Ultra runner, Low Carbon Engineer and environmental campaigner David Starley has long been walking (or running) the impact-adventure walk. And now he’s climate-positive sportswear brand Presca’s first ever repair ambassador. How does he see the running community’s environmental credentials?
Running is human-powered adventure in its oldest, purest form: roaming the land with legpower. And many runners, both trail and road, run at least partly because of the nature connection to be found in this simplicity.
This is certainly true for ultra-endurance runner and self-confessed climate nerd David Starley, who, when we spoke, was preparing for the Chiltern Wonderland, a 50-mile loop of the Chiltern hills. As well as raising money for Client Earth, the run represents the next step in exploring what his limits are, he says. “That’s when I’ll know I’ve pushed my limits a bit: when I’ve really gone to that place where you’re like, ‘I’m not sure I can actually finish this,’ and then got through that.” (As it happens, David reports back, “I didn’t actually reach any limits and enjoyed the whole thing - might have to do an even longer one!”)
But such running events aren’t always as idyllic as they seem. Like many adventurous sports, running’s outdoor veneer disguises an industry only starting to properly reckon with its environmental impact. “Broadly speaking the running industry is probably average,” Starley says of its environmental credentials. Major corporations in particular should be doing more, he thinks, as could running events, which often encourage consumerism and ignore the fact that the majority of their carbon impact comes from participant travel. Even the London Marathon, which provides free public transport on the day, sees 55% of its emissions come from travel. “I think we’re very much still at the start of the journey for running events recognising their impacts,” Starley says.
'I think we’re very much still at the start of the journey for running events recognising their impacts.'
This helps explain why Starley co-founded The Green Runners, a “community of runners making changes for a fitter planet.” The Green Runners is helping runners make individual changes, but also organise and agitate for collective change around four pillars: transport, kit, nutrition and advocacy. “There’s a myriad of ways we can channel climate action through the running community,” Starley says, especially given the “intrinsic motivation” many runners feel to protect the beautiful environments they run through.
The Green Runners launched following COP 26, on Earth Day, after a group of runners - including Damian Hall, Jasmin Paris, Dan Lawson of ReRun and Finlay Wild - felt that runners could be doing more together. The movement invites runners to join with a personal action pledge, an initiation of sorts. “Everyone can do something, whether it’s something small or something massive,” says Starley.
Real impact, though, lies in ongoing collective action. “Success isn’t a small group of us doing this brilliantly,” the website reads, but “creating a widespread change across the sporting community.” And though it’s early days, The Green Runners is building a profile. Coverage in Runner’s World has helped, as has Jasmin Paris running the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) on behalf of The Green Runners in place of sponsorship. A presence at the upcoming National Running Show will further bolster their seat at the table of running conversation.
Starley is particularly excited about the young movement’s input into networks like the Running Industry Alliance, a national trade body for running involving Presca and many major organisations. It is, he thinks, a “potentially significant platform to advocate for the big brands to take a bit more responsibility, and to show them that the community wants them to do this. That actually, taking those steps is what the people want and their customers want, which I think is ultimately probably what’s going to drive them to change.”
Ultimately, Starley hopes to see The Green Runners working closely with major events like the London Marathon, the World Marathon Majors and the UTMB to rethink the impact of running events and culture, and to create league tables and other resources to empower runners to support the events and organisations leading the way.
Kit is one of The Green Runners’ pillars for good reason. Over 5% of the UK’s carbon and water footprints come from clothing. 13 million pieces of clothing enter landfill every week in the UK. It takes over 2kg of carbon dioxide and 2.5 years of the average person’s drinking water to produce a typical t-shirt. And ReRun finds that extending the lifespan of an item of clothing by just three months would reduce its carbon, water and waste footprint by up to 10%, and up to 30% if extended by nine months.
These stats are a big reason Starley agreed to become Presca’s first repair ambassador. Though initially sceptical of affiliations beyond The Green Runners, because he didn’t want to encourage people to buy more stuff, he was excited to be invited to work with Presca on extending the life of kit.
Presca’s workshop, in the heart of Bristol, is integral to its vision of an industry rooted in climate-positive kit, with repair as default. The company repairs Presca products for free, and kit from other brands for a small charge. The same applies to sportswear adaptations for disabilities. And Presca provides the first UK-based chamois pad replacement service, to keep cycling shorts in service for longer. To supplement the workshop, Presca has also donated over 200 repair kits to help people repair gear at home. Ultimately, Presca aims to enable one million repairs through its workshop, and help increase the paltry 1% of clothing currently recycled in the UK.
Presca is also extending kit life by launching a resale initiative. People can donate used sportswear from any brand, either at Presca’s mini hub, opening in Bristol in November, or by posting to Presca, The Workshop, 4 Unity Street, Bristol, BS1 5HH. Presca will give some away through gift kits for people to access sport, no questions asked, and fix up and resell the remainder to raise money for the workshop.
Starley loves that Presca takes full ownership of its products. “Most companies don’t do that,” he says. “Nike and Adidas, you buy a t-shirt and that’s it. You try and contact their customer services about getting a repair done … good luck.” The industry needs to change, he says. “For me, brands ought to be providing repair as a default. They should take ownership of the full lifecycle of products they sell; this would incentivise them to make products more durable and easier to repair.”
This is why, instead of encouraging people to buy more kit, Starley will use his platform, including The Green Runners, to promote and normalise kit repair in the running community and beyond, pointing to Presca’s repair workshop and encouraging companies to develop similar services.
'For me, brands ought to be providing repair as a default. They should take ownership of the full lifecycle of products they sell; this would incentivise them to make products more durable and easier to repair.'
Starley exemplifies the fusion of outdoor life and environmental action, using his passion for running and his professional expertise to help effect industry change. Likewise, the triangle between advocates like Starley, movements like The Green Runners and pioneering businesses like Presca is a microcosm of the collaborations needed to push the outdoor industries we love beyond nature-loving vibes and into genuinely green transformation.
Ready to take action?
- If you’re a runner, get involved in The Green Runners here.
- Instead of buying that next piece of kit you probably don’t need, start repairing your kit by default - and encouraging others to do the same. Learn more about Presca’s repair services here.
- Not a runner? Have a look for environmental stewards, whether activists or businesses, on your patch. As adventurers, businesses and advocacy organisations come together, the chances are you won’t need to look far.