Press Release

Making the London Marathon more sustainable: London Marathon Events committed to reducing environmental impact

30 Sep 2021 09:05
Jean-Loup Fenaux
Credit : Milan G

At London Marathon Events (LME) we’re committed to inspire and deliver innovation in mass participation event sustainability and to reduce the environmental impact of the Virgin Money London Marathon and all other events we organise. Virgin Money London Marathon Event Director Hugh Brasher has outlined some of the steps we’re taking at this year’s event. He said: "There’s a huge amount of work we’ve been doing with our Head of Sustainability, Megan Hunt. We’ve set some far-reaching targets for 2025 but it’s going to be very interesting to see what happens this year.

“In 2019 we trialled the use of bottle belts with our participants, and there was a 45 per cent reduction in plastic bottle usage. We’ve also instigated a closed-loop recycling system, where the Lucozade Sport and BUXTON Natural Mineral Water bottles are all made from recycled plastic, so we collect the bottles afterwards, recycle them and give the plastic back to BUXTON and Lucozade Sport so they can reuse it.”

Another benefit of encouraging participants to wear bottle belts is that doing so will help reduce touchpoints at this year’s event – and, hopefully, they’ll also find wearing them enhances their experience of the event, as Hugh explains.

“This is an education process for our participants, as we’re hoping that by using bottle belts they’ll realise they don’t necessarily need to drink as often as they think they do. We really hope that when people see the benefits, bottle belts will be adopted and used more and more in mass participation events around the world.”

Other measures we’re taking at this year’s event to help reduce its environmental footprint include:

- Using kitbags made from sugar cane rather than plastic, with lower emissions associated with production- Printing participants’ bib numbers on demand at the Virgin Money London Marathon Running Show (to reduce waste from uncollected numbers)- Installing clothing donation points at the Start where participants can leave unwanted items of clothing, which will be donated to charity or recycled where possible. In 2019, we recycled around 1.6 tonnes at the Start and 2.8 tonnes went for re-use- Asking participants to ‘drink, drain, drop (in the bin)‘. Participants are asked to drain the bottle before dropping it into bags at designated drop zones after each Drinks Station. This will ensure the bottles can be recycled in a closed-loop system as described above- Supplying Lucozade Sport in compostable cups- Using generators fuelled by HVO (that’s Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil) over red diesel, as it has fewer emissions associated over its lifecycle- Introducing electric vehicles for elite athlete transfers, as well as using electric lead vehicles- Collecting waste from events to make mile markers for future events- Offsetting emissions from generators and event vehicles while greener alternatives are sought- Providing UK-based virtual event participants with plantable Finish Lines made from seed paper. Non-UK participants have received FSC-certified non-seeded Finish Lines

Balancing carbon emissions

Alongside taking action to reduce environmental impact and decarbonise emissions, we also want to balance residual emissions – which we’ve begun doing by investing in a combination of UK-based and international initiatives.

Last year, we planted 1,086 trees in partnership with Trees for Cities at a disused site in east London which will, over time, offset 381 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions created by our use of generators and vehicles, along with staff and elite athlete travel to our 2020 and 2021 events.

The tree planting is part of Trees for Cities’ long-term plan to create a new urban woodland, bringing it back into community use. It is in an area that suffers from high pollution and the trees will help absorb both air and noise pollution and provide a home for wildlife.

In 2021, we will be supporting two certified projects based in Kenya in partnership with the organisation ClimateCare to offset emissions. These projects include:

- Community-led reforestation: the project provides income to small groups (six to 12 people) of subsistence farmers who monitor the growth of their trees through a smartphone network, creating a real-time database of trees by age and species. Since starting in 2004, the project has grown to include 65,000 members, who have planted more than 8.3 million trees in Kenya- Forest protection: protecting more than 200,000 hectares of highly threatened forest and preserving important wildlife migration routes

Leaving the Right Impression

This year, we published our second annual environmental report Leaving theRight Impression, which set out our progress during 2020 which, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, was a challenging year.

Despite the challenges, 2020 still saw us take some significant steps forward, with achievements including:

- Joining the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework- Reducing total waste by almost 20 per cent from 2019 in the one like-for-like event, The Vitality Big Half- Switching to 100 per cent renewable energy at our offices and warehouse- Promoting pro-environmental behaviour by joining with other mass participation sports organisations to share knowledge, experience and set cross-industry standard- Introducing a carbon levy for international ballot participants in the 2021 Virgin Money London Marathon- Donating more than 8,000 items of clothing to charitable causes- Introducing electric vehicles at the Virgin Money London Marathon elite event

Take a look at the report via the link above to find out more about our plans for the rest of 2021 and beyond. We have also set ourselves ambitious targets and are grateful for the continued support of and feedback from participants in helping us to achieve these.