The Council for Responsible Sport
It is by now abundantly clear that some of the ways we have all been used to doing things, including organizing races, are just not sustainable for the planet in the long term. And it is increasingly obvious to race directors and participants alike that traveling long distances to and from events, going through scores of single-use plastic bottles, and sending tons of waste to landfill is taking its toll on the environment and the communities we all strive to support.
For over a decade, the Council for Responsible Sport has supported mass-participation sports’ sustainability transition through its industry-leading certification program and the development of the industry’s first responsible sport standards.
And today, I have the pleasure of catching up with the Council’s Executive Director, Shelley Villalobos, on the Council’s recent initiatives to encourage even more race directors to take their first steps towards environmental sustainability, including the launch of ReScore, a free app that can help any race organizer plan, track and achieve their sustainability goals step by step through a single online platform.
In this episode:
- The origins and mission of the Council for Responsible Sport
- How the Council of Responsible Sport is governed and funded
- Race sustainability efforts around the world
- Developing sustainability standards and best practices
- Responsible event certification, what it costs and the process for getting your race certified
- Getting certified with the help of a corporate sustainability sponsor
- Leveraging your race's environmental credentials to promote your event's purpose
- Mitigating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and carbon offsetting
- Incorporating the cost of reducing GHG emissions from participant travel into the event registration cost
- Reducing single-use plastic waste: using and effectively disposing of compostable water cups, allowing water backpacks, cupless racing, Ooho!
- ReScore: the free app that helps you collaborate, track your progress and access relevant resources as you work towards making your race more sustainable
- CRS Responsible Sport Standards: https://www.councilforresponsiblesport.org/standards
- CRS Responsible Events Guide: https://www.councilforresponsiblesport.org/runrad
- ReScore: https://portal.sportrescore.org/
- Project Drawdown: https://drawdown.org/
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Shelley, welcome to the podcast!
Thank you so much for having me, Panos. I'm glad to be here!
Thank you very much for coming on. We've been trying to line this up, actually, for a few months now. So, I'm really glad we are able to find some time to chat at last. I'm very excited today to hear about what you guys are up to at the Council for Responsible Sport - I think you made an incredibly important contribution to the industry - but before that, why don't you tell us a little bit about you, your role, and your career at the Council for Responsible Sport so far?
That sounds great, yeah. I'm excited to tell you more about how the council's works in putting tools in organizers' hands that can help them translate their good intentions into action at their events. But, before we get there, yes, I can share that. My story with the Council for Responsible Sport really began just after I finished college at the University of Oregon, which is in Eugene, Oregon - I had been playing softball there. I had gotten involved with our sustainability efforts and started working with the University's Athletics Department on sustainability and athleticism. Then, we did a stint with the City of Eugene - the local municipality - around some championship events that were coming to town and helped to make those more socially and environmentally responsible. So, one thing led to another. I was on the other side of the table applying for events certification with the Council for Responsible Sport. As that contract ended, the position of certification director opened up and I found myself excitedly involved - that was back in 2013. I worked as a certification director for a long time. Then, our former executive director, Keith Peters, retired in 2015. So, I took over as managing director at that time. Then, I became our executive director as of last fall - August 2021. So, I've been with the organization for a long time now - I've focused on this work for many years and I'm still glad doing this work.
Okay, that's amazing! Congratulations on the fairly recent promotion! When I came across the Council for Responsible Sport, I have to say that, at least, in my mind, you guys have grown a lot in terms of your stature in the industry. When I came across you guys a few years back, I almost thought, like, it was a new thing and it was only starting just then. But then, when we had a chat, apparently, it has been around for quite a while. So, do you want to tell us a little bit about when it was formed, how did it come about, and when did people think that they need to start this thing?
Sure. Yeah. So, it was back in 2007, leading up to the event that was going to take place in Portland, Oregon in 2008 - it was the Freshwater Trust Portland Triathlon. The organizers were looking for good examples because they needed to convince the triathletes that the water was clean enough to swim at the river portion of the event. The Freshwater Trust, which was the nonprofit that was hosting the event had been doing a lot of that restoration work. So, it became fundamentally interwoven with the planning of the event to incorporate this ecological awareness and, sort of, stewardship mindset. So, they looked for good practices of what that meant in action at the event. That was the very first generation of what we now call the Responsible Sports Standard - we're on the fourth version of standards now - back in 2008. Events have been certified to date according to the four versions of those standards across that time. So yes, we've been growing, we've been gathering momentum, albeit slower, I think, than the founders had originally envisioned, but such is life, right? We do our best.
Indeed. So, are you saying that, if I understand you correctly, basically, initially, the mission was around - probably not entirely around the water quality - how events can be put on without putting a strain on the environment in the community they operate in?
That's correct. They were really coming with an ethos of, "Hey, we want to be responsible. We want to walk our talk. We're an organization dedicated to ecological sustainability. How might we use an event to show that and to live that in alignment with our principles?" So, that was really where it began.
Right. Has the mission that the Council has today changed or expanded around that or beyond that?
Our purpose and mission remain - this vision of a world where responsibly produced events are the norm, rather than an exception or rarity. So, I like to use the example of smoking - it was very common in the 60s and 70s until all of the surgeon general's warnings came out and the scientific research showed that it was unhealthy. Then, it took a long time to gradually change the culture - we had seen those numbers go down and there were new norms in society around that, right? We used to go into a restaurant and there would be a smoking section, but not anymore. So the new norms of sports events would be the idea and expectation to operate more responsibly, both socially and environmentally.
And when you mentioned sports and sports events, most people in the audience - they are race directors - would immediately think of, kind of, mass-participation endurance events that we put on as an industry. Does the council also work with professional events beyond that - like, some of the big paid US sports that you guys have over there?
Yeah. So, we've certainly seen more interest from those large championships events in recent years when there are major sponsors involved who are under public scrutiny, for example, and they want to make sure that the properties that they're supporting are well-aligned in terms of their values - for example, the Major League Baseball All-Star game, or more currently now is the Final Four, which is the college basketball championships, which is so popular here, are those that have been certified in recent years. So yeah, there are more interests beyond road races, definitely, as time goes by.
Okay. At this point, it'd be interesting to have just a bit of a summary - just a teaser. We'll get into a lot more detail on how exactly you guys deliver on that mission. So, you've basically set out and see to it that more events are more aware and produce events more responsibly around the world. How do you do that? How do you help event organizers get there?
Well, being a nonprofit, we have limited capacity and resources, so our leadership and focus have always been, "Let's set standards of best practice. Let's give event organizers an opportunity to weigh in on what those expectations should be. Let's have a shared framework and a shared language for what we all would consider to be baseline responsible practice." That's it in a nutshell. So, we are involved with getting that feedback from event organizers, putting out standards, and letting the organizers take them up or not. So, we put it back on the lap, so to speak, of the race directors to say, "Do we want to be in alignment with these standards or not?"
So, you're basically, sort of, like, the ears and mouthpiece for this whole, kind of, conversation - you get feedback from people on what those sustainability practices need to be, then you disseminate it, share it with people and, sort of, lead that ongoing dialogue process that refines that stuff.
Yeah. And I would say that the major value of that is that organizers don't have to recreate the wheel. We get so many coming to us saying, "We want to do the right things. What are they?" So, we have this collection to share.
Okay, great. And you mentioned that you guys are a nonprofit. In terms of your governance, I guess you guys have some kind of board overseeing the work that you do?
We do. Yeah, we have an all-volunteer 10-person board of directors who are in charge of setting the strategy and forward that vision for the organization along with a small staff dedicated to implementing it.
Absolutely. I know you have a lot on your plate, speaking of small staffs, which is always great - lots of challenges every day for you to look at. In terms of the funding of the organization, how does that work? Do you get, sort of, donations? Is it through the services you provide? How do you fund yourselves?
Maybe, we'll get more into this later. Generally, sport is quite under-regulated as a market - a lot of it is privately-owned and it, sort of, slips by a lot of regulatory agencies' purview outside of permits and whatnot. So, I'm sure organizers have lots of experience with their municipalities in terms of seeking permits but, beyond that, sport is highly unregulated. So, it's all voluntary. We do charge a fee for the certification, so that pays for a third-party evaluator to verify activities, which includes an on-site visit, and it affords us to have our small administrative costs and licensing, sort of, of the logo of certification that they earn.
Right. And we're gonna jump into certification, actually, in a minute - it's a really important aspect of what you guys do when you certify events. In terms of the council and its collaboration when working with other similar-minded agencies and efforts around the world, how do you sort of fit into that global sustainability puzzle as an organization?
We largely operate independently of them but, generally, follow a similar model for some of the other certification offerings from - for example, a Global Reporting Initiative or the International Standards Organization - larger organizations that set standards across many sectors and industries. We stay focused on sport - we were created by event organizers for event organizers - so, we really try to stay in our lane.
I see. Do you operate entirely in the US - I mean, I know some really high-profile events that get certified by you - or do you also work outside of the US as well?
We've been open to certifying events anywhere if there's interest in doing it, but there's some language barrier - our staffs just speak Spanish and English. So, we've certified events in eight countries now. There are several events in Latin American countries like Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Mexico, that have a certification. We've seen some more interest in Europe. A couple of events in Italy have been certified as well. But beyond that, we await the interest and the efforts to certify events from folks everywhere with the ability to submit their things in English or Spanish - that's really a limiting factor.
That's an interesting question that we're also going to, sort of, like, visit a little bit later. Now that you mentioned all these countries and all these parts of the world, do you have a sense of the relative affinity of different countries and how close they are to the sustainability race or the sustainability effort? Do you find that people, maybe, in some parts of the world are a little bit more aware and a little bit more keen to be doing stuff, and others are, maybe, lagging a little bit in that?
It's a good question. I don't want to get too specific because I think we've seen excellent efforts from almost all of the events. If events choose to make their way to council certification, they're very willing to look deeply at the standards and they've already done some work to incorporate a lot of that, not because they're the standard, but because that's what those organizations already value - they value community, and outreach and collaboration and partnership for the common good. So, that is a great baseline that we work forward from.
Right. Yeah. I guess the people who come to you are already, sort of, self-selecting - if they have an interest in reaching out to you guys, then you're already a little bit ahead of the curve in thinking through these things. So let's talk a little bit about certification - which is a very important thing that you do - and how your standards work. Basically, just take some time to walk us through the process, the standards, how they come together, and what people can look forward to at the other end.
Great. We see organizations come to us at very different stages - we invite them all, wherever you are on your social or environmental responsibility journey - it is different for everyone based on necessity. If you really look into your values, your local community, or where you're hosting events, that's all circumstantial. So, we invite them to start where they are and build from that with these best practices in mind. So, with that, a certification project starts with self-assessment. We look up and down the standards. There are five categories that we need to use to organize the best practices - very briefly, I'll just highlight them. The first is planning and communication - having that strategy, planning, and communications in place. Second category is procurement - how are you bringing about the goods and services to deliver your events? The third is resource management, which includes how you're managing waste and preventing waste upfront, how you're measuring water usage and advocating, perhaps, its conservation or any kind of restoration work. Then, it also includes energy and carbon piece - events require energy and transportation, and that produce climate-changing emissions - helping organizers to account for those emissions and, ideally, compensating them for reducing them outright. Then, the fourth and fifth categories are really the social elements. The fourth category is access and equity. So, we think about accessibility, not just physical accessibility - which I think is common, thank goodness - but also socio-economic and cultural accessibility, which is how we're identifying barriers to participation from different community groups, and how we can lower those barriers so that more people can be involved with the events. The fifth category is community legacy. So, why is the world just a little bit better because your event happened? What kind of partnerships and collaboration are you taking on in the places in your community? So, that's the framework in a nutshell. Those are the things that event organizers told us are relevant and matter most when it comes to the purpose and responsibilities behind their events. When a group wants to get certified, it's really a menu of sorts, where we recognize not everyone's gonna do all 61 items in this list - it's a long list - and organizations can get their events certified by achieving 27 of them to begin, which is about 45%. So, that's the baseline to say that you've done these. There are five or six mandatory items or obligatory items, and beyond that is a menu - what makes the most sense for your events and where are you seeing the most value in these practices? So, they can move up on a merit-based system. From there, the more practices that they implement and demonstrate, the higher level of achievement they can earn with the certification seal. And we've seen folks use their seals in many different ways from pages and footers on their website to reusable grocery bags that they hand out or water bottles that are reusable as a way to prevent plastic waste, instead of medals - there are lots of different ways we're seeing that being used.
Yeah. I've seen the list - actually, we're gonna link it in the episode notes. As you said, there are, like, 60 bullets of things that you could and should be doing if you're interested in making your event more sustainable and more inclusive, etc. They're, sort of, grouped in five categories that you mentioned. You can get certified with a different level of certification according to how many of those boxes you tick, essentially. And, as you said, some are, sort of, like, table stakes - you just have to do some basic ones. You can choose whether it makes more sense for you to try and put your effort into improving this versus improving that, for example. I think you've said that there's a consultation process in which all of these, kind of, like, standards get revisited. How do you decide, in the end, which ones make it? Basically, which are going to be the ones that make it through to the official certification list and which ones don't?
Yeah, it's a long process of stakeholder engagement and reaching out to the event organizers that have achieved certification. So, we think that they have invested in the program together as a community of peers and said, "These are the things that we value." So, we think that they have absolutely earned a say in what comes next and what deserves to be on that list. So, every few years, we go through the process of putting together an advisory committee, putting together an industry survey that folks can openly and publicly comment on the draft standards. That process helps us to, then, sort through any items that needed updating or slight revision, or were not as relevant anymore and may need to be phased out, leaving room for the new good practices to come in. So, I would say, in general, it's the process of stakeholder engagement. The standard gets updated every few years. We think that people who have been through the certification process have earned themselves the right to have a say in what are those best practices that should be on the list, as well as the general public. So, we put a survey out there for event organizers who have experience with organizing to let us know what they think. Then, we also make the draft standards available for public comment so that we can see what we've missed. We can't think of everything, so bringing as many people into that conversation as possible is very important to us. And we'll be updating the single event standards here in the next couple of years, so to everyone who is listening, please get involved with that process and have your say.
Absolutely. And we'll help raise some awareness around that as well - it's a very worthwhile cause. In terms of the standards, is there any bias, perhaps, in favor of specific events? Or are they perhaps meant to work a little bit better for some kinds of events or some locations? Would they be quite universal? How do you deal with, basically, producing something that needs to be relevant across, like, from a 5K to an Ironman Triathlon, and from Oregon to China?
Yeah, it's a great question. We've tried to make the standards specific to the power of the platform of sport. So, what is the unique cultural influence of a sporting event? What is the possibility that it has within its reach? That's where we begin. Then, we try not to get too prescriptive about the exact items and what they look like. For example, in section two, which is procurement, the first standard is, "Do you have a procurement policy? Do you have a plan by which you follow to bring about the goods and services and do your contracting work?" We don't say what should be in that policy, we're just saying, "Do you have one?" So, a lot of organizations will go and say, "Okay, we're going to eliminate Styrofoam and we're going to eliminate extra plastic. We're going to seek reusable and recycled materials in all of our printing, T-shirts, and whatever merchandise we're purchasing." Great. We applaud that. We encourage it, but we don't say that you have to do that because it's a little different for everyone based on their circumstances. We've also left room in the standards for innovations that are not specific about anything - it's just within those five categories - planning and communication. Innovation looks like many different things. A lot of groups are moving towards using apps to communicate digitally, instead of doing a lot of printed materials - that prevents waste. There have been so many different ways that people have gotten creative, so we wanted to leave space in the standard for those. Also, there's a thing that we call ala carte. So, similar to an ala carte menu at a restaurant where you choose individual items, we've made a list and said, "You can get points for doing any of these things. We don't expect you to do them all." So, that are some of the ways that we've tried to incorporate some flexibility into the program that can address the differences that happen with the different circumstances of events all over the place.
Yeah, and that flexibility is generally very helpful. But if I am a race organizer and I actually need help on specifics on how to achieve some of those things-- so, for instance, it's like, "Fine, let's have some strategies for mitigating emissions", which is something that people would like to do, but it could get pretty complex, pretty fast when doing all the diligence with projects and all of that stuff. Do you also, then, step in and specifically help hold their hand through some of these things?
Yes, we do, particularly when they expressed interest or need for deeper help, sometimes, even with contacts or peers across the industry who had already tried something and had some success - we're happy to link them together when there's mutual permission to do so. Then, specific to your prompt about greenhouse gas emissions-- for example, the climate impacts of events is one of the more mystifying elements, I think, for organizers because many are not trained sustainability professionals or scientists, so we went ahead and created a GHG tracker for events that really just prompt you to a few more simplified questions and a few more specific data points - for example, "Approximately, how many miles did so and so traveled to bring you that service for the event?" I mean, whatever it may be - and then help run the calculations for you. So, you don't have to look up emission factors and do multiplication around units of measurement that you're not familiar with. So, that's one example of where we're trying to make it easier and lower the bar for entry so that people can get in there, take care of their responsibility, and move forward confidently. Examples have been really useful in the system and pointed to good practices across the network of events - there are so many now and the library is ever-growing.
Actually, a few podcasts back, I had Bruce Rayner talking to me from Athletes for a Fit Planet. He actually mentioned that he also helps events through the certification process. Are there more people like him - people may turn to consultants - to help them through the process?
Yes, and I do recommend working with consultants if you have the capacity to do so. I mean, Bruce and his group and many others in the space do a wonderful job, and they really bring a lot of value to events. The work they do helps to amplify their impacts, which I believe leads to better reputation and more retention - not just of runners, but of volunteers and staff - and build a culture where there's purposeful work being done that seeks improvement over the years. I mean, that's the kind of stuff that motivates people to stay and to continue their involvement.
And actually, as a side question, you mentioned there are some of the new technologies coming through for paperless communications and other things - there are a few vendors in the industry who particularly put out products around that. How do you guys at the council work with them and, like, with other commercial partners who may have some tools in this effort of making events more sustainable? Do you promote them? Do you, sort of, try to keep an arm's length towards those kinds of guys? How do you work with them?
Yeah, we haven't really cracked that nut very well, to be honest, because of our desire to remain independent. We don't really have any kickback type of programs - referral programs - it's not our style. However, when somebody has a solution that helps events get certified or get points toward their certification, we do let groups know. If it's relevant, we'll say, "Hey, have you heard of so and so?" and, at least, put a link or ask if they would like an introduction - sometimes they do and sometimes they don't. So, we're agnostic as to who's providing those solutions - we're happy to share them when it's relevant and when their work speaks for themselves. So, that would be the approach. Then, also, we haven't talked yet about ReScore. We do have a new online system - it's a web-based application - and there's a catalog in there. So, if groups are providing the goods and services that help events get points towards certification or implement those best-practice standards, then they can get a little card in our catalog which is a simple link-through to say, "Here's your 100% recycled polyester shirts. If you'd like to see more, click that link and it'll just take you straight through." That's the way we've approached it so far.
Okay, great. And would those be, kind of, like, sponsorship arrangements you have? Do you get paid on the back of those or is it simply putting in the right kinds of companies that help people achieve their sustainability goals more easily?
Right now, the criteria is you've got to offer a product that will help them get a point towards their certification. And no, we don't receive paybacks or kickbacks on that at all. Then, if they have that well-aligned service or product, that space is free in our catalog.
Awesome. That's a good segue to letting people know what the whole thing costs. And I say 'good segue' because you've demonstrated that, basically, it's the certification process and the fees you guys received that pay for everything else you guys do, which I think is super admirable. So, what does it cost for someone to go through that process?
So for single and large events, there's a baseline fee that ranges based on the size and revenue of that event - from $6,000 to $12,000 per event for a two-year cycle. So, your certification is good for two years, once earned. The fee doesn't change based on the level of certification it's earned. It's just a fee based on the projected revenue from the event or the number of participants - if it's a participatory event. So, events remained certified for those two years. We had to raise our prices out of necessity from trying to recover from COVID - at the same time, we recognize that everyone else is trying to recover as well. So, ReScore is our new web-based tool that is making the standards accessible to everyone regardless of their ability to pay. We didn't want dollars to be a barrier to entry to the program. So, groups can use ReScore to do the self-assessment, measure up against the standards, and access all of the guidance for free forever.
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Ok, that’s it from me for now. Now let’s get back to the episode...
One important thing, actually, for people who listen to those numbers - obviously, there's tons of work involved - for some events, it is a sum to consider there. Tell our listeners a little bit about this model that I kept seeing of events being certified through a sponsorship with a third party that, basically, picks up the tab for that. So, how does that whole thing work? It sounds like a very, very typical, very fortunate win-win for everyone - one guy picks up the bill, the event gets certified, you do your work. How does that whole thing work?
We've seen this model emerging where a corporate sponsor comes in and, maybe, has an introductory conversation about a sustainability approach or a comprehensive, sort of, responsibility approach that they can package into a sponsorship package. Sometimes, it's the title sponsor. Sometimes, it's a sustainability sponsor. That can help with the certification fee and, maybe, a consultant like Bruce from Athletes for a Fit Planet or others. It might help with the cost of greenhouse gas emissions offsets. So, we're investing in a nature-based restoration project or solution. Then, maybe there's some opportunity for staff and volunteer engagement, maybe there's a local tree-planting element, maybe there's some investment in - for example, electric vehicle charging stations, which are also part of the climate solutions, which is a plethora to choose from - maybe it has some social programming there too. So, packaging up all of that value-driven and purpose-driven work can be a great platform to find where your alignment is and activate. So, we would encourage to look at that, put together a package, see where they need help and where do they want to build it out, do that self-assessment, find the gaps and the strengths, and build your program off of that. If you have your strengths, you can start there - that's your pitch. Then, your part of your pitch is also, "Here are our opportunities for improvement. Here's where we're going. We need your help and partnership to get there."
Is there a particular area or niche where the sustainability sponsors tend to come out of? Is there, like, a particular type of corporate that might be interested in putting a little bit of their budget towards something like that - getting my race certified?
Yeah, the banks actually have made a lot of public commitments to the Paris Agreement. I don't know how much our audience is familiar with the Paris Climate Agreement from 2015. Basically, across the world, nations said, "We need to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial average temperatures." So, with that comes the whole suite of, sort of, cascading consequences of not achieving that goal. So, to prevent that, we're seeing a strong increase by Fortune 500 companies and all across business sectors, saying, "Okay, here's what it's gonna take for us to be in alignment with that goal, and we'll do it by 2050." So, look for companies who have publicly stated commitments to being in alignment with the goals around limiting climate change - that's a great place to start because you're starting on that same footing.
Actually, this is a question I put to Bruce, I think, back in our podcasts, which I think is super important for people. Being responsible, I think, is great - I mean, it sort of pays for itself. It's a goal to aspire to, regardless of anything else. I mean, it's the right thing to do, but you know how things work most of the time - there needs to be a commercial element in all this. I was trying to ask Bruce around, like, "How can I market my race if it is greener or if it is certified? How can we basically take all of that green goodness and make it work commercially for events a little bit more in their favor?"
That green goodness - I like the sound of that. I'm going to push back a little bit because I think it comes down to the purpose of the event - it's going to be a little bit different for everyone based on what they care about. I mean, race directors have a lot of power. If you're out there and you're a race director, I would like to say to you, "You have an experienced designer and you have a powerful platform within your hands and purview. So, with great power, as they say, comes great responsibility. So, if there's a purpose behind what you're doing, zoom in, clarify it, go with that, and let that be the whole reason that people are showing up to your event." There's an event in Monterrey, Mexico that is called the Carrera Del Viento and it translates to "Wind race." It takes place at a wind turbine farm outside of Monterey. The whole goal is to raise awareness of the power of renewable wind power, to increase engagement and awareness with that, and to make a fun atmosphere where people can learn about renewable energy and why that's important, so that the local farmers can start to also gain the economic benefits of leasing their lands to build more renewable energy capacity. So, that's part of a much bigger energy transition that's occurring all over the world. This event said, "That's part of our purposes. We're going to help elevate that conversation and bring it to the people in a way that they can actually physically engage with it and show up for it." I think a lot of people are looking for those types of meaningful experiences more and more because we had been isolated, first of all, for a couple of years now. People are very excited to get back out among their peers and into society in a safe and purposeful way. As humans alive at this time, we have some of the greatest challenges in front of us, and also some of the greatest opportunities with that. We have the technology and innovations to solve the problems that have plagued humanity forever, and if we set our minds to it - call me naive - I believe that if we all oriented ourselves around purpose rather than economics-- economics is a tool, it's a system to help us achieve our goals. So, what is the purpose behind it?
I completely agree. I was talking to someone about this, actually. It's interesting that you focus on purpose. I think, purpose can be very important, very potent commercially, not in the way of, like, "Let's take the purpose and just monetize it for the sake of it," but as you say, I think, keeping an eye on your purpose. Also, I was talking to Peter Abraham and other guests I had on branding, mission, storytelling, and all of that stuff - those are really important. That's sort of, like, where I was heading to, basically. How do I take my focus around these things - around sustainability and the effort that I put into it - and just, perhaps, maybe, not monetize but, basically, publicize it a little bit more, make more of what I'm doing, and communicate that better to my audience and the rest of the world?
Yes. How can we do well while doing good or through doing good? Yes, I think that's careful messaging - if you have a deeply-rooted purpose, the messaging comes naturally from that and it really just builds itself. If your whole purpose as an event is to help restore 10 acres of land, to run on this land, and to restore it as a community over the coming years, like, your marketing program just built itself. I mean, all of your messaging is, "You as a participant have a chance to be part of this, to be part of a solution, to be part of a community that is doing good for the world" and "We need your involvement" and "Yes, it's also good for you, for your own personal health and well-being."
Indeed. Yeah, that's exactly what I was thinking of. Speaking of all of that - it sounds like we've come a long way - you've been working since 2013, I think, in this particular field. What's your sense in terms of the progress that the industry has achieved in becoming more aware of these issues and in terms of actually reducing our carbon footprint and other initiatives that are quite important in this effort?
I would say the most progress that I've seen made is an awareness of event organizers of the opportunity and the responsibilities that they have. So, there's more desire to do 'the right things' than ever before. At the same time, we've not come far enough and not fast enough, by any stretch of the imagination. I think, in 2022, I don't really have to remind most of the audience that we are facing the prospect of severe consequences from rapid climate change, the associated biodiversity loss and refugee-ism, weather variability, expensive and deadly weather events. So, we have difficult prospects on the horizon. At the same time, events can be a microphone or an awareness-building platform. I encourage events to work with their local municipalities on messaging, sort of, public service announcement. If you can get your local municipality to go deeper with you about what's being done to build our communities resilience to this, what are we doing to mitigate the effects of climate change locally, and focus on building awareness of those things, because there are so many different solutions such as growing a little bit more of your own food to reduce food insecurity. I mean, kids love growing food so, somehow, get involved in that and then link that with your running programs. Get the youth and parents running out there too - those are the ones who will turn up for your events. I mean, it's sort of building out the community element all year round - what is your organization doing all year round? For event organizers who are volunteers, this is just a side thing for them - that'll be a little bit more of a challenge for those ones other than the full-time staff who goes year-round. So, it looks a little different for everyone.
It can get quite daunting when we actually set the bar of doing something meaningful for climate change, which is a pretty big issue. How do we communicate to people that the small and practical things that they can do can have a meaningful impact? So, if you were to tell a race director a couple of easy wins that they can do - that they can immediately, like, move the needle - in terms of how their event is doing on the environmental sustainability front, what would those be?
That's a great question. Thank you for asking it. Not every event can do it all. Like, we cannot take the weight of the world on our shoulders. We can play one small role - we all have a small part to play. So, I think that's also true for events, which can immediately - without very much effort - control the high impact of events by incorporating the cost of greenhouse gas emissions offset to compensate for the travel that's required to get to events. We need people to travel to and from events, and that's the biggest source and contribution of climate change impacts from any given event by far - even more than any of the wastes that you generate on the course. That's not to say that we shouldn't try to prevent waste, but it pales in comparison to the impact ecologically of the travel to and from the event. So, if organizers can incorporate that cost into the price of their ticket, that's the ideal. Then, just earmark those funds and start investing in a project that is pulling down those emissions elsewhere. So, even though people are traveling to and from the event and are emitting those gases, if you can invest in a project that's drawing them down into the plant matter or into the soil elsewhere, then we're compensating and finding balance. Climate change is a large math problem for the balance of the gases in the atmosphere, in the soil, in living plant matter, or in the oceans, which do a lot of carbon storage as well. So, with that, I think it's a financial element and an economic piece to just incorporate that as part of the business model - to have a tax or a fee. Others can make it optional, to begin with, and that's fine too, because that can help build awareness. Maybe, people will click the button that you put on as part of the registration flow that says, "Why would I contribute $2 extra to offset my carbon?" That can be an educational thing. That would be the practice, I think, with the least amount of effort and the most amount of impact that everyone can adopt right away to really start making a difference.
So basically, what you're saying is, you would put a little bit of a - I mean, I know it's a taboo word - tax on everyone's ticket, make it optional, and say, "Guys, this is what it would take to clean up your travel, basically, to take all of the emissions that come with you coming to the event, and doing some kind of offset project somewhere in the world that, sort of, compensates for that."
Yeah. Because, really, we've externalized the cost on the environment of doing business as usual for so long, we've not incorporated that cost into our-- I mean, this is a great example, we've not incorporated the cost into the ticket of entry to the event, and that goes all across the whole past century. So, it's really the difference between the cost of doing business irresponsibly for the living planet that we rely and depend upon, or the cost of doing business responsibly to ensure that we still have a living planet to depend on.
Yeah, I agree. That actually sounds like pretty low-hanging fruit in the sense that anyone can just calculate - there are a few calculators out there - what that cost might be and offer it as an optional extra under registration. But then, let's say, after I collected that money, how do I actually then go and spend it on an offsetting project - that gets a little bit more complicated, doesn't it?
It does, because there is a third-party market that offers many different types of offsets. I would recommend people to look for a nonprofit organization called Project Drawdown. Project Drawdown did the math about the most effective solutions to global warming and they said, "Okay, if we move all of the cow pastoring from feedlots where they're eating GMO corn to grass-fed pasture where the cow patties are fertilizing the pastures and storing the carbon in the soil - that has X amount of impact on climate change and will relieve the problem by this much." So, they don't recommend specific offsets, but if you browse the top 100 solutions to global warming, I think you'll get some great ideas of where you might spend those funds. And there is a third-party market of folks selling offsets - they have done that math for you, they've identified the projects to invest in, and they can help you facilitate that transaction and give you certificates to say, "If your money hadn't been invested, this much would have been omitted, but thanks to you, it wasn't." Then, there's the option of investing in something that is more community-driven. So, look into the local groups that are active in that space and see if there's anything local that is worthy and, sort of, viable of supporting that - maybe, some volunteers planting native shrubbery at the preserve at the local ecological preserve - there are many ways that it can look. Even keeping cars tires pumped to, like, the recommended inflation level has an impact because, then, you're being more fuel-efficient and you need less. So, anything that reduces demand for driving or fuel are solutions - there are so many. I hesitate to point to just one solution because there are so many of them.
But is there, like, an actual vetted, kind of, organization-- like, for charities, there are organizations who, sort of, like, compile statistics, follow all the different nonprofits, being transparent, and all of that. Generally, the industry trusts them. Is there a place where I can go with the money that I've collected from all the different contributions from people and be fairly confident that if I put my money without organization, it's going to find its way through to actual legitimate carbon-reducing projects?
Yes, there are verified carbon offsets projects. So, my recommendation is to look for groups that are vending verified carbon offsets. So, similar to the standards and criteria that we have for certifying events, there are standards and criteria for verifying that your offsets have an impact. So, if a group is selling offsets that are verified, that's ideal,
Super. So, the other big thing that I think people may have in mind beyond travel and greenhouse gases - which was surprising, as you say, maybe to me and some other folks before I got to know a little bit about this - is plastic bottles. Plastic bottles are the thing that comes to mind when I think of waste - all those endless carpets of discarded water bottles in road races. I guess when it comes to waste, that's a pretty big factor there. What are some good easy wins on that? Basically, what can people do? And also, what's your opinion of the progress that the whole capitalist movement has made in the industry? I know lots of trail running races - which I consider to be quite pioneering in our industry - have gotten there, but what's the hope and the prospects for the remainder of the industry - like, your 5K or 10K local road race - to reduce their water bottle waste in a practical way?
Yeah, we've seen lots of success with even very large events like the Chicago Marathon going towards compostable small-served cups - your five-ounce cup that is compostable - and actually making the effort to sweep, gather, and compost those. So, identify local farms and, maybe, a commercial compost facility - it's different everywhere. So, in Europe, large compost operations are more common than in the United States currently, but some places have access to them. Then, some farms have large compost operations that operate independently. So, give them a call and see if they can take that material. And it goes really well with banana peels because the science of compost is such that there are carbon and nitrogen-based materials. Any kind of papery stuff in the cups has more carbon or browns, as they said. And the nitrogen-based stuff is more of, like, the wet or green food waste, like banana peels, apple cores, coffee grinds, and all of that. You need both to make a healthy compost pile so that it can decompose and turn back into the soil that is, essentially, fertilizer for the next round of crops. A little bit one way, I would say, but a very simple way is just to let people carry their water backpacks. As a runner myself, I really appreciate it when a race just lets me bring my CamelBak because that's how I trained, so I'm used to it and I'm familiar with it. I've got my hydration ready to go. I recognize that there's a security concern for some of the larger events - I'm not the expert to speak on that. However, I think having those hydration packs is generally a good way to just encourage people to bring your own, if you can. And, then, cupless racing, we've seen the speed cups - sort of, the squishy cup that can be tucked into the side of your pants or your shirt and just carried with you to the aid stations - it works. It's difficult because there's always going to be people who drop their cup or lose their cup or don't get the memo about the cup, so there still need to be some small amount of backup - again, maybe compostable or just the paper cup. I think there's still some innovation to get people hydrated without the waste. We saw the example in London with the seaweed satchels - digestible plant-based cellulose packets. I think it was generally well-received, but it hasn't reached the market at an affordable price yet, so we need to see the price come down for something like that. And then, who knows what the next innovator will come up with?
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So, let's move to ReScore, which is a really important big thing that you guys have rolled out. I think it's very important for the industry because it makes all of the stuff that we had been talking about a little bit more accessible to everyone. So tell us a little bit about that.
Thanks. Yeah. So, all of this can seem pretty daunting. 61 best practices - that's a lot for, oftentimes, small race committees and organizers to think about. So, ReScore is a tool that's designed to keep it all organized, to keep it all in the cloud on-demand 24/7, and to help you really measure and organize your program and your approach. So, organizers can create a user account, they can create projects for individual events or for their entire organization - it will show you the best practices accordingly - and you can add people from your staff, volunteers, teams, or whomever you want to add to the project so that they can all be collaborators. Then, you can claim points for the best practices that you're already implementing. And, you can identify your aims for future improvement while accessing the case studies, the examples, the links, the tools, and the templates that are all built into this library of responsible practices. That's ReScore in a nutshell. It's intended to help you measure and manage your program.
That's awesome. So, basically, you're saying that same list of 61 standards or whatever that we spoke about earlier, you can use that as a ledger to keep your progress of how you're moving along, you can make notes around what you want to be doing in the future, and you have all the resources that come with, "Okay, how do I do this? How do I do that? Like, where do I turn to?" Basically, it's an all-in-one working tool that I can do all my sustainability planning and execution on.
Yes. Which we also hope will make the reporting piece easier because, as you build your marketing programs around your purpose, folks want to know what have you accomplished today and what's next. So, having ReScore to organize all of that in one feature that will roll out later this year - the ability to put in your specific final numbers or performance data and generate a PDF report that you can share with your audience or put into your brand - however you see fit - to make that sharing piece much more straightforward and to feel confident that it's according to these industry-vetted standards, rather than just pulled from a hat. So, it gives it some structure and some organization. So, when you get to the part about resource management, "Here we come along to greenhouse gases. Okay, I'm a little tentative, because I've never done that before." You go in there and say, "Okay, now we're at item 3.14, which is measure your carbon footprint. Here's where you click download on the event tracker, and it will tell you, 'Please put in this data here or an estimate of this here and we're going to help you run the number. That's your total carbon footprint.'" There's even a video tutorial for how to use the tracker which you can quickly watch and see, "Okay, here's what I'm looking at. Here's what it's gonna take to get it done." You can delegate it to a staff person or you can easily take it on without having any experience whatsoever with greenhouse gas emissions or climate change impacts before.
So, it also has, like, a native greenhouse gas calculator on it. So, it can tell me how many tons of greenhouse gas equivalents I'm producing.
Yeah, you'll download it as an Excel spreadsheet. It'll walk you through some questions, you put in your estimates or your data, and it'll tell you, "Here are your emissions."
Awesome. Did you say earlier that you're hoping to also get to a stage where it also produces some, kind of, like, equivalent of an economic impact study kind of thing, where it would just spit out a report that says 'This is everything your event did' in a, kind of, friendly way that I can then share with my audience, my runners, my participants, my local authority, and that kind of thing?
Yeah, it will be organized according to those five categories. So, it'll say, "We did these items in planning and procurement. We looked at this. Here are the standards that we met in resource management and through the five categories." Yes, we'll soon be able to create a PDF that you can share with whomever you see fit.
Excellent. And who can sign up for that at the moment?
It's open to everyone. There's an access request form so that we can continue communicating with people who do have an interest in sharing new resources as they become available, because what we spend our time doing all day, every day, is trying to make things easier for event organizers. There's an access request form, then you'll get an access code, go in to create your user account, and start using it today cost-free in self-assessment mode. So, I'll just quickly state the difference between self-assessment mode and certification mode - it's the same tool and the same standards of practice in the same organization. The only difference is that when an event is seeking certification, we bring in that independent verifier to check the documents and to, maybe, sometimes, ask follow-up questions directly to the organizers or their providers to verify their actions - that's the only difference in terms of the actual functioning of the ReScore tool.
Right. So basically, you're saying that you can either use it just to track your progress or even as a test for future certification, or you can actually use it as a way to communicate with you guys at the council and submit all of your data so that you can actually get certified through it as well?
That is correct. You can begin a project in self-assessment mode and, maybe, you see, "Oh my gosh, we're doing 30 of these items. We have enough to be certified and, now, we want to go ahead and do it. Let's get the full benefit of being able to market ourselves as certified, sharing that story, and having the council's help in sharing the story and recognizing us independently," That's the idea. So, groups can then switch into certification mode at any time through the project that they feel confident and ready to do so.
And how much does it cost to use this tool?
Using the tool in self-assessment mode is totally cost-free at all times. When groups want to move into certification mode, that's when they pay the certification fee, which I mentioned earlier. All of these details and processes are available on our website to read more about.
Okay, the tool was launched, if I remember correctly, earlier this year - wasn't it?
Yeah, just a couple of months ago - in fact, it was publicly launched in mid-February. We had some early users testing it last fall, and now it's available to everyone.
Super. How has it been received so far by organizers? Are they quite keen to give it a try?
I think most of the feedback we've received is positive. They're saying, "It's user friendly and clearly organized. It's helping us get access to things that we hadn't been able to address because of the lack of capacity, knowledge, or just items that we didn't have staff expertise on." So, I think it's doing its job so far and we hope to see it becoming more and more adopted as time goes by.
I think, actually, the certification process is helpful. Having the standards and the checklist is helpful. I think the most helpful thing for most people who are not particularly savvy around these things is. "How do I actually get to check that box?" Right? It's not so much tracking which boxes I tick, it's more of, like, "Okay. Yeah, fine. I want to mitigate my carbon emissions. How do I actually do that?" That is great because, then, through the app-- we should mention that it's a web app, people shouldn't think that it's, like, a native thing on your phone. It's a web application, but you can actually get through all of those resources integrated through the tool.
That's right. So at sportrescore.com, you create your user account and log in. From there, you can access all of that guidance about how to actually do these things, the resources we've developed, the examples that have come from those 180 events that had been there, had been trying it, and had been innovating as they go. There's a great feature in the tool as well called case studies where groups can put their own examples in because we've met so many who maybe had been really focused on one certain element of their programming and they've just made it excellent. So, we want them to share their stories too and make them available to event organizers everywhere in the network. So, there is a tool where people can share their own good practices as well.
Those same resources that, sort of, come through ReScore are categorized according to the different standards and the five pillars. Can I, also, as a race director, access them somewhere on your website? Do you have, like, a general resource section or a library where I can go and look up, "How do I reduce waste? Or how do I mitigate some of my greenhouse gas emissions?"
That's all happening within ReScore at this point. So, we're really building ReScore up at the library. There are some limited resources available on our website at councilforresponsiblesport.org, but there's a resource page there as well for you folks to download the best practice guidance as a PDF. But I'm really encouraging folks to go ahead and give ReScore a try - we're building up the library of resources there.
Excellent. Yeah, I think it makes more sense, generally, of course, to have those resources built-in there. We need to, actually, say that ReScore was developed by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) which also has a very big footprint in our industry. Do you wanna give a quick shout-out to those guys for all the help they've provided?
Of course, I do. Yes, it wouldn't have been possible at all without the generous support of TCS and their brilliant designers and engineers. So, they really took the idea of ReScore and turned it into a reality. They're so astute and so capable of taking any of your information and turning it into an applicable and usable user-friendly system. So, huge shout out to TCS. This free resource would not have been possible without them.
Awesome. And thanks from everyone and, I guess, all race directors who are going to be using this for free - big thanks to those guys. It's a really big step, it's a big investment, so I appreciate it. It probably wouldn't have been possible without someone like TCS coming in and having both the expertise and the resources to deliver this. So, I wanted to wrap up with, like, a quick discussion on how you see the future of sustainability, trends in the industry, and how the whole thing is going - particularly, in terms of specific practices. Do you see some things right now being adopted by events that are, maybe, a little bit ahead of the curve right now, but you expect to become more of, like, the norm across all events in terms of sustainability practices?
Yeah, thanks for that question. I'm going to emphasize again that the race organizers can't take the weight of the world on their shoulders. There are lots of opportunities with events. I think the encouragement is to zoom in on what is most important for the leadership committee or the community that is participating in that event, because it is going to look different everywhere. Climate change is a systems change problem at its core - I mean, from the food we eat to the clothes we wear, to how we move around, and to how we move those goods around our global economy. These are huge issues and, yet, we can still play a small role by doing things like thinking about where we are procuring goods and services. Are we supporting local businesses, women, and minority-owned businesses, for example? Are we trying to shorten the supply chain a bit? Are we trying to use more ecologically-responsible materials in whatever we're procuring? Are we trying to reduce and eliminate waste upfront and not just print things out for the sake of it? I mean, can we look at the material and physical goods and just be resourceful - not excessive but appropriate? That would be my encouragement. Can we take accountability for our contributions to climate change? Yes, we can use the tools available now to measure our specific impact and then invest in the nature-based solutions, ideally, locally, right near us to support the land and the biodiversity at home and start to incorporate that sense of responsibility and partnership with our living planet as part of how we do business in an ongoing way.
Do we have, as an industry, any kind of benchmark in terms of reliable metrics that we can measure progress against - in terms of how many carbon emissions we produce or, like, how much waste or any of that?
We're getting there. I'm so excited. ReScore is going to help us get there. Data will not be attached to any individual organization, but we at the Council will be pulling group data, putting it into those buckets, and starting to identify, "Okay, how many emissions per capita did that race has or did this group of 10 races have?" And we're actually publishing our first paper academically in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism this year, identifying some of our initial findings around per capita emissions from travel to and from races, as well as waste generation per capita or per participant, for example. So, down the line, we'll be coming with, sort of, benchmarks. Then, if you're really striving, here's what you might aim for. So, look out for that down the line.
Okay, great. So there's another positive aspect to ReScore. You're saying that with all the data that's going to be coming through, you're going to use them to finally get a little bit more reliable numbers on what we're actually producing and how that's changing, which is super helpful.
Yes, very excited about that.
Awesome. What other, if any, future plans do you guys have at the council? I mean, I know ReScore is a big focus right now, and it's probably going to be taking a lot of your energy. But are there any big grand projects or initiatives on the way?
Our vision has not changed over all these years - responsible sporting events as the norm. I think we still have ways to go until everyone's really looking at their greenhouse gas emissions, their waste, their procurement and supply chains, their inclusion, and their outreach to the community. I think we have ways to go, so we're gonna keep working towards making responsibly produced events easier and more accessible for organizers to achieve.
Why don't you share with our listeners about where they can actually find out more about the council, about you - if you're open to sharing your email for direct communications - and about ReScore? So, how can they actually get through across all those three?
Yes, great. The quickest way will just be to type into your browser - sportrescore.com. Sportrescore.com will take you to the council's webpage and it will give you some more information about ReScore, first of all, and then it'll invite you to fill an access request form. That access request form will give you a special code to bypass a paywall on ReScore. So originally, ReScore was going to generate some revenue for the council but, as discussed earlier, we decided that it really needed to be a freely accessible tool. So with that, you'll get a special access code to go past the paywall and get into the system right away - so, it's sportrescore.org. My email address-- I'm very happy for anyone to email me their thoughts, feedback, input, questions, etc. I love having short introductory calls with people who just want to learn more. So, my email is just firstname.lastname@example.org.
Okay, great. Yeah, we struggled with the same thing with Race Directors HQ - you guys have even longer - but that makes sense. I think people are not going to miss that. Shelley, I want to thank you very, very much for your time. It's been really helpful getting to know more about your work, all of your guys' work at the Council for Responsible Sport, and the awesome ReScore app you guys have out. I really don't see any reason why every single race organizer out there won't use it as a toy, as a tool to, like, just try it out. I've seen, like, the user experience on it and stuff - it's like, super straightforward for people to adopt. Just be curious about it, pick up the app, get on it, and see how much progress you want to make because I know lots of people are thinking a lot harder about being more environmentally sustainable and environmentally responsible. So, if you actually, practically, want to do something with that, just pick up the app. It's really straightforward for everyone to just measure the progress - even people outside the US - as long as they can follow English instructions and stuff like that. So, definitely do that. Thank you very much again, Shelley, for your time and your thoughts.
Panos, thank you so much.
And thanks to everyone listening in, and we'll see you all on our next episode.
I hope you enjoyed this episode on the Council for Responsible Sport with my guest, Council for Responsible Sport Executive Director, Shelley Villalobos.
You can find more resources on anything and everything related to race directing on our website RaceDirectorsHQ.com. You can also share your questions about sustainable event planning practices or anything else in our Facebook group, Race Directors Hub.
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Until our next episode, take care and keep putting on amazing races.