy. But we have races throughout-- our last race was at the end or the beginning of December, and then we kind of take a hiatus until February - so a little bit of a break.

Panos  3:06  
Okay, so I should have said that it's not your first time on the podcast, hence the welcome back. So we had you and Tony Sapp almost a year ago do an amazing episode on buying and selling races - one of our most popular episodes to date. No surprise why. But still, lots of people may not know much about you. So, do you mind introducing yourself to folks just one more time?

Porter  3:28  
No, of course. Yeah. My name is Porter Bratten. I live in Anacortes, Washington, in the USA, and I have been putting on endurance events since 2010 full-time. My company's name is Blackfish Ventures and we actually have two brands in that company. One is called Orca Running, which is our road running brand. The other is Evergreen Trail Runs, which is our trail racing - trail running - brand. We've got about 25 events per year with about 15,000 participants and two other owners who are great. That's my full-time job and it's a great job.

Panos  4:07  
It is, indeed. Are you guys back to 2019 levels yet?

Porter  4:11  
The trail races are all bigger than in 2019. The road races were down this year on average by about 5%. I was feeling pretty good about that because I know that from what I've seen, this industry-standard sees it more of, like, 20 to 25%, so the fact that we're down only five was-- in 2023, based upon the registration numbers so far, I think we'll finally get back above 2019 levels, which will be great.

Panos  4:38  
Yeah. I mean, trail running seems to be totally unstoppable, which I love because it's an amazing sport. It's doing really great, isn't it?

Porter  4:45  
Yes. Every road runner - or not every road runner but I feel, like, most road runners - have either tried it out or are curious about it and would like to try it out, but there's just something holding them back whether it's access to the trails, or feeling a little nervous about trying it out, or maybe not having the right gear, or something. But yeah, there does seem to be a lot of interest for most runners.

Panos  5:06  
With regards to the topic we're going to be discussing today, which is sort of part of the whole sustainability picture, trail running has also been sort of at the forefront of that - like the commitment that I see from the trail racing community and trail race directors to sustainability really leads the way in all of this stuff, which is no surprise why you're here and why we're going to be doing-- we're going to be going through all the very practical things you're doing in trail running. But I sensed that this focus on sustainability - and we've discussed this before - is particularly something close to your heart. Is that the case?

Porter  5:45  
Yeah. If I only had road races, I would still be doing the same things. The reason that I have kind of made sustainability a big part of our races is, for me, it's more of a moral decision because I have children and they will have children. Even if I didn't have any kids, there will still be so many more people who will be born in the future. Like, the ratio of people who have been born to people who will be born is tremendous, and I think it would be cruel to not do what we can. It would not be morally right to not do what we can to leave them a planet that is not only inhabitable, but is as pleasant as we have enjoyed. So I think every company and every individual should be thinking about this. It can be overwhelming, and I'm sure we'll talk about that as we get into things, but it matters a lot to me, yeah.

Panos  6:42  
Yeah. And you did a fantastic webinar, actually, for RunSignup, which is sort of part of the same kind of ground we're going to be covering today on producing carbon-neutral races, and I thought it would be great to go over that for people listening in because of the two, I guess, pillars to sustainability are the ones that are most easy to comprehend, which is reducing waste and reducing carbon. A lot more people get, I think, a lot more comfortable with reducing waste part of it because they also do it in daily life - recycling, all of that kind of stuff - but aren't actually all that familiar with the carbon side of sustainability, which is great to get into today. I guess we can start with some really basic concepts, right? You hear, in this kind of discussion, people speaking of a carbon footprint - I guess everyone has a rough idea of what that is. But what would be your definition of what a carbon footprint is, perhaps, in the context of a race that people may be more familiar with?

Porter  7:47  
Right. So carbon footprint, in the context of a race, is a quantity of carbon dioxide and other compounds as well that are produced as a result of that race happening, specifically those compounds that do contribute to climate change - that's carbon dioxide. But there are lots of other things as well that pollute. I'm sure that you've heard about methane and how cows farting is really bad for the environment because of the methane, which is related to what's called carbon dioxide equivalents. So that's basically saying that you might be emitting a small amount of methane, but because it is much more polluting than carbon dioxide, it has a larger carbon dioxide equivalents. So one unit of methane actually counts for 40 units of carbon dioxide, if that makes sense.

Panos  8:40  
Yeah. So, basically, we're saying that, on the whole equivalence thing, a tonne of methane released into the atmosphere does a lot more damage to global warming and all of that stuff than just a tonne of carbon dioxide.

Porter  8:55  
Right. So things are always measured in metric tonnes, specifically, of carbon dioxide, but it might actually be made up of quite a few different gases that are being emitted.

Panos  9:06  
Right. So the unit of measure on the harm that it does to the environment is, sort of, like, metric tonnes of carbon dioxide worth of harm, essentially. And as you say, it can be carbon dioxide and it could be other kinds of stuff. And for a typical race, where do those kinds of emissions contributions come from? Like, where do the carbon dioxide, the methane, and all of that stuff come from?

Porter  9:29  
So for a race, our estimate is that about 80% comes from people driving to and from the race. The Council for Responsible Sport did an estimate as well and their number for the race day transportation was much higher - I think it was well above 95%. So depending upon how you're estimating, the overwhelming majority comes from people driving to and from the race. Other things which are just much smaller in comparison are going to be the swag, your finisher medals, your shirts, or whatever you have-- food, anything that is getting shipped as a part of the race - especially if it's a virtual race - and then, of course, your waste.

Panos  10:16  
Right. So I mean, I guess the driving to and from the race-- and we're not talking just race team here. We're talking, obviously, the predominance of that comes from participants driving and flying to the race - right?

Porter  10:27  
Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, you might have 10 or a dozen staff or 1000 people. The staff is a small fraction of the participants' transport, yes.

Panos  10:38  
Yeah. And I guess that's quite straightforward. Like, you put gas into the car or you put, like, jet fuel into the aeroplane. It's pretty straightforward when the emissions come from there. When we're talking about things like shirts, where does the carbon in that come from? Basically, where's the contribution there?

Porter  10:59  
So this is probably a good time to bring up-- there are three scopes to carbon emissions. One is when you're directly producing emissions. So let's say you're having a campfire or driving a car, you are directly producing carbon because things are being burned or combusted, and it's being released into the air. Obviously, driving would fall into that category. Second thing, purchased energy. 

Porter  11:23  
So if you are using electricity for anything and if that electricity is coming from fossil fuel powered power plants, then you are producing emissions as well, and that is part of the swag equation because electricity was used to make it. And then, the third is the most nebulous and kind of hard to calculate, and it's what's called-- it's got a very technical name of "Indirect value chain emissions." That can be things that happen before the customer - in this case, the participant in the race - or after the customer. So with a shirt, for example, most of those things are going to be before the customer where the cotton was grown, transported, harvested, woven into a shirt, shipped to the printer, and then shipped to you. Then, after, downstream from the customer, it might be as simple as the shirt was put in the landfill instead of recycled, so it's now not being recycled. So that's kind of the three scopes, and that's how carbon emissions are classified. Before we talked, I did a little classification of the things that we put in our carbon footprint. I kind of classify on how visible they are, how much of an impact they have, and how difficult they are. So if it's okay with you, I can just kind of do those things. 

Panos  12:47  

Porter  12:47  
So basically, transportation, like I said, is the biggest thing. It is going to have a very large impact on your carbon footprint. It is also the most challenging to address, and we can kind of get into that a little bit later. And then, in terms of visibility, I put it, kind of, as low visibility because people drive all the time. They're probably just not thinking about that much. The next thing is swag which, for my purposes, is mostly finisher medals, finisher items, T-shirts and bibs as well. That is kind of medium impact. If you can figure out how to lower your carbon footprint through those, it's kind of medium visibility because a shirt feels like a shirt to them. It doesn't necessarily feel like it has lower carbon emissions. I'd say it's moderately challenging as well for waste for your race day garbage and whatnot. It has a little bit of lower impact, but it has very high visibility because if people physically have a tangible thing in their hand - a can or a piece of garbage - and they throw it. They know it probably could be recycled, but you don't have the proper receptacle - whether is for compost recycling - and they throw it in the garbage. They know that it could probably recycle it but it's just a convenience thing, and that actually is not very challenging to address. Your race day food-- food can have a pretty large carbon impact or carbon footprint if it's been trucked over the country. So if you're able to get locally-grown food or locally-made food, that can have a pretty, I would say, moderate impact. It's also moderately visible because, again, it might not be top of mind and I'd say it's also moderately challenging. And then, the last few things were essentially your home office - how you're working. I'm assuming most race directors are working from home, I'm sure. Some people have an office they go to if they work for a Chicago marathon or whatnot. But there's almost no visibility to it because the runners don't know where you are, but they can, over the course of a year, the electricity you use at your home can add up to quite a bit - or the heating - and it's not that challenging. At least, in my experience, it's been fairly straightforward to work with your electricity supplier to ensure that your electricity is coming from a green source. And then, lastly, it's shipping. You're shipping a lot of things. It's not very hard actually to use a plugin to offset the emissions from your shipping. It's not very expensive either. If you do it right, you can have pretty good visibility as the person is registering online or paying for things online. You can make that pretty visible. And so it's not a huge impact, but it's easy to do. So that's kind of the things that I-- there's more to it than that. You can definitely go down the rabbit hole of trying to calculate the footprint of everything but, in the end, you kind of need to draw a circle - or maybe a foot-shaped circle - around your company, your race, and decide what's going to be inside it and what's gonna be outside of it. And it's probably better to start smaller, initially. Don't start with everything because it can be really overwhelming. And then, as you kind of gain confidence and kind of figure things out, you can increase that footprint size a little bit to take more things into account. But yeah, I would really urge just to start with transportation - maybe, that's going to be the largest single thing - and then work outwards from there.

Panos  16:24  
Yeah. I think, actually, that's probably the most important advice. I think rabbit hole is a great way to put it because-- particularly, when you start going into indirect emissions and all of that stuff - like, you can go into like butterfly effect type stuff, right? I mean, where does it end? Like, anything can indirectly be part of everything kind of thing. But, I think if there's one important lesson here, in terms of what you've done, at least, practically, is try to go for the big stuff. This kind of, like, categorization you make across the dimensions of impact, visibility, and how difficult or easy it is to address is really key to be practical about this. Otherwise, I guess it's very easy to just get paralysed by the scope of this challenge, right?

Porter  17:12  
Right. Yeah, you really need to ask yourself, "What things can I actually measure? What things can I get an accurate estimate of? And what can I control?" Because things that are outside of your control - it's better not to worry about them right now. And things that you can't even measure-- best just not to start with that. 

Porter  17:30  
Start with the things that you can measure, control, and have an impact on.

Panos  17:34  
And how many of those things can you really measure? Basically, we're speaking of this carbon footprint and I'm thinking it's a number somewhere. I mean, it exists. Is that a number you've calculated for your events? And is it something that people can aspire to do for themselves - that calculation?

Porter  17:53  
Yes, absolutely, you can. I think that the-- because most of it is coming from racers' transportation - I can send this to you - we have a spreadsheet that will allow you to-- it's based upon the zip code of the participant where they live, and then the location of the race. It's going to make some assumptions about the kind of car you're driving and whatnot, but it will calculate what the average transportation admissions are for a particular race. So what we did with regards to the transportation is that we took that, we did that for all the races, and kind of came up with an average amount of emissions across all of our races and all of our participants on average. 

Porter  18:37  
That is what we use to measure our carbon footprint for race day transportation, I should say specifically.

Panos  18:45  
Did you come up with the total tonnes per CO2 equivalent for your events?

Porter  18:50  
Yes, we did. Our estimate for all of our 2022 races was 550 metric tonnes. We also rounded that up a little bit because I felt like it was much better to err on the side of caution and, hopefully, maybe be carbon negative as opposed to a little bit of positive. But that was our estimate for all of our races - it was 550 metric tonnes. 

Panos  19:17  
And that's for the kinds of stuff that you mentioned you decided would be in scope?

Porter  19:22  
Yes, that was transportation for participants and staff. Shipping-- that was home office operations. There's a fourth category - that slips my mind at this point - but it was a pretty small aspect. You asked, "What can you measure?" And like I said, transportation - you can measure that. Waste - you can weigh how much your garbage is at the race and you can figure out, "Okay, well, we've got a total of 450 pounds of garbage - excuse me, of waste. Of that, only 80 pounds is garbage. So that means that we've diverted 350 pounds of garbage or waste away from the landfill. You can measure that very directly. Shipping-- you can absolutely measure very accurately. There are plugins, essentially, for shipping -whatever it weighs, where is it going from, where it starts, where is it going. You can accurately calculate the carbon emissions for shipping. Swag and food are definitely is gonna be much harder to estimate because you just don't have access to all the information.

Panos  20:32  
Right. So the things that you decide to basically live out of scope are the things that you can estimate well enough. Is that sort of, like, how you split in out-of-scope things?

Porter  20:47  
Yeah, things that we can't really estimate at this point and things that we don't really have a lot of control over. I should add this point that if you've got deep pockets, you can pay a company to very much more accurately measure your carbon footprint. I had a company-- it was going to be $10,000 to do this - and then they knocked it down to $5000 because I was a small business - and we still didn't do it because that's pretty crazy. But just by the price there, you can see that quite a bit of work goes into it. It's not a small thing.

Panos  21:21  
But still, you decided to include travel in your scope of the kinds of things that you look to mitigate, even though you don't have, sort of, any control over it. I mean, people will travel - right?

Porter  21:34  
Yeah, they gotta come to the race one way or another. They're definitely getting there. So yeah, we can't control it, but we can certainly incentivize or disincentivize certain behaviours. We can make it a little bit easier to find carpools or to get there in alternate ways. Yeah.

Panos  21:50  
So let's talk about those small things that you implemented to try now to reduce the carbon footprint. Once you've identified the things you want to go after and you know what's in scope and out of scope, which is really helpful, otherwise, you'd drown. You've done some really interesting things to actually take that footprint down - you just mentioned carpooling. I've seen it in some events. I can't imagine how much people go for it. Is that something that people take up?

Porter  22:18  
Yeah. I feel like carpooling is the white whale of race-directing carbon-neutral-- it is not easy because maybe you have people coming from all different places. They might be starting at different times, if you have different races - or different distances, excuse me. They might not want to ride with a stranger. They might want to stay in their car before the race and stay warm. They might want to go get coffee. So, you got to recognise that you're not gonna be able to get everybody to carpool - or even, maybe, the majority - but the things that we've tried to do is to reward carpool behaviour. For example, we have a coffee trailer that comes to most of our races, and we've worked it out with them where if they carpool, they get a little token, and then they bring that token to the coffee truck, and they get a free coffee. That has worked. People like free coffee. They like free stuff, especially on race morning. Well, the thing that we're going to try with a couple of our events in the beginning of 2023 is that we are going to start, I guess, punishing, disincentivizing single occupancy vehicles. So if you show up-- and this helps because, a lot of times, the size of a parking lot is a constraint on our race size. So, if you show up by yourself, you have to pay for a parking pass. If you show up with more than one participant in the car, it's free. So we're gonna see how that goes and just go from there because it's kind of a new concept, but everybody is familiar with the idea of the HOV lane on a freeway and, hopefully, it kind of works the same way. I think that the bigger challenge is how do you make it really easy to carpool - figuring out who you're gonna ride with, when you're picking up, and where you're meeting. Right now, I'm in the process of investigating some apps that are going to make this easy and we're going to try them out. We're going to try whichever one that seems best suited to us at a race in 2023 and see how that goes. We've tried Google Sheets in the past where you can say if you're a carpooler and whatnot, but that hasn't really worked that well. The one other thing that we have thought about that is a little bit intimidating is to essentially have a shuttle service where everybody's parking a little bit further away from the race and there's a shuttle running back and forth continuously. That can definitely be expensive, which is why it's a little intimidating. Those are kind of the things that we're figuring out or trying to figure out right now. And if anybody has any ideas for how to make carpooling easy, I'd love to hear them.

Panos  24:55  
I've seen those apps. I hope they work out for you because I'm pretty sure coordination is a big aspect of this. But still, I'm quite surprised. I mean, you're putting on trail races in the Pacific Northwest, which you would think should be the epicentre of sustainability awareness and, still, people get incentivized by a cup of coffee. Like, the benefit alone of just doing it for the sake of it, I guess, is not strong enough of an incentive for them?

Porter  25:23  
No, I don't think so because people are just-- it's just a habit that people are accustomed to however they get there. As more and more people have electric vehicles, that will certainly help, but I think that will take quite a few years for electric vehicles to be an appreciable percentage of the car showing up on race day.

Panos  25:44  
Yeah, and I guess the other thing - I mean, now, thinking about it - that racers sort of like is the comfort and the security that comes from having all your stuff in your car and driving to the race, right? I mean, I can actually think of myself going to a few races and even when there is a shuttle service, I think of-- you just want to take your time and be there. It's a difficult thing to pull off actually - I can see that. One other thing that I would guess is also quite difficult is getting people to not take swag or to go for unconventional types of swag - that's something you've also tried. I know you were one of the first people to work with Trees Not Tees, which is a great company. How did that work out?

Porter  26:29  
It's been really good. I actually just had a phone call with Jamie from Trees Not Tees yesterday. They're working on a lot of cool stuff. We've seen the adoption of that where people have the option to have a tree plant in their name instead of a T-shirt. So, for our road races, that's a choice - you get a T-shirt or a tree - and we have anywhere from 10% to 20% of people for a race opting into that. For races that had no T-shirts to begin with, what we do instead is ask them, "Hey, would you like to pay? We'll split the cost with you. Do you want to plant a tree for this race?" And if they say, "Yes, we pay for half of it, they pay for half of it." And so, it's just an add-on there. So that's one way to reduce the amount of T-shirts and swag that you have. One thing that we are trying out, again, at our first large race in 2023 is we're trying a no-medal option. So the way that will work is in the registration flow-- well, this is based upon-- we've had quite a few people say, "Hey, I've got just the same with T-shirts. I've got plenty of medals. Is there a no-medal option?" We've always kind of not done it because we were thinking it was going to be complicated. But the idea we came up with is that we use dynamic bib assignment from RunSignup - shout out to the sponsor. And so we're going to have a stamp at bib pickup where if you check in on the tablet and it says "No medal", the person checking the runner is going to put that stamp in a nice visible manner on the bib, and then the volunteers at the finish line are going to know, "Okay, don't give that person a medal." And then the other part of that is that we're going to start having free medal recycling in all the races where we're having a bin - you can bring your old medals and you can put them in the bin. What I do is I bring it to my garage, cut off all the ribbons, and then I take all the medals to a metal recycling facility. Metal recycling is actually, I think, one of the most straightforward things. If you have lots of extra medals after a race, just find the closest metal recycling facility, give them a call, and make sure that they take what you've got. Most medals that we've had are zinc alloy, so you can tell them. They can always take a look - you can bring one in and they can take a look themselves, and they'll actually pay you for the medal. It's not a tonne, but you will get paid. So metal recycling is a great thing. And then, shoe recycling-- there's actually quite a few-- another thing in 2023 is offering shoe recycling at most of our races where if you've got a couple of pairs of not-trashed-but-decently-worn, or decent conditions shoes, you can bring them and we will-- there are several services online where they will send you a prepaid bag for those shoes and you ship it out, and you can get paid for that as well. It's not about the money, but it's certainly a nice addition to it.

Panos  29:18  
With the no-medal option, are you thinking that there would be a different price for people who decide to opt out of the medal?

Porter  29:26  
We are not charging different prices. We could, I suppose, do that, but I think that the people that are opting for that, for them, it's not about saving $2 or $3 or whatever it is. It's just they don't need their medal. We did think about the idea of, "Okay, if you don't get a medal, that means that we're going to take what we would have spent on the medal - $3 - and donate to charity, and that will probably actually incentivize a little bit more. So maybe we'll make that change as well. That's probably a good thing for you to write down.

Panos  29:55  
Yeah, because I know having spoken to-- and I should say we have a full podcast on Trees Not Tees from back, maybe, like, a year and a half ago. In one of the first podcasts we ever did, Chris Zair, who was my guest back then, didn't mention that you can also do a medal for trees thing. It doesn't have to be a shirt. So you can say, "You can have your medal or you can have a tree," and the cost sort of works out pretty, pretty flat, I guess. So you can do, like, a similar thing. Do you have any idea or, like, any estimate of how many people may choose to go for this - basically, how much of an impact having a non-medal option might have?

Porter  29:55  
I think that with the road running events, I think it's not going to be a tonne of people because, I think, from a lot of road runners, it's still important to get that medal. We just implemented it last week. I will have a much better feeling for that in a month or two. I'm kind of expecting, maybe, 5% - maybe 10% at most, but certainly, probably, more around 5%. I think that every little thing helps. Getting to carbon neutral is really about figuring out what you can do, kind of, around the edges now, starting small, and then kind of gradually working your way in instead of trying to tackle it all at once. So if you can reduce the number of T-shirts by 15% and reduce the number of medals by 5% or 10%, all those things do add up over time.

Panos  31:28  
I hope you’re so far enjoying our chat on reducing your race’s carbon footprint, and getting some good pointers out of it. 

One really crucial thing to remember with any new initiative you undertake - whether it’s on sustainability or anything else - is to make sure to communicate information to participants about what you’re doing and how it might affect them and their enjoyment of your race. And that’s where the importance of a good email communication system comes in. 

Now, I’ve talked before about RunSignup’s built-in tools, and how they integrate with your registration data, which is actually really important, and how they are also free to use. And their fully revamped email marketing platform is no exception. So you can use the RunSignup native emailing tool to send out all the emails you need to send to your participants for free, however large your participant list. 

And, yes, you get some really nice email templates you can use that are personalized with your participant data, or you can build your own, if that’s what you want to do. 

Really, you can do pretty much most things you’re already doing on your Mailchimp or Constant Contact account. The difference, when you choose to do it on RunSignup, is you keep all your data in one place and it costs you absolutely nothing. So you can take the money you save by not paying for a separate emailing service, and put it towards something else in your race marketing to help grow your event further.

So, if you’re already a RunSignup customer, do your email marketing from your race dashboard and be done with it. And if you’re not, just go to and check out what a native email marketing tool can do when it works side by side with all your race registration data.

Ok, now, let’s get back to the episode… 

You mentioned zinc alloy there, I guess you're doing the traditional custom medal - you're going down that route. What about wooden medals? They seem to be all the rage over the last few years. Lots of trail races do them. Do you have a view on those?

Porter  33:19  
Yeah. I have a state-of-the-art wooden medal factory in my garage. So, for all of our trail races, we do give them a piece of finisher swag. It's not a medal. They tend to be kind of small, but it is made of wood. I have a laser cutter in my garage. So I design everything for our trail races, and then we make them right here. And then, for our road races, we still do medals made of metal for a lot of our races. But this coming year, at least 15% of our finisher medals will be wood-made. It's not a huge number but, again, that's something kind of around the edges that you can do to lower it. The benefit of a wooden medal is that, obviously, they weigh a lot less. Anytime you're shipping wood versus metal, it's going to weigh less. Wood is a renewable resource and it's made right here.

Panos  34:21  
Yes. I mean, I've received my share of wooden medals over the last couple of years. I don't know whether it happened to be on races that didn't think to-- like, I don't know whether there are better wooden medals out there. I have to say, I think wooden medals fill you a little bit feeling wanting more. When I received them, I was really excited. I was hoping I would like them, and I don't even, like, do anything with my medals. I just put them in a drawer somewhere but, somehow, it feels a little bit-- maybe, because of the weight, it just doesn't feel 100% satisfying.

Porter  34:58  
Yeah, it's absolutely because of the weight. They weigh a fraction of what the medal metals weigh. The way that we kind of compensate for the lightness of the wooden medal is that we kind of tried to embellish them. So what we end up using is resin to kind of add some colour. It does add some weight. Well, I can send some pictures of what we've done in the past, but that resin is topped-- each one is a little bit different because of the way the, kind of ,colours swirl together and whatnot. So that's our workaround for the intangible feeling of a wooden metal somehow feeling less of a metal medal. 

Panos  35:38  
Right. Okay. So it's good to know it's not just me.

Porter  35:41  
The other thing we do is we kind of cycle through our races. So race A will have a wooden medal this year, but not next year, kind of spreading it out across all the races. 

Panos  35:54  
Oh, that's an interesting approach. That's really interesting. Let's talk a little bit about green electricity. What is that for people who are not very familiar with that?

Porter  36:02  
Yeah. You can get power from a coal or natural gas fired power plant, or you can get it from green electricity. Generally, in the US, that's mostly solar and wind. Other countries I know have a lot of geothermal sources. Nuclear-- I'm sure that there are probably many strong voices out there saying that it's renewable or not. But, here in the US, yeah, it's mostly solar and wind. Solar is probably the best option because that really is something that a lot of homeowners or home office owners could potentially afford because the cost of solar panels has gone down so much, and the cost of electricity just keeps going up and up. So if you work from home - which I'm guessing probably you do - and you own your home, it's worth getting a quote from a local installer about having solar panels installed on your home. We are getting some in December. Because of the tax incentives around solar panels and because of the sharp increase that's forecasted for electricity, it's going to pay off in about 10 and a half years, which is pretty good. That definitely is a much higher investment and it may not be available to everybody, but it's something that you can point to in your marketing in how you're presenting yourself to your runners that all the electricity that we're using is green. Maybe this is a good time to talk about electricity on race day as well because, probably, unless you happened to have outlets at your race venue - some venues do have that just, which is great - you're using generators, and generators are kind of loud or stinky. So what you can do is you can purchase these power packs, which is what we've done - purchase three or four - and you charge them up at home, hopefully, using green electricity. Then, you bring it into the race. Not only is it not stinky, but it's also quiet. They're a lot smaller and lighter than generators, and it's been so great at races not having that drone of a generator in the background. Then, one thing we've actually done is we've replaced our inflatable because the inflatables do use a lot of powers - those fans. We have wooden archways for all of our races now and they look really good, and they are not going to ever deflate. They're heavier, so they're not going to get blown over by the wind. Yeah, that's something else to consider.

Panos  38:30  
That's great. We're gonna be going into offsetting actually in a sec. What's roughly the premium you pay for your, sort of, like, green electricity over standard electricity, I guess, just so people get an idea of the cost involved in that?

Porter  38:44  
Yeah. So I've been paying about $20 to $25 a month extra for my utility provider to have green electricity come in. Once the solar panels are installed, I'll stop paying that, obviously. So, my electricity bill is anywhere from $80 to $90. So it ends up being $100 to $110 with the premium.

Panos  39:11  
And these are obviously all things that you've taken upon yourself to do because you feel so strongly about sustainability, and they're things that, in many ways, in many cases, you have to incur costs over or you have to change your ways of doing things. Are there any ways to incentivize or encourage the participants to do stuff, so they help along the way because they're a much bigger contributor to overall carbon emissions to the event than you probably can ever be. So do you have any plan for making them work to lower emissions for the event?

Porter  39:48  
Well, we don't have a message for people that is only about carbon neutrality or sustainability but, instead, we try to put it and sprinkle it amongst all of our communication with runners on our website, on our social media, in the pre-race and post-race communications - we just, kind of, try to mention it - and also registration flow just so people are more aware of it in general. Aside from the things we talked about with carpooling, we haven't-- well, one of the things that we're doing is that, on race day, what we're going to have is-- it's on the way here. It's called the Zero Waste station and what it is is kind of a 10-by-10 canopy with two walls and two tables - so it's kind of this little enclosure - and instead of runners putting their garbage themselves in a receptacle, they're gonna put it in a bin on the table, and then somebody who knows where everything goes will put it in the right receptacle. And that way, you're making sure that everything is actually getting recycled or composted - that can be recycled or composted. As well as bibs-- you can recycle Tyvek, which is what most bibs are made out of. I realised that didn't totally answer your question, but that's kind of what we figured out so far, I think, with the carpooling and what I mentioned earlier on the parking pass, race day waste, and whatnot.

Panos  41:06  
The point you mentioned, actually, is something that Bruce Rayner from Athletes for a Fit Planet also mentioned to me, and it's been a revelation for many people I've discussed this with, which is that you can't allow people to do their own sorting of recyclable waste. They get it wrong all the time and you end up with contaminated waste all over the place. So it really pays to tell them, "Leave everything on the table, and we'll get the people who know how to sort it to do the sorting."

Porter  41:36  
Yes, absolutely. It is pretty confusing - what can be recycled and what cannot be recycled. Yeah. I think most people get garbage and they get compost, but recycling is not straightforward.

Panos  41:50  
So let's move on, actually, to carbon offsetting, which is another big puzzle for people. We try to explain it in that episode with Bruce on exactly how it works, but I feel it's a concept that needs repeating. So can you try to explain to people what carbon offsetting is about and how it works, sort of, at a high level?

Porter  42:11  
Yeah. Carbon offsetting-- the concept is that you emit carbon into the atmosphere and, to offset that, to bring your net amount to zero, you can spend money on a marketplace. It is a marketplace because there are many different projects, there are different prices, and you can purchase an offset to either actually capture carbon from the atmosphere. You can buy a tonne of emissions from a project that will actually remove carbon dioxide from the air, or you can put that money towards a project that will avoid emitting carbon in the future, essentially. Their effect is the same but, I think that, mentally, they do feel a little bit differently where you're actually actively removing carbon versus simply avoiding emissions in the future. And so, by calculating your carbon footprint and then buying the appropriate amount of offsets, you can bring your carbon footprint - your measured carbon footprint - to zero or even to negative if you want to go a little above and beyond. 

Panos  43:18  
It's sort of, like, carbon accounting in a way, right? 

Porter  43:21  
Totally, yes. 

Panos  43:22  
It's like saying that I cannot do anything on the liability side of my carbon emissions, but I can buy some credits in which have been generated by someone not emitting that similar amount of carbon somewhere else, and that sort of net because we all live in the same planet, I guess. It has a similar effect - right?

Porter  43:43  
Right. Yeah. You can go with ones that are really local or you can go with ones that are around the globe from you, but the effect is the same. It's all going into the same atmosphere. I think that there is kind of a preference towards a local project because people will feel like it is somehow benefiting your local area, but I think it's important to consider ones that are international or far away from you because they may be better in some way. Even though it feels somehow less impactful, it's all the same. It's only one planet, so it's all going in the same atmosphere. 

Panos  44:22  
And obviously, the elephant in the room in all this, which is very difficult to mitigate - which is where offsetting comes in - is participant travel. 

Porter  44:31  
Yes. Yeah. 

Panos  44:32  
How does that work, exactly? Sort of, like, walk us through how offsetting participant travel would work.

Porter  44:40  
Okay. So, like I said earlier, we calculated our carbon footprint to be 550 metric tonnes. So, at the beginning of this year, I worked with-- there are quite a few companies out there that do this. The one I worked with is called South Pole. They're a large carbon offsetting company. They're based in Switzerland. I worked with them to find and select a project. The one we ended up going with was a wind turbine farm in North or South Dakota. So this is an example of a project that is avoiding emissions. So we bought the offsets and that money is used to pay back-- building a wind farm obviously is expensive, so that money is used to pay back the installation costs. Because it's a wind farm, it's not burning coal, so it's avoiding the emissions that would have come from a fossil fuel powered electricity plant. That's one example. I think that, honestly, if I was to go about it now, I would probably consider a different project now that I've been learning a lot about this over the past year. I select that project because it was in the United States. The price was decent - it wasn't the cheapest, but it was not the most expensive either. But now knowing that there are so many examples of projects that might either be much more local to our races or might be better in some way-- when I say better, there are two things that I think of. One is there are certain projects you can do where not only are they avoiding carbon emissions, but they might also be improving the health of the local inhabitants and it might also be stimulating the economy. So the example I like to use is there is a village somewhere in a developing economy country and people are using wood to cook their food and heat their homes. Burning that wood is not very efficient. It produces a lot of smoke, which is obviously bad for whoever's in the house. If you can replace that open campfire with a high-efficiency stove, it's still burning wood, but it's going to use a lot less wood to produce a lot less smoke, and that's reducing the emissions, but also improving the health of the local of whoever is doing the burning. So that's a good example. And then, the other thing I think of with a good, maybe, superior product is, like I mentioned earlier. There are projects that will actually remove carbon from the air. I know that Trees Not Tee's-- one of their big projects is called biochar, which is essentially, like, a fancy kind of charcoal that improves the soil of wherever it is and will also suck in carbon for years and years to come. So that's one thing that they've kind of gone big on and has that secondary benefit of improving the soil.

Panos  47:45  
And beyond the selection of the project itself, I guess, you need to start by-- you need to calculate how much carbon you want to be offset, let's say, from travel, and then you need to select the project, go to those companies, and they will take care of, basically-- so you buy the credits and those gets sort of, like, ripped up so no one can use them again? How does that work, basically? 

Porter  48:12  
Yeah. My impression of the carbon offsetting marketplace is kind of all over the place because there are things that are very sketchy - there's not a lot of trust behind it versus the very highly verified. What do you want to look for? There are two important things. One is you want to make sure there's a third-party verification in place. The worst kind of carbon offsetting, I think, would be, you're paying some dude in a forest, he's next to a tree, and he's like, "Hey, I was going to cut this tree down, but because you gave me $10 bucks--" and then he could tell that to 100 people and resell that same carbon offset 100 times. There's no verification. The tree is already there. It's not like it was gonna get cut down. Nobody's gonna cut it down. You're just holding the tree hostage to make money versus having third-party verification where there's some project whether it's a power plant, solar, wind turbine farm, methane capture, or something where it's in place, there's a third party who's coming out to verify that everything's been done, that says, "It's been done." So you will see there on some marketplaces that there will be third-party verification. Then, the other thing to look for is making sure there's kind of a buffer, because a lot of times, the buffer should be about 10% of the overall project and that buffer, as I understand it, is offsetting the creation of that project - the transportation or whatever went into the creation of that project. And then, it's also accounting for hiccups along the way, basically. So, for example, if the offset you're buying is based around trees in a forest, that 10% might account for any forest fires that happen along the way. That's an example of, kind of, that buffer. And that's just kind of an insurance policy against whatever might happen. So third-party verification and a buffer are the two things you want to look for in an offset.

Panos  50:27  
And in the case of participant travel which, again, we focus on because it is the biggest contributor to all this from a race point of view, what's the typical cost per participant on average - I guess, for your kind of race because different races have a different profile of where people fly in for? There are more local races - kind of, like, international races. What kind of costs are we looking at, typically, to offset participant travel?

Porter  50:54  
Yeah, for us, I don't think we have very many people travelling across the country. Most of our vendors live within an hour's drive at most. But for us, it worked out to a cost of 95 cents per runner, which is not that much. So the way that we handled this is that we use RunSignup to create an additional fee in the registration - it's a carbon offset fee. So, when people get to the checkout page, they'll see the race registration fee, the processing fee, and then a carbon offsetting of 95 cents. So we collect all that money over the course of a year, and then we use that to buy the offset. We had that in place for - I don't know - 9 or 10 months, and we have had one person complain about it and objects to the 95 cents. But other than that, we've had no complaints about it.

Panos  51:52  
Was the objection-- I'm just curious if this person was sort of, like, living next to the start line and he wasn't too keen on subsidising people coming from further out?

Porter  52:03  
No, it was purely about, like, "How dare you charge me 95 cents? I don't want to have my race transportation offset."

Panos  52:10  
I see. Okay. I know, actually, because I looked this up before the podcast. I was just going back on some older group posts on Facebook our Race Directors Hub - our race directors group there - that you were toying with the idea of actually allocating the cost by actual distance rather than charging people the flat 95-cent fee. Is that still an ambition?

Porter  52:33  
I would love to do that. We were kind of deep in talks with RunSignup and the company called Cloverly, which has a software that allows you to calculate the transportation of anything from one point to another. The goal was to have an API between the two softwares where it would instantaneously calculate, "Oh, you live in this town and the race is here. This is your carbon offset." So the idea was that it would either require or be given the option to then offset it. Unfortunately, RunSignup didn't want to do that because, apparently, I was the only person really asking for that. So to anybody listening, who uses RunSignup and wants to help me put some pressure on RunSignup to do this, please get in touch because I would love to do that. I think it'd be very cool and, honestly, would make people probably a lot more cognizant of-- if they do live far away, it's like, "Oh, my. I'm going to emit 85 pounds of carbon by driving to this race that's kind of further away," and just kind of have that be at the front of their mind. Yeah.

Panos  53:39  
And I think, as you say, the more important thing probably there is the awareness, right? It's being able to tell people - particularly the high-polluting people like the furthest travelling people - that your CO2 equivalent cost for offsetting your travel to the event is maybe $3 in your case whereas, for someone else, it might be 10 cents or something. It's building, I think, that awareness, which is really key. On the other hand, it's really encouraging that even if you charge a flat fee of just $1, people still end up taking it. I think it's great that very few people would sort of, like, complain about that, which is pretty good. You mentioned Cloverly. So this is what? Is that sort of, like, a service that calculates the carbon associated with different activities? Does it offset it for you? What does it do exactly?

Porter  54:26  
Yeah, Cloverly is a tool - a company as well. Their primary use case is for mailing and shipping things. So, if you tell it, "Hey, I've got a box. It weighs 10 pounds, this size, and it's going from Seattle to New York City," it will tell you exactly how much the carbon emissions for that and then it can also automatically charge you to offset it. So we use that for shipping. When people buy something from us, we use Cloverly to offset the shipping and it is very inexpensive because packages are-- it's pretty efficient. Most of our packs cost about 10 to 20 cents, so it's not a lot. Cloverly can handle other things. It can handle driving from one place to another. So that was what we were going to use in connection with RunSignup, and I would still love to use it if RunSignup is listening.

Panos  55:18  
Some people at RunSignup are listening. I mean, they have a very long feature list, but I'm sure it's up there because I know they also quite feel quite strongly about this. One area that doesn't get mentioned all that often in this discussion and I insist on bringing up is the business side of all this. We've touched on the cost of all this quite a lot. It's an expensive thing or it can be fairly expensive to try and cover this cost as a race director - right? I think it's great for you to go out of your way to do that, but it somehow feels like there should be contributions in lifting that burden from more people. I mean, the participants is an obvious one. We mentioned you put some of the participants' travel costs on them. I'm hoping there's more support out there - potentially, financial support - even from the government or other agencies in helping you become a more greener event director. Is that the case in the US? 

Porter  56:20  
That's one thing I haven't done much on. I haven't really pursued the availability of grants or funding to help with this. I know that there are tax incentives for things like solar panels and other green things. That's probably the next logical step for me to do, kind of, because I think that I'm pretty lucky in that our company is mature enough where I can, kind of, take a step back from day-to-day race directing duties and focus on things like this. It does come at an expense. You can only do so many things. There are only so many hours in the day. It's something that matters a lot to me, and I hope that it matters a lot-- or maybe, after listening to this, you care more - the listener. But I am lucky that I can kind of focus on this. There is a time cost and a financial cost. The single largest cost is definitely the offsets which, in our case, we've been able to pay for all of it with that 95-cent charge, which is great, but things like power packs, Zero Waste station. Going cupless at races, for example - that's another easy thing to do and a lot of races are doing it, but you have to buy those reusable cups. They're not free. So it does cost money. But my hope is that by educating your runners, your customers, and making them more aware of it, and then emphasising that you are really working hard to make your race environmentally friendly, over time, you will attract more and more customers and kind of reap the rewards of the investment of time, energy, money, and all of these things - yeah, with more customers.

Panos  58:06  
Do you feel, actually, that kind of, like, soft marketing benefit could be meaningful for events in terms of, I guess, offsetting some of the costs that events pay - in higher popularity for their events or even the ability to pass on some of those fees to the participant being able to charge, kind of, like, sustainability premium?

Porter  58:27  
Yeah, absolutely. I think that, personally, we have raised our prices most years and we've had very little pushback on it because people that are passionate about running are going to sign up, I think. Like I said earlier at the beginning, our numbers were down only about 5% compared to 2019. I have no idea how much of that I can attribute to our efforts around sustainability, but I know that we are doing well and I think that part of that is based upon these efforts. We do get emails, we get messages. People do seem to appreciate the efforts that we're making around recycling, around offsetting, and around making these races just a little better.

Panos  59:11  
And I'm guessing it's not only the participants, right? I guess you're making your race more appealing to volunteers. You're making your race more appealing to local communities and, potentially, even sponsors. This idea of a so-called "sustainability sponsor"-- I'm not sure if it's, like, an official term, but it keeps coming up in my discussions with people where you get someone to come in - a company which they call a sustainability sponsor - and they're there to actually sponsor that cost of making your race greener. So they're in specifically for that thing. I know that, in my discussion with Brian Schmidt of P3R, they mentioned that about Pittsburgh Marathon and some of their races. Is that something that you've done or thought of doing or come across at all?

Porter  1:00:00  
Well, I will say that we're in the process of signing an agreement with a sponsor and they're not coming on as a sustainability sponsor. But when they reached out to us, they said, "We really admire your company, especially your devotion to sustainability." And there are dollars coming in from them, or they are going to come in, and I can very directly point and say, "We're getting this money because this company admired our sustainability." Going after other sponsors to be a sustainability sponsor, I think, is a great idea, especially-- for example, zero waste station or the cupless aspects, that's very tangible, which I think is a great opportunity to have some co-branding with that sponsor where they're getting that reusable cup, it's got the sponsors name on it, and that's a great way to get the sponsors name out there or on that Zero Waste station. Putting your garbage and getting it either recycled or composted, kind of, feel good - maybe, not warm and fuzzy, maybe it's kind of green and fuzzy. That will be an excellent opportunity to offset the cost of buying the tent, the tables, and whatnot, and then maybe paying for somebody to be there sorting with a sustainability sponsorship.

Panos  1:01:19  
Yeah, absolutely. I think I think the Zero Waste recycling station is a great place to put them. And I think the good thing about the sustainability sponsor is that it opens up your sustainability prospects as a race to people that might be less willing to commit if they're not native to the space. So we're not talking about, like, the apparel companies or the running shoe companies and stuff. You go to a bank - let's say, a local bank - it might be a lot better for them, particularly, as attitudes shift in society to tell them, "You can be associated with our recycling efforts and we're going to put your branding up there." I think it offers great opportunities to not just force people into being sponsored, but just to allow them to ease themselves into sponsoring races - people who may not traditionally come into that kind of space.

Porter  1:02:15  
Right, yeah. For somebody like a bank, it might be a little bit difficult to figure out how to insert themselves into a race. But Zero Waste station, for example, I think, is an easy sell.

Panos  1:02:29  
Absolutely. So you sound like someone who's very passionate about this, I think. If there's anything clear from this episode, that's definitely that. Can people reach out to you, potentially, with questions - you've done so much stuff on that - if they need any help, or any direction, or even to share a comment about some of the things we've discussed?

Porter  1:02:49  
Yes, please reach out to me. My email is I would love to talk more. If you've got ideas or have questions or anything, I'd love to talk to you more.

Porter  1:03:03  

Panos  1:03:03  
And you're, of course, very active in our Race Directors Hub group. If anything comes up there, you're very keen on helping people. I thoroughly enjoyed that. Thanks a lot for coming back on the podcast. I hope people found this helpful. So thank you very, very much for your time, Porter. 

Porter  1:03:24  
Thank you so much, Panos.

Panos  1:03:26  
And thanks to everyone listening in. I hope you enjoyed this and we'll see you all on our next podcast!

I hope you enjoyed today’s episode on carbon neutral race production with Blackfish Ventures’ Porter Bratten.

You can find more resources on anything and everything related to race directing on our website You can also share your thoughts about race sustainability or anything else in our Facebook group, Race Directors Hub.

Many thanks again to our awesome podcast sponsor RunSignup for sponsoring today’s episode. And if you enjoyed this episode, please don’t forget to subscribe on your favorite player, and check out our podcast back-catalog for more great content like this. 

Until our next episode, take care and keep putting on amazing races.

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