Managing a Marathon’s Footprint in Boston

Boston Marathon 2009

Boston Marathon 2009 at the halfway point coming up to the intersection of Route 16 and 128, by Paul Keleher

I’m going to go out on a limb and say it: Today is the best day of the year to be in Boston. Patriots’ Day, aka Marathon Monday, is an official state holiday, a day when citizens crowd along the streets to watch some of the most elite runners in the world sprint by (and some of the no-so-elite as well – I ran the race myself back in 2001). This year was the 113th running of the race, and it was won by Ethiopia’s Deriba Merga, and Kenya’s Salina Kosegi. But it’s by no means over for the thousands of people still running as I type.

One thing that may keep them going this year is the knowledge that among the many, many footprints that will cross the finish line – many of them will be accounted for, carbon-wise, by the race organizers, who have purchased offsets for the many buses used to transport runners to the starting line. They’ve also swapped out the motorcycles used to follow the elite runners with new electric scooters, and have installed a “green team” to ensure that all discarded cups, bottles, and blankets make their way into the barrels posted along the route. It’s the first step, so-to-speak, that the race has taken to become more sustainable.

But according to some, Boston still has a long way to go until it can truly be considered a sustainable event. Only two percent of the runners who participate are from the surrounding area, meaning there is a huge carbon footprint for all those traveling to get to the race.

“Given that it’s a point-to-point race and the numbers of people involved who come from far away, I think it’s fair to say Boston has one of the largest carbon footprints in the country,” Jeff Henderson, executive director of the Council for Responsible Sport, an Oregon-based group that tracks the most-green races and provides sustainability certification for sporting events, said in an interview with the Boston Globe.

Some races have made bigger efforts to become sustainable. The Portland marathon provides runners with medals made from recycled bicycle parts, and Austin uses solar power to run its stage. The Hartford marathon aims to be the most sustainable race in the country, offering locally-sourced food to its runners, offsetting all of their carbon emissions for travel, and providing 40-foot long trough-style water fountains instead of water bottles at the race’s end.

Wonder how your next race shapes up? Check out the CRS list of participating races and the list of races provided by Athletes for a Fit Planet.

[Boston Globe, Bright Green Blog]

Photo: Paul Keleher


  1. KellyStevens1
    December 2, 2009, 8:14 pm

    I have run several half marathons. I hope to one day train for a full and make it to the Boston Marathon. It’s all about finding time, but it would be fun to take part in an event that is so popular.

  2. Travel Accessories
    September 17, 2009, 3:51 am

    Wow I never knew that the Hartford marathon was so eco friendly. How do they provide water to the racers as they’re racing? I’d love to go to Boston some day and see this. I’d love to go there for this as well as Saint Patrick’s Day. I hear that is pretty fun as well. Great post! – Peter.

  3. Janelle Nanos
    April 22, 2009, 10:53 am

    You make a good point Mark – the flight paths are not being rerouted just to handle the Marathon traffic. I think the focus on the consumption side of things is probably where a lot of the efforts to be greener can be made. I for one hate tossing aside the paper cups after grabbing water during a race. And canvas totes instead of the plastic bags for storing your clothes is a nice option too. I do like the concept of tying a health-conscience driven event to eco-awareness too. The two seem to go hand-in-hand.

  4. Mark
    April 22, 2009, 9:55 am

    Is the carbon footprint really that much bigger? All of those flights that everyone comes in on are part of a normal flight schedule. It’s not like extra flights are added just for the Boston Marathon.
    Many of those coming in use public transportation all weekend, which isn’t a viable option in the areas they live in. In that sense, the footprint may actually be smaller than it otherwise would.