Ten tips on how you can have a positive impact on climate change as an outdoor sports athlete

Ten tips on how you can have a positive impact on climate change as an outdoor sports athlete

Founder of Skirr Moira Newiss brings us 10 top tips on how to have a positive impact on our environment and to counter climate change. 


So I thought I would start with this one which should be easy for most of you, just do more sport, outside and in nature! When you are running, swimming and cycling outside experiencing nature and the elements it is not only good for you physically and mentally, but it gives you more appreciation of the environment and how as humans we are but one element in the complex chain of life on earth. Noticing small things as you pass by, an old oak tree, a buzzy bee, wildflowers blooming, ants crossing the path, butterflies fluttering and birds overhead. As athletes participating in outdoors sports we are in effect dancing with nature whenever we are climbing hills, swimming in the sea or passing through forests. Whether we consciously realise it or not we are likely using nature as a positive mental force as well as it bringing personal meaning to our lives. As a result it is likely that we will make decisions that support biodiversity and environmental protection at a subconscious level and that can only be good for the planet!


So this tip is all about making healthy choices for yourself and the planet and while there has been a lot of publicity about this relating both to covid-19 and global warming it is not as straight forward as it might seem. Eating well is about making sure that as athletes we get the right balance of the macronutrients of protein, fat and carbohydrate but also the right micronutrients. You might not know but micronutrients are very important for our bodies to function optimally and this includes vitamins such as A, Bs, C, E, D and K as well as minerals such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, selenium and iron. Macronutrients are our main source of fuel for the body and give us the basic building blocks for the tissues in our body such as our muscles. Micronutrients act as co-factors and are needed for hundreds of chemical reactions that our bodies are constantly balancing, such as producing ATP our main energy source or for our liver to detoxify and eliminate waste products.

Making sure we get the right nutrients is important for our health and how and where we get them from as food is also important. The Slow Food Movement is about connecting the pleasure of food to local communities and the environment that it was produced in, aiming to raise awareness of sustainability issues in the food we eat. Putting the planet first has promoted the rise of vegan and vegetarian lifestyles being highlighted in 2019 by the UN asking people to take a pledge to eat less meat and dairy. Across the UK most of our meat and dairy comes from unsustainable intensive farming methods and which are contributing to carbon release and global warming. But it is more complicated than this as you could eat plenty of fruit and vegetables that have been shipped by air from halfway around the world and are therefore have a high carbon footprint. So choosing to eat seasonally and buy locally massively reduce the carbon footprint of your food. If you do choose to eat meat you can buy grass-raised beef, lamb, pork, ideally from a farm managed on regenerative methods where the soil is being rebuilt and is actually drawing down and capturing carbon as well as producing nutrient rich meat.


As an athlete you are likely to want to compete at events, they are not only sociable, enjoyable but help us to increase our fitness by having a goal we want to achieve. Whether it is completing your first 5k or competing at the Commonwealth Games most athletes have a goal in mind which helps to motivate us, help get us out when the weather is terrible and when the winter draws in and we are tempted just to sit by the fire! Athletes at all levels are beginning to make decisions on which events to attend or not attend based on their personal values which include environmental considerations. It might be about the values of the event itself, is it run on sustainable lines for example does it provide event T-shirts whether or not they are wanted, has it got rid of single-use plastic, is litter reduced and recycled or are prizes sustainably minded? Athletes are also making decisions on what events to attend based on how easy it is to get there, whether they can get there without flying and how many hours/days they will need to travel for. It is great to see more events taking steps to build sustainability into their plans and we hope to see much more of this in future. It is important to remember it is only because you, the athletes who are making demands that this is happening, so keep asking your event organisers and race directors what they are doing to be sustainable and change will keep coming!


When I was doing a bit of research for this blog, I discovered some amazing examples of athletes slowing down their travel and mindset to take account of the need to use more carbon friendly transport to replace flying. This included ultrarunners taking the train to events in Europe, mountaineers taking several trains to climb a 5,000m peak in Asia and cyclists using the ferry and their own cycling power to get to events in the UK and Europe! Slowing down the travel experience enables you to appreciate the whole event differently, you get to meet different people, pass through new places and try new food. In the future we may well need to take more time off work, maybe employers will be more flexible or we can work remotely from the train, either way we are probably going to need to take longer to get from A to B if we want to go a long distance.


This is perhaps one of the most difficult areas for us since we are conditioned to want new things, after all that is why advertising work so well! If you couldn’t manipulate our brains to think we really need that new bike, that new piece of gear or that new pair of shoes, then there certainly wouldn’t be as much choice out there! It is quite easy to fall into the trap of seeing a friends new piece of kit and thinking that you need it too or simply just being tempted by a more brightly coloured pair of shoes or perhaps you tell yourself that a certain piece of gear might help you go faster. Most of us can probably think of something that we bought that we didn’t really need rather we just wanted it, but perhaps thinking about sustainability is making us question that a little more than we used to. At Patagonia they have one of the best reputations for sustainability and actually try not to encourage people to keep replacing their kit by extending its life with repair schemes and good design so it really lasts a lifetime. They boldly state that they are in business to save our planet and play a very active role in environmental activism and invest a lot to support environmental causes.


I think this should be the motto that we all call to mind when we try to decide if we need new kit and what to do with our old kit. Luckily it is getting easier and easier to do all of this with use of technology using Facebook and eBay to sell unwanted items. Even better there are now more brands helping you repair broken or worn out gear such as Alpkit’s repair stations at which they will not only repair their own branded goods, but they will repair ANY brand! It can’t get much better than that for a sustainable approach to reusing and repairing your gear. If you aren’t sure what to do with your old sporty clothing, you could consider Rerun who are a community interest company with the aim of extending the life of running clothing to save it from landfill. Interestingly 70% of their donations are race T-shirts which just goes to show they are mostly unwanted. You can go on their website and find your local drop off point or even arrange for it to be collected by courier and of course you should buy your next running top from them!


That all leads me on to choosing your brands carefully when you do need to buy something new. It is becoming more difficult to find out how good a brand really is at sustainability with many of them jumping on the band wagon to promote their eco-credentials and while any move towards sustainability is good, some are doing much more than others. There are a few ways to find out which brands are the best when it comes to protecting the planet, one way is to do your research carefully and have a good look at their website to see what real action is being taken, for example do they use environmentally friendly power sources and water saving systems, are their materials organic or recycled, what packaging do they use and will they repair or support reuse of products? 


Leading athletes are making big personal pledges to change their lifestyle to protect the planet and commit to helping reduce climate change. These athletes are in turn pushing national and international organisations in sport to protect the planet and that has prompted the establishment of new organisations championing sustainability in sport. These include the British Association for Sustainability in Sport, which wants to harness the power of sport to build a sustainable future and Sport and Sustainability International, which aims to use sport to help create a more sustainable world. Athletes making an outstanding commitment include ultrarunner Damian Hall who is an Extinction Rebellion Activist, organises litters picks in areas he is running in and who has committed to reduce his air travel. Hill runner Finlay Wild has committed to FlightFree2020 only going to races he can get to without flying and says there would still be a still a lifetime of events he can participate in. The Planet Earth Games, running throughout August,  is a new sport initiative aiming to help people get active and learn how to help protect the planet. They have several sporting ambassadors including rower, Melissa Wilson, canoeist Etienne Stott and runner Sophie Rooney. Each making their own personal commitment to help reduce our carbon footprint and encourage us to make our own pledges.


As well as companies putting aside some of their profits to plough back into environmentally causes, we too can do the same and choose to direct some of our own cash toward causes aimed at protecting our planet. I thought I would mention a couple of my personal favourites, the Soil Association, who are the UK's leading food and farming charity and organic certification body, and work to save our soils and make good food the easy choice for us all; Plantlife who work nationally and internationally to save threatened wild flowers, plants and fungi; Rewilding Britain who have launched a new project to rapidly and massively upscale rewilding to help tackle the nature and climate emergency as well as boost a green recover from Covid-19; Sustrans the charity making it easier for people to walk and cycle and the Marine Conservation Society who want to ensure our seas are healthy, pollution free and protected. Of course you can choose which ever charity you want, it might be one doing good work locally or tacking a specific environmental challenge such as eco-friendly power or transport. Many of these charities are making a significant difference to our lives and with a major impact biodiversity, preventing overgrazing and encouraging the return of native wildlife to our countryside, they are teaching us more about nature and how we impact it and how we can make the right choices for the environment.


I really believe in getting out in nature as much as possible with the amazing benefits we get from physical activity, the sunshine and feeling at one with nature. Whether you are out for a short run, an overnight bivy, bike packing or just having a picnic lets try to make sure that we leave nothing behind and take home all of our rubbish to keep our environment safe and healthy for us as well as wildlife. But make sure you remember to take a photo so that you can look back and smile or share it with us to make us smile too!

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