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Sanlam Cape Town Marathon

In 2014, the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon has declared South Africa’s first climate neutral sporting event. Together with insurer Sanlam, the event’s headline sponsor, Climate Neutral Group followed a four-step process to achieve this outstanding result.


In hosting the event, the organisers sought to minimise the marathon’s environmental impact from the planning stages to the last minute. In general, an event’s scale, which includes the number of attendees (and how and from where they travel), the extent of the catering, and the kind of activities taking place — influences how one should reduce the greenhouse gas emissions involved.


The first step was to define the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon’s carbon footprint. We did so by looking at all sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Working with a carbon and sustainability consulting company, which offered objective measurement and advice, we measured two major sources of emissions. These included the number of participants travelling to Cape Town by air and road and the manufacturing of goods and services. Less potent sources of emissions included energy consumption before, during and after the event, catering, paper use, and food waste.

Step 2: REDUCE

Once all emissions associated with the event were identified, reduction strategies were devised in line with Sanlam’s goal of lowering its overall carbon footprint by 15%. This was based on the firm’s 2010 emissions. By focusing on minimising the event’s environmental impact in the planning stages, various carbon-reduction activities were put in place from the outset. These included the establishing ‘chuck zones’ (designated areas for runners to dispose of used water sachets instead of dropping them on the road or pavement).

Step 3: OFFSET

In terms of unavoidable carbon emissions, we implemented a carbon offsetting strategy involving various offsetting projects that promote clean energy and local sustainable development. These included the Wonderbag, Basa Magogo, and the Joburg Waste to Energy initiatives. These offsetting projects have a strong community emphasis, with positive social benefits.


Organising a carbon neutral event helped the organisers of the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon raise awareness around climate change and sensitise companies on how they can reduce and offset their carbon footprints.  Some of the channels used to communicate this achievement included the marathon’s website and programme, media releases, signage, and media publicity. The organisers also set up an on-site sustainability booth, manned by World Wide Fund for Nature SA and Climate Neutral Group representatives as well as members of local tree planting organisations called GreenPop. The objective: providing information about the event’s greening initiatives and allowing participants to offset their travel emissions via an offset app.


Following the event’s achievement in 2014, all other editions of the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon carried the carbon neutral status, too. The organisers took further steps to offset the emissions of other major events, including all annual Sanlam Benchmark Symposiums.


Transport and air travel together account for 85% of the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon’s carbon footprint, followed by manufacturing and services (13%). Electricity use was responsible for 1% of all emissions.