11 easy ways to make your running more sustainable – from a running expert

trail runner
Learn some easy ways to make your running more sustainable (Image credit: Getty Images)

As runners, we love spending time outdoors, so it only makes sense that we want to take good care of the natural world – and that includes making our sport more eco-friendly. In the broader sense, the aim is to be more sustainable so that future generations can enjoy a cleaner, healthier and well-resourced world.

While running has a relatively low environmental impact, especially compared to other sports, there are a number of ways in which the associated activities, plus kit, can be detrimental to the planet. 

Here, we reveal 12 of the easier ways to make your running more sustainable. 

1. Buy fewer items of kit

The manufacture of running clothing, running shoes and other equipment (including running backpacks and running watches) causes damage to the environment in a number of ways. From the CO2 emitted during production of synthetic fabrics, to the tons of old shoes dumped in landfill, the sports equipment industry consumes vast amounts of resources and generates huge quantities of waste every year. 

Then there are the carbon emissions created by transportation, including the raw materials to make the sports products, distribution to retailers and then to deliver items to customers if they order online, or for customers to reach the stores.

Buying items only when you really need them is key to making your running more sustainable. 

recycle clothing and bag

Buy less, choose second-hand and recycle where possible (Image credit: Getty Images)

2. Buy second-hand

If you do feel you need new clothing, footwear and other running gear, try to buy second-hand or do an exchange with another runner. If you can use items that are still in good condition but unwanted by some else, you are reducing demand for new items and cutting the waste produced by someone throwing away kit that is still in good condition.

3. Swap, sell or recycle kit

If you have running products that aren't being used, rather than throwing them in the waste bin you should aim to sell them on, or exchange with another runner for an item you do need.

Landfill sites have been shown to have major environmental impacts and we can each reduce waste and do our bit for the planet by cutting our personal rubbish.

If the item is past its best for your purposes, there will still be people that will potentially benefit from the clothing or footwear. Seek out charities that collect worn running gear for redistribution. 

Recycling sports kit is also another way to reduce waste.

4. Become a good borrower

There will be times as a runner that you only need an item of gear once, such as for a particular event or challenge. This might be a tent, a larger backpack, or a GPS watch with a long-lasting battery. Rather than opening your wallet, you could ask a friend who owns the items you need if you can borrow it as a one-off. Try to do the same for other people in return if you own running kit that you know others might find useful.

By sharing clothes and equipment, you reduce the environmental damage of manufacture as described above.

woman putting clothes in washing machine

You can choose to wash running clothes less frequently (and you won't necessarily smell bad) (Image credit: Getty Images)

5. Take a look at the labels

If you do need a new item or product for running, make sure it is made in as environmentally way as possible. Look out for the best eco-friendly brands.

You will need to beware greenwashing, but being educated about what is greener and what is not will help you to choose products that are kinder on the planet.

For example, does the product include recycled fabrics or parts, or does the brand have some form of environmental certification, such as Bluesign, B Corporation, or Climate Neutral.

Also look out for PFC-free water-resistant treatments. PFCs (perfluorocarbons) have been shown to be potent greenhouse gases that contribute to the increased greenhouse gas effect.  Increased greenhouse gas effect leads to an increase of the average temperature on earth and also to climate change and a sea level. Some PFCs can also cause harmful long-term effects on aquatic organisms.

Useful websites include Good On You and Ethical Consumer.

hydration bladder

Use a hydration bladder or re-useable water bottle to reduce plastic waste (Image credit: Platypus)

6. Reduce plastic waste

Reduce plastic use and waste, which contributes to climate damage and pollution, by using a hydration bladder or re-useable water bottle for running. 

7. Wash less

We are not suggesting you should be a total soap dodger but it is better for the planet if you take a bath or shower less frequently, or employ the four-minute shower method.

The same goes for washing your running clothes. Up to 25% of each garment's carbon footprint comes from the way we wash and care for it, according to Fashion Revolution. Some types of fabrics, such as merino wool, are better at combating body odor, so they are a wise choice if you want to wash your clothes less often.

As well as reducing the frequency of washing your clothing, you should use  eco-friendly detergents where possible. The same goes for washing and re-waterproofing outer layers.

Also set your washing machine or shower to a lower temperatures so you use less electricity to heat it. This will help the planet and save your fuel bills, too.

flight paths of planes in the sky

Runners love to explore and travel, but you could consider flying less frequently, and using buses and trains more often (Image credit: Getty Images)

8. Travel less

Running as an activity that is low on carbon emissions but if you drive somewhere to go for a run, or fly by plane to take part in a race, your environmental impact grows enormously. An alternative is to car share where possible, or take public transport.

Better still, keep travel for running to a minimum and if you do plan to take part in a race, aim to make the trip part of an extended holiday, rather than flying overseas for a race and then flying again at a later date for a vacation. 

runner picking up litter

Take care where you run, and pick up litter as you go (Image credit: Getty Images)

9. Care for nature

You should also consider the immediate impact of running on the environment. Don’t drop litter, stick to the trails where possible so you don't cause damage to natural environments in popular outdoor areas, and try not to disrupt wildlife.

Making a habit of picking up litter when you see it is another good nature caring tip.

People serving a vegan meal

Fueling your workouts with plants can be a good choice for more sustainable running (Image credit: Getty Images)

10. Eat fewer animal based foods 

There is a climate impact from almost all food production, but meat and dairy specifically accounts for around 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation.

Going vegan isn't for every runner, but if you want an easy way to make your running more sustainable, you could choose to eat less meat and dairy. 


Chat with other runners about being greener  (Image credit: Getty Images)

11. Join other greener runners 

The Green Runners, founded by top ultra runners Damian Hall and Jasmin Paris, offers tips, ideas and resources on, well you guessed it, how to be a greener runner. One of their principles is to lead by example and doing, rather than preaching.

Hopefully, some of our 12 ideas will help you to think more sustainably as a runner.

Fiona Russell
Outdoor writer

Fiona Russell is a widely published adventure journalist and blogger, better known as Fiona Outdoors. She is based in Scotland and is an all-round outdoors enthusiast with favorite activities including trail running, mountain walking, mountain biking, road cycling, triathlon and skiing (both downhill and backcountry). Aside from her own adventures, Fiona's biggest aim is to inspire others to enjoy getting outside and exploring, especially through her writing. She is also rarely seen without a running skort! Find out more at Fiona Outdoors.