Carbon Swaps

The premise is simple:
A marathon swim takes a village (boats, travel, etc).
OW swimmers seem to be an environmentally enlightened population with a few exceptions where certain political fundamentalism forbids.

Shouldn’t we strive to make this activity carbon neutral?

Thoughts and ideas invited. I’m particularly interested in hearing what other organizations are doing to offset their carbon footprints.

...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.



  • BridgetBridget New York StateMember

    I can only speak for myself as a solo swimmer- I do consider issues of the environment, and have to reconcile a few things related to swimming. Part of what compels me to adapt to colder water is that Lake George is only a few miles away, while my nearest pool is fifty minutes. I managed about a half mile in FortyEightF on Friday. I started getting in the lake in early May last year. I have only done pool training for the past two winters after a nearly ten year lack of pool swimming. Pools, with their chemistry and such, are an issue, but balanced by the need for people to learn to swim, and it is all some people have.

    For my next solo attempt of Lake George, it is tempting to take advantage of being local, and being able to pick my day- within the availability of any crew- and count on lake patrol for motorized backup for segments, but I do feel better after having two boats support both my solo and last August's relay reporting minimal fuel use. A "people powered" swim would be a logistic challenge, but worth consideration. There are bodies of water more conducive to that, and it is something in my head any time I look at a stretch of water- like that lovely stretch from Watch Hill RI to Weekapaug and beyond. . .

    Also, my wish list. I have flown to one swim, almost twenty years ago. It is less likely now. I'm in Upstate NY, and plan to make the most of opportunities in the NY State/New England/Mid Atlantic area, as I can drive to a place, sleep in my tent or with friends, and still have a wonderful time. I do have road trips on my list, but I plan to train accordingly, and when I head west, it will be with an eye to tackling as many swims along the way as possible: SCAR, Tahoe, a possible loop up the coast to Vancouver, and maybe take a crack at a portion of the Kenai River from when I was living in Anchorage- Go Seawolves- but skipping Alaska in favor of time in the Great Lakes is more likely.

    For organized swim events? I can only think of things like swag bag selections. I think most of us have our favorite water bottles, and totes, but I must admit- I LOVE my stickers for my car and the magnets on my fridge. Small is fine- and they go on my front door also. :D

  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    edited October 2018

    @david_barra said: Shouldn’t we strive to make this activity carbon neutral?

    Intriguing idea. Considering just the carbon footprint of the escort boat during the swim and excluding (for simplicity) driving or flying to and from the swim:

    I realize even this depends on type of boat, efficiency of the engine, swimmer speed, and other variables. Any idea of the cost (ballpark) of a carbon offset for escorting a standard 8-12 hour marathon swim?

  • david_barradavid_barra NYCharter Member

    Researching this now.... it might take a while. I’d like to be thorough and even include even secondary support such as NYPD Harbor.

    Of course for travel, it will likely be necessary to rely on averages rather than try to tally every mile flown, driven, or trained....

    Probably the same for motorized vessels.

    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

  • brunobruno Barcelona (Spain)Member
    edited October 2018

    Quite interesting! In Spain, I haven't heard of any proposal or action related to OW swims.

    First of all, one should decide how deep one wants to dig to find the carbon footprint (indirect emissions). Say you will use an electric boat as escort. Clearly cleaner than gasoil. But the batteries need to be charged; in Spain 9% of electrical production is with coal, and a very low quality coal in fact. So charging may have a high carbon footprint than diesel engine. And production of batteries, disposal when retired, the fact that you have to change them every 5 to 7 years... Again things to be added to c. footprint. But this is just food for thought.

    From a practical point of view, I have a few basic questions/points to kick off a discussion (without any specific order):

    1. First of all you have to list which items you'll take into account to measure indirect c. footprint (travel, hotel, meals of swimmers; gifts; trophys/medals); make some sort of checklist and guidelines so that different organizations can compare apples to apples.

    2. You want only to measure the c. footprint? Then find ways to swap through a bank, with other organizations and individuals?

    3. What would you do, after you know the cost of the carbon offset of the swim?

    4. You could rank organized swims based on their c. footprint.

    5. You could even add the c. footprint to the documentation of a swim - and tell the swimmer off after congratulations, if its too high. This would lead us swimmers (at least some of us) to try to minimize it.

    6. It would be interesting to do the same for other sports; not only to compare, but to rank them from more to less contaminant.

    7. Ideally, all this should be done together with a plastic waste reduction policy.

    8. The easiest way to reduce c. footprint is to use boats (from less to more contaminant): solar; or electrical with shore-power charged batteries; or hybrid; or LNG/PNG powered

  • david_barradavid_barra NYCharter Member

    @bruno thanks for the thoughtful post!

    We (NYOW) include environmental stewardship as part of our mission, so this inquiry is not as much a challenge to other organizations as it is a search for a way to quantify the impact of our events and then to come up with a comprehensive plan to minimize that impact.

    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

  • j9swimj9swim CharlestonSenior Member

    for the big swims that require people to fly in crew, boats, paddlers - 20B, EC, Cook, North Channel, BLS, SCAR, etc. the governing bodies or MSF could maintain a list of locals willing to do this - the actual connection would be between the 2 parties directly but this could help to lower both the costs and the footprint. its simple and not a huge impact but its action in the right direction.

  • I did this triathlon a while back. Here is some of what they are doing:

  • Those finisher medals are awesome!

    laureninnj said:
    I did this triathlon a while back. Here is some of what they are doing:

  • JSwimJSwim western Maryland, USMember
    edited October 2018

    I love recycled or local, and therefore unique, swag. Like race directors don’t already have enough to do, I know! But maybe that doesn’t always have to be lots of extra work or expense? 3 Rivers Marathon Swim in Pittsburgh gave painted and stamped railway spikes in 2017. The winner of the Cliff Ultra got the “Last to Fail” rock. If a venue has a rocky shore, I’d prefer a rock marked with the place and year to a medal.


    Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. --Neale Donald Walsch

  • FlowSwimmersFlowSwimmers Polson, MontanaMem​ber

    This topic has really caused me to think, @david_barra! I suppose that's a good thing?

    At first I thought, if you really want to reduce the carbon footprint of your event, cancel it. Clearly that's not the advice you are hoping to hear.

    Then I thought: Only allow swimmers who do not have children. If you look at the numbers, the easiest way to reduce your own carbon footprint is to NOT HAVE KIDS! While this could be an intriguing angle to an event, I'm not sure that it's a marketable concept.

    FInally, reality set in, and I thought of two tracks:

    1. As an event, strive to REDUCE the carbon footprint as much as possible by using the most efficient means possible -- boats, travel, awards, etc.

    2. OFFSET the actual carbon footprint by investing and/or donating to projects that actually reduce the effect of carbon emissions.

    Through a bit of research, I was able to find organizations that help calculate carbon emissions and offer ways to offset that number.

    It's like donating to a charity, but this would be directly related to impact of the event. I've not gone through the math, but it might be possible to earmark a portion of the event proceeds (or even charge an extra fee) that would go to a carbon offset project: Some are as simple as planting trees.

    For a national event like yours, you may even be able to leverage this idea with sponsors -- think airlines that deal with carbon offets (Jet Blue does, for sure, and Amtrak, too).

    You could even have some fun with this by giving your event participants an award for carbon neutral participation: if they fly, for example, they must offset their footprint through some other means.

    GOOD LUCK and let me know if you need any help with any of this. It could be a fun project.

  • Just a note on carbon offsets. I did a lot of academic research into them a few years ago. My paper concluded that many are very dodgy indeed (even from credible suppliers). So are good, but it is very hard to know for sure if you are buying good ones or not (ie. that reduce carbon that wouldn't have been reduced anyway). It appeared then, that even those in accredited schemes couldn't really be known to have definite "additionally'. To be on the safe side, my recommendation would be (1) make it a port of absolute last resort - ie. cut back by any means possible first and then if you really can't (2) buy 2 to 3 times the number you think you need and from more than one project or source to ensure you have had an impact. They are generally quite cheap when offsetting say a flight.

  • richard_broerrichard_broer The NetherlandsMember
    edited November 2018


    I agree we need to think about our (personal) carbon footprint. Our sport is "infested" with long distance travel and that influences the (i.e. my) carbon footprint. Should I stop coaching swimmers? Should I advise my swimmers not to pursue their dreams? No, I do not think so. Killing the sport is not what I have in mind.
    Then do we need to think about compensating (let's plant trees for swimming or even better let's save the rain forest!). Yes, it is all about awareness.

    Can we compensate? We can! Swimming for consciousness about problems we as society have is a good thing. Plastic soup, global warming, pollution, acid rain (where has that gone??), but also all the so important good causes concerning medical needs are valuable. Many of my (swimmers) swims were about raising funds for a very good cause. Let's take that into consideration too. If all fails... let us "plant trees".
    Act responsible: be aware what our sport does to environment.

    Does the good cause "liberate" swimmers with some very polluting swims like Lewis Pugh? I think it does. For now. We do not want shiploads of people repeating what he does. That would defy his purpose. That is not what his swims stand for. For me... his swims helped me gain consciousness and responsibility about the environmental things we do as human race, economy, individual. That is worth it (and maybe worth a separate discussion).

  • david_barradavid_barra NYCharter Member

    SkiesNPies said:
    My paper concluded that many are very dodgy indeed (even from credible suppliers).

    Is there a program that you feel better serves our intent?

    Planting trees?
    Preserving rainforest?
    Funding renewable energy projects?


    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

Sign In or Register to comment.