Life is certainly busy these days for Alexandra “Aly” Criscuolo.
She became the first full-time sustainability resource at New York Road Runners (NYRR), the organization behind the TCS New York City Marathon, when she was hired in September to be its Environmental Sustainability Manager. Criscuolo had to hit the ground running, pun intended, because the TCS New York City Marathon was fast approaching.
GSB grabbed a few minutes of Criscuolo’s valuable time on Tuesday, only five days before the start of the Marathon, to see what it’s like to be a TCS New York City Marathon sustainability pioneer, what NYRR has planned, sustainability-wise, for the 2019 race, and where they will go in 2020 and beyond.
GreenSportsBlog: Aly, congratulations on becoming the first full-time sustainability manager at NYRR. How and why did this job come to exist?
Alexandra “Aly” Criscuolo: Thanks, Lew. I am really honored to be the first to have a full-time sustainability job at New York Road Runners. It’s a big responsibility and one that I take seriously. I’m building on the stellar work Caitlin Cunningham has done here at NYRR with sustainability as a part of her job description. We’re also connecting with other events, such as the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, to share and gain best practices and lessons learned.
Now we’re taking sustainability to the next level with the advent of the full-time position.
Credit really needs to go to the leadership team and Jessica Robinson from the Strategy, Planning and Organization Operations team. Jessica has been working on our organization-wide strategy and identifying resources needed for NYRR sustainability specifically.
The result of Jess’ work is that I’m here talking to you as the full-time Environmental Sustainability Manager at NYRR.
When people think about our impact in terms of sustainability, they might just think of opportunities surrounding the TCS New York City Marathon. However, NYRR does a lot more than manage the Marathon. We host running events almost every weekend, including 5Ks, 10Ks, and half-marathons, not to mention our year-round, free youth and community programs.
Jessica Robinson (l) and Alexandra “Aly” Criscuolo (r) of the New York Road Runners (Photo credit: NYRR)
GSB: Managing all those events as sustainably as possible certainly sounds like more than enough for a full-time position. What is your first big project?
Aly: In September, we embarked on a major environmental impact baselining initiative with the help of Waste Management Sustainability Services. Every aspect of our operations is being measured, from our office to our warehouse to our RUNCenter to our events, including the Marathon.
GSB: What is the RUNCenter?
Aly: It’s a hub for runners and community members on West 57th Street that provides runners with lockers, restrooms, and changing rooms. You can attend free events throughout the year, including workout classes, panel discussions, movie screenings and more. The RUNCenter also has the New Balance Run Hub – a New Balance retail space. It’s a great space for our community!
The New York Road Runners RUNCenter (Photo credit: NYRR)
GSB: I need to visit the RUNCenter. When will you have the baseline data?
Aly: We expect to have compiled baseline data/goals in early 2020. We are working with Waste Management Sustainability Services to gather historical data so that we can have a clear picture of our sustainability baseline.
GSB: I imagine the baseline report will track waste diversion, energy usage and more. What about travel related emissions, specifically runner and fan travel? I suspect they may make up the biggest portion of NYRR’s environmental footprint.
Aly: This year we are working on our plan to calculate our footprint. From there we will decide how to best mitigate, reduce, and offset our impact. We are constantly encouraging our event participants and spectators to utilize public transportation and we do what we can to make those options easy to use for getting to the start and from the finish. I believe that what gets measured gets managed…
GSB: …And what gets managed matters! What else are you working on aside from the baselining project?
Aly: We are already planning for sustainability initiatives surrounding the 2020 and future TCS New York City Marathons. And there are a ton of great suggestions for sustainability projects from employees and runners. Prioritizing all of this is crucial. I am logging every idea that comes in for prioritization.
With that in mind, one initiative we’re focusing on is implementing our commitment to the UNFCCC’s Sport for Climate Action Framework. New York Road Runners signed on earlier this year.
GSB: What kind of commitments is NYRR looking to implement?
Aly: We will be making commitments, goals, and targets once we have our baseline measured to ensure long-term success in alignment with the Sport for Climate Action Framework.
In addition, we hope to learn from and share best practices and lessons learned with the other innovative organizations in the sports and running space.
Speaking of the other majors, Kudos to GSB on your interview with Mike Nishi at Chicago Event Management — they are doing a great job with their race.
GSB: This is GreenSportsBlog Marathon Month! And yes, Nishi and Company do a great job in the Windy City. What was the New York City Marathon’s waste diversion rate last year and what are you doing that’s new for Sunday’s race that could improve things?
Aly: We diverted 82 percent of waste from landfill last year. And we are excited to be debuting Waste Diversion Stations at the Start and Finish areas this year. In these stations, we will be labeling our bins Plastics/Glass/Cans, Paper/Cardboard, Compost, Heat Sheets and Waste. Hopefully this will help us increase our diversion rate towards the 90 percent threshold that will enable us to meet zero waste status.
We’ll also continue to work with our long-term partners, such as Goodwill Industries. This year we expect to reach 1 million pounds of clothing donated to Goodwill! Runners wear extra layers before the race in the chilly morning hours and discard those layers at the Start. Those layers are then collected and donated.
Another small but exciting win is our printed materials given out at the race and the Expo at the Javits Convention Center this Thursday through Saturday (pocket guides, media guides, and spectator guides) are all made from 50-100 percent post-consumer waste content.
GSB: How is NYRR planning to share their existing and forthcoming sustainability initiatives with runners and fans?
Aly: Great question, Lew. When we signed the Sport for Climate Action Framework, one of the things to which we committed was communicating our environmental and climate actions in a transparent way…
As initiatives evolve and are introduced we will continue to use our own channels and media outreach to elevate our efforts to the public.
For example, for the first time we will have a Sustainability Cube at the Expo, with panels featuring sustainability information, including some amazing stats from the 2018 and 2019 TCS New York City Marathons. Thousands of runners and their families and friends will see it and we hope many stop in and learn.
Also, thanks to our partnership with Common Ground, our Marathon Eve pasta party at Tavern on the Green will be a zero waste event. We will certainly let the carbo-loading runners know about it.
GSB: So where will you be on Marathon Sunday? Will you be among the expected 52,000 marathoners running through the five boroughs?
Aly: Jessica Robinson and I will observe as much of the operations as possible to inform our baseline and action plan for future years. I will be out bright and early at the start near the Verrazano Bridge in Staten Island and then will find my way to the finish line in Central Park. Can’t wait!