The Crossroads of Sports and Sustainability

June 29, 2012

Keith Peters discusses the crossroads of sports and sustainabilityWhen Michael Jordan first retired from basketball in 1993, Keith Peters was the PR director for NIKE. In the midst of the media frenzy, Peters simply and swiftly stated, “Michael Jordan has not retired from NIKE.” Currently the executive director at the Council for Responsible Sport (CRS), Peters uses his vast amount of knowledge and grace as a communicator to try and bring together his two passions: sports and sustainability.

Peters has been involved with managing events since the early 1980s when he was the race director for the Cascade Run Off, a Nike-sponsored road race in Portland, Ore. After heading that race, Nike took him on to manage all of its running events in the mid 80s. Lee Barrett worked with Peters at the Run Off in the 80s and in 2008 they founded Eco Logistics, a company formed to help event managers become more eco-friendly. Barrett, who previously worked for the city of Portland handling its solid waste management initiatives, notes that Peters is truly dedicated to environmentalism, it’s not just a job. Even back in the early days of the Run Off, they were trying to recycle all they could and make the event as green as possible.

Peters retired from a long career at Nike in 2001, but still consults for them on events such as the Nike+ Human Race, which started in 2008 with more than 780,000 participants in dozens of synchronized races in cities around the globe.

That same year, things began to accelerate for Peters. Aside from forming Eco Logistics with Barrett, Peters was also approached by Road Running Management to hold a one-day workshop for race directors on the benefits and pathways of going green.

“Everything we do is pretty wasteful,” laments Peters. However, he also stresses that there are many simple, straightforward ways to make a difference. There are many small things, such as recycling racing bibs and the pins that secure them to people’s clothes, or having water stations that are compostable. The goal is to provide ideas and examples that “opens people’s eyes to a broader range,” as Peters says. Peters went on to write a booklet for RRM– “The Guide to Greener Running Events 2nd Edition” – that expanded on the ideas covered in the workshop.

In 2008, the CRS was founded, and in 2011 Peters was nominated as the executive director. Catherine Humblet, the managing director for the CRS, met Peters at the 2011 Cherry Blossom 10-miler, a large race in Washington D.C. Humblet told me via e-mail that Peters is a wonder to work with and has made an immediate impact on the visibility and success of the organization.

The goal of the CRS is to certify events based on a number of environmental criteria ranging from waste management and energy consumption to community impact and involvement. It grades on a four-level scale from basic to evergreen. Peters said there has been improvement in the quality and quantity of certified events since 2008.

One notable success story is the LIVESTRONG Austin Marathon, an event applying for its third level of certification. The race goes to great lengths to stay ‘green,’ exemplified by its trash runs throughout the spring and summer where people gather to simultaneously run and clean two- to four-mille increments of the race course then meet for food and drinks afterwards. The CRS has worked with small road races and triathlons to bigger events such as the British Paralympic training camp and the 2012 U.S Marathon Olympic Trials held in Houston this past January.

Peters’ goal is that participants will place a value on certification. He wants to provide people with the choice to partake in greener, more sustainable events and hopes that people will make that choice.

The Houston Marathon, which is also a certified event, asked its participants if running in a certified green event was important to them and 51 percent responded yes. When combined with the 82 percent of participants who answered yes to the same question at this year’s Cherry Blossom 10-miler, you see the impetus for change.

“We want to provide a meaningful service,” said Peters. So far he has done just that by continuing to improve the environmental landscape of sports.

-Bill Whelan

Photo Credit: Roberts Photography