‘Leave no trace’: How the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships’ local strategy is tackling a global problem
Global Sustainable Sport explores the significant sustainability efforts surrounding the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships 2023 in Austria, as well as the future implications within the sport and beyond.
The World Mountain and Trail Running Championships (WMTRC) 2023 Local Organising Committee (LOC) is spearheading several sustainable initiatives that are designed to make a tangible contribution towards tackling a “global problem” with an impactful local strategy.
The sporting action is the main event of a 10-day festival starting on June 1, 2023 in Innsbruck-Stubai, Austria. Four different contests will take place – Vertical, Trail Short, Trail Long and Mountain Classic – from June 6-10.
Alexander Pittl, CEO of the event’s LOC, tells GSSport: “It is very easy to look to others and say: ‘Well, you could have done more or better.’ But I believe that the most important thing is to look at what you are doing yourself, to set up a plan, and to try and realise it before reflecting on what has been done and what you have learned so you can look ahead with the aim of improving.”
He adds: “Sustainability is such a big challenge nowadays that we can’t solve all issues and answer all questions with the WMTRC or any other sporting event. Sustainability is a global problem but if we don’t start to tackle it locally, then the fight for tomorrow’s world is already lost.
“From that perspective, our work in Innsbruck-Stubai is based on two main pillars: Firstly, finding out the main areas in which we can do something lasting in regards of sustainability, and secondly, boosting awareness around this subject area.”
"Sustainability is a global problem but if we don’t start to tackle it locally, then the fight for tomorrow’s world is already lost."
According to Pittl, the LOC, which “invested a lot of time and regular meetings over recent months to brainstorm and filter ideas”, has devised a plan that “is a statement and a commitment at the same time”.
The event’s sustainability strategy is underpinned by actions across the four areas of Ecology, Economy, Social Responsibility and Legacy, and is captured in the following mission statement: “To awaken and strengthen people’s love for our environment and a passion for a healthy lifestyle.”
Based around the goals of “recycling, regionality and community”, the LOC’s approach, in collaboration with regional stakeholders, spans Global Sustainable Sport’s (GSSport) Partnership, Participation, People, Planet, Power, Profile and Profit sustainability pillars, providing a potential blueprint for other event-organisers.
The event has the support of the International Trail Running Association and World Athletics, with both governing bodies having amplified their own sustainability efforts in recent years, as well as the World Mountain Running Association and the International Association of Ultrarunners.
The WMTRC will spearhead a campaign entitled ‘Leave no trace’ that will be signed by athletes and spectators who vow to “only leave my own footprint” and amplified by the event’s ambassadors.
There are currently 19 ambassadors signed up for the WMRTC, including three gold medal-winners from last year’s event in Chiang Mai, Thailand: Stian Angermund of Norway, Rebecca Cheptegei of Uganda and Denisa Dragomir of Romania.
Some 1,300 elite athletes are expected to compete in the World Championships, alongside 500 mass participants, with a ratio of about 55:45 between men and women.
A further 4,000 people will be involved in the mass-participation Innsbruck Alpine Trailrun Festival, which will take place from June 1-3, helping to generate a participation legacy across the host region. Additional activities and workshops are planned during the World Championships in Innsbruck and Stubai.
The People sustainability pillar is of particular importance to the LOC – and it begins with those who are closest to the action.
“Sustainability is not the task of a few but the task of everyone,” Pittl says. “Therefore, we need to integrate spectators and athletes in our message.”
About 400 volunteers will help to spread the sustainability message to a wider audience, while the ‘Cheering Crew’ community engagement programme aims to gather together groups of at least 12 people to inspire the athletes to push on through the pain barrier at specific points of each race.
Organisers are also in contact with regional and national running communities to support the community engagement programme, while a cultural programme will begin with a thematic opening ceremony and continue throughout the event.
Organisers have also committed to train and develop LOC staff, volunteers and others to enhance their future career prospects.
The participants themselves who also play a crucial role in taking steps to protect the planet.
Indeed, one of the dedicated runners bringing up the rear will take down any signage immediately after the last athletes have passed, and athletes will carry their own water bottles or cups to reduce waste. The athletes will be transported by shuttle buses in order to reduce individual transport.
Organisers are utilising recyclable banners with a total area of 2,170 square metres, as well as existing hiking trails, with no permanent new buildings.
Whilst carbon emissions for the event are not being measured, there is a waste management programme in place. Through this, there is a zero-waste commitment from the organisers, ensuring the contest routes will be left behind in their original state.
Indeed, hiking routes will be restored and kept open for further use, while a temporary city trail made entirely of natural materials will be set up and dismantled immediately after the event in Innsbruck’s old town.
Organisers will also take the lead by, for example, focusing on carbon-neutral production of all printed materials while only using paper from sustainable sources, and handing out bottles to volunteers so they can refill them at dedicated ‘hotspots’ rather than using disposable cups.
Reusable crockery will also be used wherever hygienically and logistically possible, while vegetarian and vegan menu options will be available.
The responsibility for sustainability is shared across the organisers’ team, with Vanessa Klauser and Egon Theiner among those to take a leading role in driving the strategy.
There is a sustainable procurement policy in place and a code of conduct for suppliers, alongside a commitment to link up with local businesses.
“Generally speaking – and in compliance with any legislative requirements – the motto is to keep it regional before going national before going international,” the organisers state.
With the assistance of the event’s ambassadors, organisers are planning to promote their sustainability focus through a range of PR channels, including social media, magazines, newspapers, websites, podcasts and live streams before and during the event.
These promotional efforts will take the sustainability message far beyond the participants and the anticipated 10,000 spectators per day during the World Championships. For those watching the action in person, guides and posters will be among the materials pushing the sustainability agenda.
The WMTRC is being broadcast via Austrian state television and streamed online in five languages: German, English, French, Spanish and Italian. It is hoped that as many as 500,000 viewers will be reached every day.
Online efforts include a dedicated sustainability section on the event’s website, while the WMTRC’s Instagram account is adding between 100 and 200 followers every day, with some posts reaching up to 400,000 views.
There will be a strong media presence at the event, with between 150 and 200 journalists and photographers in attendance, with sustainability also included in the media guide that will be handed out.
Sustainable tourism is also set to be promoted through the event, with a collaboration with transport provider ÖBB giving the WMTRC spectators a 22% discount on public transport.
With a focus on sustainability in the host region, Innsbruck is an established event destination in the sporting world, having staged the Winter Olympics on two occasions, as well as the Youth Winter Olympic Games once. The city also explored a bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics and hosted a successful 2018 UCI (International Cycling Union) Road World Championships.
It is therefore hoped that the substantial sustainability efforts surrounding this year’s WMTRC may filter into other sports.
“We are lucky to have International Federations on our side who also are really interested in sustainability issues,” Pittl says. “But also our main stakeholders like the Region of Tyrol or the Tourism Boards of Innsbruck and Stubai really care about this topic. In the heart of the Alps, preservation of nature, climate change and sustainability as a whole are important issues.”
The budget for the event is €4.7m, funded through public coffers and private sponsorships. A post-event economic report will capture the economic impact of the World Championships, with a significant uplift anticipated in the tourism sector.
Resource-saving operations such as solar power on the roof of the LOC office, a heat pump and walls insulated with sheep wool, will lead to additional cost savings for the organisers.
It is hoped that the focus on using contractors from Innsbruck and Stubai across different areas of event management and delivery will lead to an expansion of skills and knowledge in the regional economy, as well as a revenue boost, with a 70:20:10 split of products and services sourced locally, nationally and internationally, respectively.
This is the second edition of the WMTRC, with the Mountain Running World Championships first held in 1985 by the World Mountain Running Association.
Within trail running itself, the timing of the sustainability project in Innsbruck-Stubai could be highly impactful. The bidding contest for the next edition of the event in 2025 is in progress, with the hosting rights set to be awarded this June.
Whilst there was no specific mention of sustainability in the basic Hosting Requirements set out by World Athletics, it seems inevitable that this year’s efforts in Austria will be used for baseline comparisons against any future prospective hosts – by athletes, spectators and stakeholders.
For the specified hosting fee of $180,000 before additional staging costs, destinations interested in the 2025 edition should be keen to enhance their profile in the sustainability stakes to ensure a positive reputational legacy.
“The only thing we want is to set a benchmark and to offer an opportunity to compare,” says Pittl. “But at the end of the day, we won’t have a ranking between us (hosts) as it’s about all of us for tomorrow’s world.”
Images: (c) Laufwerkstatt and (c) WMTRC 2023 / Roast Media