Climate Action Offsetter: The Philadelphia Marathon

May 30, 2013

written by the Philadelphia Marathon

phillymarathon-forblogPhoto by Jim McWilliams / The Philadelphia Marathon

The Philadelphia Marathon is a government-produced event that ranks among the nation’s top-10 largest marathons. At more than 30,000 runners, 60,000 spectators and 3,000 volunteers, the event has emerged as more than just a race, but a platform for many impactful causes.

Race organizers have created a sustainable event that helps preserve Earth’s natural resources while also transforming the Philadelphia Marathon into a model for eco-friendly sporting events.

Through new environmentally-responsible initiatives and partnerships, the Philadelphia Marathon achieved an 87-percent diversion of waste away from landfills during last November’s race.

The Philadelphia Marathon collaborated with Green Mountain Energy, the nation’s longest serving energy retailer, to offset about 1.3 million pounds of CO2 emissions – the entire carbon footprint of event. That act served the energy equivalent of taking 116 passenger cars off the road for a year or if 250,500 households turned off all their lights for one day. The marathon’s emission profile included emissions from race vehicles, electricity used on race day (from diesel generators and from being plugged into the grid), electricity used at the Health & Fitness Expo (a free two-day event that is open on Friday and Saturday, preceding Sunday’s Philadelphia Marathon and Half Marathon), runners’ mobile emissions, and runners’ air travel emissions.

A significant benefit of being one of a few municipally-operated marathons is that the Philadelphia Marathon shares strong relationships with City departments. The Philadelphia Marathon partnered with the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and the Mayor’s Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteer Service to recruit Waste Watchers — volunteers stationed among hydration stops and at the start/finish line to educate race attendees on how to properly sort trash, recycling and compost.

The added sustainability initiatives and partnerships resulted in:

  • Recycling 700 lbs of used Heatsheets, which are made of a metalized low-density polyethylene (LDPE) and distributed to warm-up runners at the finish line
  • Collecting 9,840 lbs of discarded outer layers of warm-up clothing and donating them to the Bethesda Project, a local nonprofit organization assisting the homeless population
  • Recycling over 450 excess runner’s bags and recycling their contents
  • Composting more than 600,000 cups used during the races to drink water and replacement fluids
  • Melting down and recycling over 100 pounds of excess runners’ medals

The successful initiatives align with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and the City of Philadelphia’s sustainability plan which focuses on more than 160 initiatives in the targeted areas of energy, environment, and engagement, in addition to economy and equity.

Marathon sustainability efforts were the result of collaboration among City departments and programs including the Office of the City Representative, Streets Department, Police Department, Mayor’s Office of Community Service (R.I.S.E.), Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and the Mayor’s Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteer Service.

Friday, Nov. 15 through Sunday, Nov. 17 will celebrate the Philadelphia Marathon’s 20th anniversary. Race organizers plan to continue serving as one of the most sustainable marathons in the country through eco-friendly initiatives. To register online, applicants can visit

  • George B.

    Wow, that’s great to hear that the Philly Marathon is going above & beyond to incorporate sustainability initiatives and offset its emissions! And what a great picture!

  • RL

    Wow, 9,840 lbs of discarded outer layer clothes?! Good to know that marathons are where to go when in need of winter gear! Ha, jk. But seriously I’m really impressed that the Philly Marathon offset the emissions associated with the mobile and air travel of participating runners! If I ever become a marathon runner, I’ll be signing up for Philly for sure.

  • Julie T.

    Seems quite apropos for a marathon to invest in climate initiatives – as climate efforts advance health and air quality while keeping extreme weather at bay – things a marathon relies on to succeed! Thanks for making the connection and doing such great work to better our environment!

  • Karen T.

    Great photo!

  • Ted

    Great photo! Hope all great events offset their emissions in the near future…