The Greening of our Sport: An Interview with Keith Peters

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Over my career in the sport of running, which spans, twenty seven years, there are about a dozen people that I would put on my all star team. Keith Peters would be one of them. I first met Keith in 1986, I believe, as I began traipsing around road races at the behest of the publisher of Runner's World at the time, Mike Perlis.

I met Keith, I believe at the Boulder Bolder race in 1986, and Keith was the man behind the scenes at Nike-as the Nike sports marketing manager, Keith helped support some of the most important events and significant athletes of a golden generation. Keith moved into PR in the nineties at Nike, but perhaps his most significant influence was on Nike.com and the way Nike would interact with the media for the coming electronic age. His Nike.com site, in 1995 and 1996, was some of the best content ever produced by a corporation, and also his gentle approach to spin allowed us to truly make our own decisions but also have access to athletes and news. Keith might disagree with me on various matters, but his honesty was refreshing. I can remember the smile on his face, appearing from ear to ear, under a beard which reminded me of one of my favorite professors in seminary.

I had not spoken to my friend in perhaps a half dozen years, when his name came up in reference to green marketing. A perfect place for a man who places honesty before all else.

Here is an interview with Keith Peters, which Keith completed a week or so ago. Read his comments, check out his website. As you will see, there is alot we can do to improve how our sport reacts to the world around us.

RBR: Keith, you spent a decade plus at Nike, did it prepare you for running your own company? Do you miss going to events each weekend?

KP: Actually, I spent seventeen years at Nike. First in Sports Marketing, then in PR and finally with NIke.com. The breadth of experience and the freedom and encouragement to be innovative and take risks certianly helped me feel confident going out on my own. When I left Nike, my goal was to not fly for a year. It took a couple of years to eliminate the occasional trip, but now it's been three years since I've flown on a plane. Traveling to the "How Green is My Event?" workshop will be fun because I'll get to reconnect with old friends, but I'm not really looking forward to the trip. Thus, I guess, I would say, NO, I do not miss going to events each weekend at all.


RBR: Tell us a bit about your own company? How did you develop Kpcomm? who are you clients?

KP: kpcomm (no caps, thanks). Started out as a marketing communications company in 2001, and my initial client was an environmental education center here in Jackson Hole. Over the past seven years, I've had a number ofnon-profit and small business clients, primarily local and environmentally focused. About a year ago, I re-entered the sports marketing world as a partner in a local training center (www.theathletesplace.com) and as a consultant to an old friend who had just acquired controlling interest in a performance sports training business (www.athleticrepublic.com). Now, my focus has come full circle and all my projects/clients are sports marketing/communications related. I'm also launching a new business venture with an old friend and colleague called Eco-Logistics (www.Eco-logistics.Biz)--We think the time is ripe to help participant sporting events become more sustainable.


RBR: With all of the talk about green marketing, how do you begin the conversation?

KP: Every conversation starts with my applauding whatever effort to become more sustainable the person/client is making. We've all got to start somewhere, and take it one step at a time as budgets and circumstances allow. There's always the risk of being accused of Greenwashing, so a slow, systematic and transparent approach to becoming more environmentally responsible makes the most sense to me.

RBR: Do you believe races can go green?

KP: I believe every road race can become more environmentally conscious and responsible. "Green" is a subjective term, and ultimately, I counsel folks to measure their impacts and measure their progress. How "Green" they are/become, on a scale from light to bright green, is much harder to gauge than it is to track progress toward clear goals and objectives. I also believe every participatn sporting event must accept the fact that it has an environmental impact and owes its participants and community an honest effort to reduce that impact as muc as possible.


RBR: What are the first steps you have a client look at to determine what changes they need to do with their business?


KP: To begin, I ask them why they contacted me and what they hope to accomplish. Sometimes they have a clear answer. Oftentimes, they just have a vague sense that they could do more/better. The first real step is to analyze the opportunities and develop a plan to meet clearly defined objectives, however modest or aggressive they may be.


RBR: Can Running and Walking events, which on the surface seem to have so much waste, control their efforts without cutting back on services?

PK: With the encouragement and support of event participants, I believe that events will redefine what essential services really are. And, I believe that demand for environmentally responsible services will increase greatly over the short term. To me, providing on-site recycling and composting opportunitis is a bigger value-added service than the food and drink being provided today that creates the need for recycling and composting. People have shown they respond to causes. The challenge is to make environmental responsibility as attractive a cause as Leukemia/Team in Training, for example.

RBR: It will all come down to dollars, as you know-do you believe that attention to sustainable marketing will attract new and different sponsors down the road?

KP: I believe different sponsors will pick up where some of the current sponsors leave off, but, I think many of the existing sponsors will see the light and become more environmentally responsible themselves in order to maintain their role in the sport. A good example of this is what Poland Spring Water did at the ING New York Marathon last year. Look for companies like Poland Spring to continue to address the issue and innovate to maintain their presense in a sport they obviously care a lot about.

RBR: Have you kept abreast of the sport of running? What do you think are the biggest issues in the sport? How do we keep evolving?

KP: As my aging knees and low back have limited my own running. I've lost touch with many of the events I used to participate in, instead, I 've turned to competitive road cycling for my endorphin fix. Since I'm not current on many aspects of the road racing scene, I should probably withhold any uniformed opinions I might have on the state of the sport. I will say, however, that I think environmental responsibility is one of the biggest issues facing every participant sport ( cycling, triathlon, running, golf, you name it).

RGR: How do we get young people involved? Is there a way through green marketing?

KP: Young people have to see the value in whatever they choose to do. For many of them, value and values go hand in hand. If "Green Marketing" is genuine and appropriate, perhaps it might attract the youth who care about the state of the environment.

RBR: And last but not least, you worked in our sport in some of its golden years. Tell us about your favorite event? Your favorite athletes? A favorite memory?

KP: Favorite event: Cascade Run off-of course! Favorite athletes: Joan Benoit Samuelson, Lynn Jennings, Steve Moneghetti, Jon Sinclair, Kim Jones, Bob Kempainen, Michael Johnson, Mark Allen. Favorite competitive memory: Jon Sinclair and Michael Musyoki battling down to the wire in the 1982 Cascade Run-Off. Favorite Defiant Memory: Bucking the establishment and openly paying prize money in the 1982 Cascade Run-off.

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