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Is Philly's 5K Run for Clean Air the Greenest Race in America?

Eric Cheung
Eric Cheung
Eric Cheung was a pretty competitive amateur runner, completing  5K races in about 22 minutes, when he noticed about five years ago that his times were dropping despite consistent effort. He was inching into his mid-30s, but lots of runners get older and still run what they used to. Cheung was having trouble breaking 25 minutes with maximum effort.
 
Cheung, who left life as an attorney at a law firm to work for Rittenhouse Square-based Clean Air Council, believes living in South Philadelphia not far from the Sunoco refinery may have contributed to him developing asthma, which he quickly learned was the primary culprit.
 
“I can’t say for sure but it was likely environmental asthma,” says Cheung, 38. “I stopped running competitively because of it. I still run, but maybe three to four miles instead of 10-15. I’d like to try to get back there.”
 
Cheung, for his part, is doing all he can along with the rest of the Clean Air Council team to ensure other runners can breathe easy when they compete, especially at the upcoming 31st annual 5K Run for Clean Air – arguably the greenest race in America.
 
The 5K, set for April 21 on Martin Luther King Drive next to the Art Museum, did not make this 2008 list of the 10 greenest races in North America, but likely is as green – if not as big -- as every competition on the list. It is a certified green race, bares the pledge of sustainability seal by Athletes for A Fit Planet and also is named a top Family Fun Earth Day run by Active.com.
 
“Because we are an environmental nonprofit, we have a lot of expertise on staff that allows us to come up with innovative ways to green the Run,” says Katie Edwards, project coordinator for the Clean Air Council, a member-supported nonprofit environmental organization dedicated to protecting clean air through public education, community advocacy and government oversight.
 
The 5K, Greater Philadelphia’s largest Earth Day event, is also the group’s largest fundraiser. It pulled in about $50,000 in net proceeds last year. What’s more, the race is entirely produced by the Clean Air Council’s staff of about two dozen – not farmed out to a project manager like many other fundraising runs.
 
That’s largely why this race is so unique. This year, for the first time, the race will get all its power from Greenpeace’s Rolling Sunlight, a C02-neutral truck with a built-in power plant of 2.4kW of photovoltaic solar power along with an onboard storage facility.
 
“The 256 square feet of PV cells will produce power for the next 30 years or more with no emissions,” says Edwards. “
Perhaps the most unique feature of the race is the medals awarded to participants are made from construction and demolition waste, designed by local artist Machele Nettles of Recycled Artist-In-Residency, a group of that connects art and sustainability born out of local artists seeking access to recycled materials at Philadelphia construction and demolition recycling facility Revolution Recovery.
 
There are plenty of other green features, like the runner bibs printed on seed paper, composting and recycling stations, a bicycle valet, reusable runner bags, paperless online registration, and Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe collection.
 
Also new this year are cash prizes for the top 5K finishers, a 3K walk for those who aren’t interested in running, and free registration for 60-and-over runners courtesy of SCA.
 
The race, which is also popular as a warm-up for the Broad Street Run next month and drew close to 1,700 participants last year, also aims to educate and will do so through a variety of vendors and signage along the race route. As of late, the Clean Air Council has been working hard on making air quality just as important an issue as water quality related to Marcellus Shale drilling. The race does not provide parking, to encourage biking, walking and public transportation, and also promotes alternative energy through sponsor Community Energy, which offers all participants the option to switch their energy provider to one that has PA wind and solar.
 
By 11 a.m., after hundreds of compostable water cups have been tossed into the compost bins and winners declared, the 5K will come awfully close to being zero-waste.
 
“Our goal is to have less than one 60-gallon bag of trash at the end of the race,” says Edwards.

JOE PETRUCCI is managing editor of Flying Kite. Send feedback here.
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