Running with a conscience

Melissa Schweisguth photo credit: TIME

Two of my passions are running and the environment. I do my best to marry them: I’ve recycled my old running shoes. I currently run in Vibram FiveFinger “barefoot” shoes, which are light weight and last a long time. I mix my own Gatorade from a 3 lb. 3 oz. can of powder, which saves plastic bottles. But I also use high tech equipment (Garmin GPS, Monster headphones, iPod shuffle), own dozens of T-shirts from races that are stuffed in a closet and drive 2-3 miles most days just to get to the place where I start my run. Over the years I’ve flown to marathons in Chicago, San Diego, Big Sur and Athens, Greece.

Melissa Schweisguth is a 36-year-old fellow sustainability professional and writer who also enjoys running. She puts me to shame, and not just because she clocked an impressive 3:11:07 in the Eugene (Oregon) Marathon this year. Melissa hasn’t thrown anything into a landfill since 2006, which earned her notice in Time magazine (due to non-consumerism and creative reuse.). She thrives on an organic, whole foods, locally-based and almost exclusively vegan diet, (as does famed ultra runner Scott Jurek). She’s been working on improving her running footprint to avoid trampling people or planet and has written three blogposts on running “au naturel” for her blog, Living Acoustically, which she’s kindly agreed to let me share here.  I don’t expect most runners to be as “green” as Melissa, but my hope is that she’ll inspire you, whether you run or not, as she has inspired me to make a change or two in your lives. When she isn’t running, Melissa works a freelance writer and consultant on sustainability issues and media relations, and as director of membership and development for the Food Trade Sustainability Leadership Association. Here’s her first post, about clothing and shoes:

Sometimes we need new, ready-made things, but, more often, we can reuse, buy used, or make something easily, and get a better, cheaper, more healthful product. It’s easy to forget this since marketers are skilled at wooing us, we’re encouraged to seek upward mobility and novelty, and our culture has devalued making things ourselves: gardening, basic cooking and the like.

While running, I’ve sought to maximize and improve performance while honoring a guiding principle that defines sustainability to me: “live simply so that others may simply live.” (Or, following this blog’s theme, unplug from consumerism and run acoustically.) Below are examples of things I do, some long term and some more recent changes. This is being shared for informational purposes only; it’s not intended to be preachy or judgmental, as that’s not my style. We all have different backgrounds and resource demands in our lives, and I’m the first to admit there are many things I can improve!


When I started running, “technical” fabrics and performance-optimizing clothing weren’t on the market. I wore basic clothing and never really bought into the marketing around newfangled stuff. More apparel uses fabrics marketed as environmentally friendly, such as organic cotton, wool, bamboo, hemp and recycled poly, which are great if new things are needed. However, the most sustainable choices are items we have or can get used, which also saves money. I’ve found great shorts, tops and running tights at thrift [click to continue…]