It’s no secret that the outdoor community is pretty advanced when it comes to saving the planet. It makes sense; the livelihood of the industry is about enjoying nature. Alternatively, running is about bettering one’s self. Fresh, clean air, combined with cardio, provides amazing physical and mental health benefits. But lest we forget, runners spend a lot of time outside too. We’re already seeing weather extremes occur, so how can one person make an impact? How can the running industry as a whole make an impact? “We have to start protecting the ground that we run on,” states Keri Straughn, co-founder of the Low Impact Alliance.
The Low Impact Alliance (LIA) was founded in 2021 by Straughn and her brother, Christian Fyfe, as they recognized the need to “look beyond profit to people and the planet by incorporating more sustainable efforts,” at their shop, Palmetto Running Company, according to Fyfe. As more run specialty store owners embark on retirement and new Millennial owners trickle in, like Straughn and Fyfe, they saw the need to think with a more global mindset. Building on their own efforts — like carrying eco-friendly product, participating in monthly local trash clean ups and donating race funds to charity — the pair is looking to strengthen the running community in a more sustainable way. “We view run specialty as a vehicle for change. We are inspired to do what we do locally on a more national scale,” Fyfe says.
LIA, still evolving as it grows, is a collective made up of retailers, brands, and runners committed to bringing on environmental responsibility and change within the running industry. Members of LIA commit to being involved in the group’s efforts to spread awareness and hold accountability within the running community.
We chatted with the co-founders to learn more about LIA’s pursuits.
Why is it important for the running community to start caring more about sustainability?
Straughn: “Being a business owner is about more than what you sell and making money. It’s about the impact you have. Out store is on Hilton Head Island and sea life is so important for us. We have over 500 sea turtle nests here a year. The land we live on is very important. We try to connect the dots so you see the impact on sea life and nature where you live.”
What are some of the challenges you have faced in growing the LIA?
Fyfe: “The LIA comes in as a way to bring retailers, brands, race directors — everyone that has impact on the running community — to be a bridge that brings people together. It’s very clear that there need to be efforts made with the supply chain to stop polluting in the industry. The problem, however, is that brands are making these changes behind closed doors, so there’s little transparency of the efforts. At the same time, there’s very little education toward consumers to want them to make these changes.
We are in the middle of doing a greenhouse gas emissions report for retailers and will deliver that for free to give them an idea of their carbon footprint. We would love to be able to measure product impact on the earth, but there is no agreed upon metric for the sustainability of a product. Some brands like Asics and Allbirds list product carbon emissions, but not all are on the same scale. On’s main discussion is about their recycled content. So, there are a lot of different languages when it comes to sustainability. There’s an inability to compare and evolve without that common ground. The goal is to have an industry approved metric. The demand is there from retailers for a seal of approval. We’ll get asked, as a conscience for the industry, “Should I carry this product or brand?”
Talk to us about members and brand partners. What are the benefits of being involved with LIA?
Fyfe: “Asics, Brooks and On are currently partners. Some retail members include A Runner’s Mind, Saint City Running and Mill City Running. If you are a member of LIA, you want to be in the know, have access. There is no cost to join. As an official brand partner, you open up your lines of communication and transparency for the future of the business, while also providing funding to help make this a reality.”
Straughn: “For brands, it is a legally binding partnership. We have a brand survey that lays out the transparency we need to be brand partners. It asks for information about production processes and materials used in products. This is not a pay to play organization.”
How are you recruiting participants? And what are some of your program initiatives?
Straughn: “Through press. Plus, this year we were asked to be the environmental impact partner at The Running Event, officially. We’ve been heavily involved in planning how to reduce waste at a huge convention. We’ll be hosting a trail cleanup with Asics and multiple educational seminars. We’re also launching our Better Bin program, which is recycling for products.”
Fyfe: “Most specialty owners know you can recycle shoes, but not other products. This is an upfront, educational moment that incentivizes people to shop with you and come back, because you are providing them with a way to responsibly shop and recycle with you. So, this can be passed down, downcycled or separated and made into something new. Brands have been making circular products and educating directly to consumers, but brands also know that run specialty retail spaces are the influencers. It’s where brands get their start and grow. We are the educators. We can help it catch on much sooner.
There are four separate sections in the bin for apparel, socks, nutrition and sneakers. Recycling is done with Sneaker Impact, Recover and TerraCycle. The bins will have a QR code that leads to our website to learn more about what happens to the products. Tracing is also an issue today. We drop things off, but have no idea where they go.”
Say I am a retailer that has no idea how to get started in making my business more sustainable. What can I do?
Straughn: “We have a great roundtable you can watch on our site. We’re having a conversation at TRE with the Conservation Alliance. Sit in and learn how you can make a difference with your business. Educate your staff. Start talking about product materials and what brands are doing to reduce their impact. It’s powerful to have these conversations on the floor about what brands are doing.”
Fyfe: “People are asking questions about the sustainability of products they purchase. They’ll keep asking more. We’re preparing the industry for that inevitable future. When retailers come to us, we say we’re not calling people out for not doing enough. We’re not the sustainability police. Take small steps. Start recycling at your store. Choose brands that you believe in and can connect with. Have events and tie in the community. It can be overwhelming, but we’re here to help you get started.”