A Litter Follow-Up: Race Company Responses

Last week I proposed a method for measuring how severe the littering problem in OCR actually is. As part of that post, I noted that I would be asking a few race organizers if they have actually made any effort to quantify the amount of litter (as opposed to properly disposed-of garbage or course materials).

I emailed Spartan, Tough Mudder, and Warrior Dash, and have now received responses, of a sort, from all three.

Here’s the message I sent to all three (with minor changes as needed for each company):

Do you have any information about how much litter is found on courses after a typical Tough Mudder? There has been a lot of discussion about littering in the OCR world recently, but I’m hoping to quantify how serious the issue actually is. Have you measured how much litter (as opposed to properly-disposed-of garbage, or course-markings and other “official” garbage) you collect after an event? I’ve written a blog post (https://fatboybigwall.com/2015/11/05/why-im-pro-litter/) attempting to define the issues at play and if you have any information I’d like to incorporate it.

Thank you,

Greg Landgraf

The responses were… well, only one was useful, but another was interesting.

Warrior Dash wasn’t really helpful at all—the customer experience team referred the question to the Venue Relations department, so I emailed them and haven’t heard anything back. Although to be honest, Warrior Dash probably isn’t particularly representative on this issue, since it’s a fairly short run that has a relatively high percentage of first-time runners who are unlikely to carry a lot of gear onto the course.

Tough Mudder’s is the interesting one. I got a fairly sincere message of apology for the frustrations and inconveniences I experienced at the event, and for how the Tough Mudder experience didn’t live up to my expectations. Since I wasn’t complaining (and in fact have never actually done a Tough Mudder), it doesn’t provide any actual information, but it does raise a question: Just how unempowered are Tough Mudder’s customer service people? I mean, I get that a lot of customer service is done by boilerplate, and it even makes (a frustrating sort of) sense to respond to common complaints with a response designed by experts to give an official answer and nothing additional and do it in a way that will not inadvertently escalate the situation. But this wasn’t a common complaint, so a little bit of personalization in the response might have been helpful.

<NotBasedOnFact>I just have this vision of the customer service department having a set of, say, six permitted responses that they’re permitted to use to cover all customer comments. And if you’re working for Tough Mudder, you’re not going to go against that kind of policy. I mean, you’re working for a company that thinks electric shocks and tear gas are fun. Imagine what would happen if they’re trying to punish you.</NotBasedOnFact>

Spartan’s response was useful, although perhaps more from reading between the lines than because of what was actually said. The representative said that Spartan does not track litter separately from other trash, but he did confirm that the race does clean up the venue after (and during) the race. He also noted that the race will make announcements about littering and starting-line threats to assign  Did Not Finish results if they’re caught littering.

If we assume rational behavior—and this is getting dangerous, because humans don’t always behave rationally, and my perspective of what “rational” is in this situation is based on very incomplete information, but I’ll do it anyway because I think it’s at least an interesting thought experiment—the response suggests a couple things. Based on the fact that Spartan doesn’t measure the litter generated, combined with the not-necessarily-always-accurate-but-often-useful “you can’t improve what you can’t measure” maxim, it suggests Spartan’s level of concern. Specifically, it seems that Spartan’s opposition to litter is the same as the average person’s opposition to air pollution: opposed, but not really looking to go far out of its way to fight.

That’s got a negative connotation that isn’t fair, so let me be clear: I don’t think Spartan is responsible for measuring the litter generated by a race. By cleaning the venue after an event, they’re fulfilling any kind of moral obligation to minimize the ecological impact of the race. (OK, not necessarily any moral obligation—I know just enough about soil engineering and soil suspended in water to know that there could be issues there that I’m not remotely qualified to address—but any moral obligation related to garbage production.)

But to go back to assuming rational behavior, these between-the-line-readings suggest that Spartan does not consider the amount of added effort resulting from cleaning litter from the course to justify the effort necessary to measure that litter (and then develop procedures to address it).

Not definitive, certainly, but it leaves me inclined to categorize littering on the course as an annoyance rather than a major OCR problem.

(Still, littering is jerky. So don’t. But going overboard in talking about it is also jerky. So don’t do that either.)

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1 Comment

Filed under Commentary, Funny, Obstacle Course Racing, Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash

One response to “A Litter Follow-Up: Race Company Responses

  1. Pingback: Farewell 2015 | Fat Boy Big Wall

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