The GSB Interview: Jamie Simon, Greening the LA Marathon

The Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon is one of the biggest in the United States, drawing 25,000+ runners from all over the world each year. The race passes through four cities, each with their own sustainability (recycling, composting, etc.) protocols and vendor contracts. Getting all four cities to pull together to deliver as sustainable an event as possible is a logistical challenge of epic proportions. To find out how they’re going about it, GSB talked with Jamie Simon, the Sustainability Consultant for Conqur Endurance Group, the event organizer.

GreenSportsBlog: Jamie, thanks for joining us. How did you get involved with Conqur Endurance Group?

Jamie Simon: I joined Conqur Endurance Group as a sustainability consultant. Before that I had been sustainability director of Red Bull USA

GSB: That must’ve been fascinating. When were you there?

JS: From 1999-2009, with the last two years in the sustainability role. The biggest challenge there was that outward-looking, consumer-facing sustainability programs were not in line with the brand at that time.

Jamie Simon

Jamie Simon, sustainability consultant for the Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon. (Photo credit: Jamie Simon)

 

GSB: What does that mean?

JS: It means that the brand’s image with consumers was about extreme sports and culture, etc. And not about sustainability. Their sustainability efforts—and the things that I focused on—were largely on how to streamline operations, to make them more efficient, use less water, etc.

GSB: Red Bull really should communicate their sustainability stories to their consumers. They’re starting to a bit, with their support of the documentary film about clean water, Waves for WaterBut that’s for a different interview. Back to the Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon: How did you find things, sustainability-wise, when you joined the effort there?

JS: Well, I have to say we were fortunate when we arrived back in 2014. My first assignment was to set sustainability benchmarks—basically, let the key stakeholders know where the marathon was in terms of a variety of sustainability metrics—mostly environmental but also social and governance. The marathon and its leadership had already taken a number of sustainability steps before that time and so, when we did the baseline analysis of their efforts, the 2015 Los Angeles Marathon was able to qualify for the silver certification level by the Council for Responsible Sport.

GSB: You mean by doing the benchmarking—and making no improvements—the Los Angeles Marathon was able to make silver level certification?

JS: That’s exactly right. The organizers were already giving funds to over 200 area nonprofits, which allows them to check the community development box of their Council certification form. They also had established a strong relationship with the LA Tourism Board, which allowed them to measure the economic impact of the marathon. Another box checked. And there were some waste management-recycling protocols in place.

GSB: So what were you brought in to do?

JS: Conqur Endurance Group made a three-year commitment to get to the Gold, or hopefully, Evergreen level of Council certification for the marathon. I was brought in to get us there. We set sustainability benchmarks with the 2015 Los Angeles Marathon, did more benchmarking with the 2016 race, and determined what kind of steps we would need to take if we were to qualify for Gold certification by the Council in 2017.

LAMarathonByCruse00259

The Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon is seeking Gold certification from the Council for Responsible Sport for 2017. (Photo credit: Los Angeles Marathon)

 

GSB: What did you learn?

JS: Well here’s one example: We learned that heat sheets are recyclable…

GSB: What are heat sheets?

JS: Those are the sheets of foil that are given to runners after they finish the marathon to keep their body temperatures regulated. At the 2017 Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon, we separated out the heat sheets and educated recyclers on the importance of actually recycling the material.

GSB: I never would have even thought about heat sheets. You guys really get down into the weeds with this…

JS: Here’s another one from the weeds. You know what you have tremendous quantities of at marathons? Banana peels.

GSB: Makes sense.

JS: And Santa Monica, one of the four cities that is part of the marathon every year, has a composting program for residents but not for events. Well, we got them to compost banana for the 2017 Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon.

GSB: You said Santa Monica is one of four cities? That’s got to be a logistical nightmare in terms of sustainability regulations and protocols.

JS: Oh yeah! The marathon starts at Dodger Stadium in LA, goes through West Hollywood and Beverly Hills before ending in Santa Monica near the Santa Monica Pier. This means we have four waste protocols to deal with, four sets of waste haulers, etc.

LA Marathon Start

Start of the Skechers Performance LA Marathon outside Dodger Stadium (Photo credit: Connect Run Club)

 

GSB: That sounds like a big logistical challenge. How does working with so many municipalities affect your metrics and measurements?

JS: We’ve got a pretty good handle on that aspect. We take carbon footprint, waste diversion and economic impact measurements. Right now, we’re working our way through the measurements of the 2017 race. Waste diversion for 2015 was at 84% so we’ve got a strong baseline there.

GSB: The waste collection must take a massive effort.

JS: You’d be surprised. We don’t supply food and beverage for the spectators. We’re all about the runners; 26,407 to be exact this year. There are about 6,000 volunteers, picking up waste along the way. Runners get bagels and bananas at the beginning. All unused food goes to the homeless through our partner Move For Hunger. We also work with Students Run LA—I love this group!—it teaches low income kids to run and to love running, which enhances self-esteem. And you know what? The most sustainable resource on earth is self-esteem. People who take care of themselves, take care of the planet.

GSB: I would love to see data that supports this notion but intuitively, it makes a ton of sense. What are your biggest goals for the Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon in 2018 and beyond?

JS: Definitely the elimination of bottled water. We’re working with the LA Department of Water and Power (LADWP), Beverly Hills and Santa Monica to access city water for our drinking water. WeTap, a nonprofit that promotes increased access to water from drinking fountains, is supporting our efforts.

GSB: Oh, WeTap is a terrific group and a great partner for the marathon. We interviewed them back a couple of months ago.

JS: Yes, I remember that. Now there are some logistical challenges—the fountains are currently on the wrong side of the course, for example—that need to be worked out. We also will revamp the water management bins at the finish of the course. Finally, we are looking to greatly reduce waste at the race expo, a two-day event at the LA Convention Center with over 100 exhibitors. It’s challenging but we will get it done, no doubt about it.

GSB: I have no doubt about that!

 


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