Planting Trees

Relish Running
Apr 4 · 7 min read

When Relish Running started I had a few ideas of how I wanted the races to set themselves apart.

> Events in unique and interesting places which people might not otherwise know about or visit.

> I wanted the races to be family friendly, which is why we always offer a kids race and a shorter 3km or 5km distance.

> I wanted to make extra special finisher’s mementos, anyone still got a finisher’s trophy from our first Dyrham Park events in 2011?

These aims are nice to see again, they seem to have been successful and stuck with us over the course of the last 7 years. One idea which floated through my head was about making the races more about nature (these races couldn’t happen without beautiful places to run). I toyed with idea of giving away a pack of seeds to grow your own veg to every finisher, but I thought those that do this probably will, or do so already, and the cost/wastage would be very high.

I also thought about planting trees for every runner. But trees are expensive and everyone said starting a new business is hard enough. And in that sense they were right. It was really hard and the money you make is not Entry Fee x Number of Participants, no matter what most people think ;-) I didn’t follow through with this idea at the time, but the idea of planting trees has stayed in the back of my mind every since.

Photo: Trees For Life

Fast forward to 2018…I came across one of these online calculators which works out how many Earth’s we would need if everyone on the planet lived as you do. I felt like I would score pretty well; I didn’t have a car until I was 29 (bought a van for the races), work from home (zero commute), eat meat about once a week, generally oblivious to the calls of fashion (you’ve seen my hair right).

I do enjoy visiting new and interesting places and fly a few times a year. Still, I thought I would come out okay, and I filled out the questionnaire, I thought maybe in the 1–1.5 planets region sounded about right. I was amazed that it came out at 2.5 planets! If everyone lived like me, we would need 2.5 planets! I was really shocked. And then as we do, back to scrolling away…but it must have stayed in the back of my mind.

I took some time off at the end of the year and it gave me some space to think about the events and life in general.

It dawned on me that as this business grew, more events, more people, I (Relish Running) was actually putting more draws on the planet for energy and resources. Whilst my individual footprint might be 2.5 planets, as a small business owner, am I not responsible for much more than I had initially thought? (Yes, the ability to see myself and Relish Running as distinct entities is a struggle)

I decided to look into carbon off setting and started researching projects and methods of calculation, hoping to find a way of making the events carbon neutral. All activities (driving, eating, manufacturing) produce carbon dioxide, CO2, which leads to the warming of the planet. CO2 off setting, or going carbon neutral, is about supporting projects which sequester or capture this CO2 and draw it back out of the atmosphere.

There are many schemes out there, some quite faceless and intangible, I am sure most are legit, but paying money to a website for an action to happen somewhere around the world on project you have no means of verifying felt weird. Some schemes didn’t give a good impression on long term management or sustainability; you can plant trees, but we chop them down, so you need to plant some news ones….is but a short term measure, and sort of missing the point. Took some doing to find a project I liked.

Photo: Trees for Life

Trees For Life is a recognised project working in partnership with European Rewilding Network, Forestry Commission Scotland, National Trust Scotland the Woodland Trust and the RSPB so we have confidence this is a very well run venture.

They are using trees not only to absorb CO2 but to recreate a natural habitat and ecosystem, it is more than just planting trees. And because of this design, each tree will self seed it’s successor, so the payment for 1 tree will cover trees for generations. Plus when a tree inevitably dies and decays the carbon is taken up by other parts of the forest. Whilst there are other more financially effective (cheaper) ways of off setting 1 ton of CO2, this one felt right, so I had found my project.

The other great aspect about the Trees For Life initiative is that it is about rewilding a huge area and restoring an ecosystem, more than just tree planting.

Photo: Trees For Life

The more challenging side was to work out the CO2 footprint of the business which took a fair amount of research and number crunching. But as someone who enjoys science and maths, I actually really enjoyed doing a bit of research and playing with numbers again.

Most online calculators talk in generalities, office of X size, Y employees. Relish is not so simple, so I set out to find figures for core categories;

> Travel (company vans and competitors journeys to and from the race)

> Office

> Medal production and shipping

> Food; fresh fruit, chocolate bars, jaffa cakes etc

> Other consumables like our cornstarch cups

I looked at different modes of transport, the average CO2 each emits per mile. The distance and modes of transport runners use to travel to and from our events and worked out the total CO2 across all journeys.

Car journey info for runners travelling to our March Two Tunnels

Our medals are made in a factory which draws its electricity from hydroelectric power stations, but we included a standard figure for electricity consumption here, also in the knowledge that the CO2 footprint for constructing a dam is massive, so this helps towards that too. This gave me the CO2 footprint per medal produced.

Data on food was harder to come by. Supermarkets and suppliers replied with baffled emails which showed they didn’t really read my question, or weren’t willing to share the answer anyway. So I looked up what info I could via reputable sources (a few journal articles), or I found multiple sources which talked about the same figures +/- a bit. This give me data, per orange, per banana, and per jaffa cake.

Oranges, incase you weren’t sure ;-)

The initial data was very interesting. It looks like 97% of the CO2 produced in relation to the event is from runners travelling to and from the event, a much higher proportion than I would have first thought. As these journeys wouldn’t happen without the events, I do feel responsible for these miles, responsible for this CO2.

The Trees For Life project works on the basis of 6 trees absorbing 1 ton of CO2. I worked out the CO2 for the first three events of the year; Skyline races, Pipley Wood and Two Tunnels which do have a subtly different per head amount of CO2 and converted this to trees that need to be planted;

Skyline = 32.8 trees

Pipley Wood = 14.3 trees

Two Tunnels (March) = 38.8 trees

Photo: Trees For Life

I then forecast for the rest of the year, in the knowledge that the average journey increases for the longer distance races. That is to say people travel further for a marathon than they do for a 10km.

Finally I had the total amount of CO2 likely emitted over the year across all activities, divided that by the total number of registrations, and I had a figure for the amount of CO2 emitted in relation to your average runner, travelling an average distance to a typical one of our events, and from there how much of a tree has to be planted for them.

It works out that 1 tree for every 20 registrations will off set the CO2 produced in relation to the business as a whole, with 5–10% to spare. This spare acts as a buffer to imperfect information in working out the numbers, and because you never know the final make up of distances travelled until after an event. Also 1 tree per 21–22 registrations isn’t as catchy ;-)

This will come out of our pockets, not yours. We are not going to add this on to our registrations as a green tax, no price increases this year.

This is the best thing I have done in a long time and it feels really, really good. That is enough for me.

Relish Running

Written by

The inside track of organising running races in the UK. www.RelishRunningRaces.com