Can sailing events take sustainability in yachting to another level?
Sustainability Sailing

Can sailing events take sustainability in yachting to another level?

Peter Franklin
Monday, 7 September 2020

During the last few years the word ‘Sustainability’, has become one of the most widely used in the English dictionary. Not surprisingly, there has been a strong connection with the health of the oceans as part of the discussions around the subject, and as we have seen at METSTRADE, the activities of the leisure marine / water sports community have become increasingly focused on delivering more sustainable products and practices.

Back in January, at the start of this incredibly difficult and unprecedented year, the UN secretary general António Guterres sent out a clarion call to the world, asking for a ‘decade of action’ in order to achieve 17 wide ranging and detailed UN Sustainable Development Goals. (SDG’s). Whilst all 17 SDG’s are important and in many ways interconnected, two of them in particular relate very directly to our industry; No 13: Climate Action - (reducing C02 and greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere,) and No 14: Life Below Water - (conserving and sustainably using the oceans, seas, and marine resources.) 

Along with so many other events and meetings this year, the UN Ocean Conference originally scheduled for June 2020, has had to be postponed to a later date. However, on the plus side, the ‘pause for thought and reflection’ which has generally occurred due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, has given the time, and the impetus, for many individuals and organisations to sharpen their focus on how to become more sustainable in future.     

The Ocean Race, postponed and refocused.

One major event that has had to be put back from its original start date in 2021, is the Ocean Race (formerly known as the Volvo Ocean Race) which is now scheduled to sail out of Alicante, Spain in October 2022, finishing up in Genova, Italy during the summer of 2023. As it happens, this revised plan would have the finish coinciding with the 50th anniversary since the very first race back in1973, with the coming event being the 14th edition.  The other effect of this postponement has been to create an opportunity for the organisers to work on a new ’10-year plan’ for the event. This will put sustainability at the front and centre of the race format, and will compel the competing yachts and their crews to be an integral part of the sustainable outreach during the whole program. 

Volvo have been the title sponsor and main shareholder of the Ocean Race for 20 years, and the last edition under them in 2017/18 certainly had sustainability as a key element in its public image.  However, the event is now under the new ownership of Atlant Ocean Racing Spain, a sailing sports management enterprise which was founded in 1998 by Johan Salén and Richard Brisius, both men with a solid background in ocean racing and management of professional sailing projects.

According to their latest information, the next race, and those following in 2026 and 2030 will have a more intense focus on sustainability throughout every aspect of the event. This will include a sustainability awareness and education programme centred around the ‘Ocean Race Summits’ which will be held at every one of the ten stop-over cities along the route.     

Engaging local communities, and answering to the planet

Speaking with the Sustainability Report, a publication reporting on sustainable initiatives in the sporting world, Brisius the organiser’s President and Race Director said, “the 2017/18 Summits were focused on macro, global sustainability issues. By contrast, the upcoming Summits will have a local feel, with participants exploring regional sustainability challenges, and solutions to those challenges.”

“We’ll adapt our programme very much to the local city,” he explained. “We’re not pushing a specific programme onto the city, but we are pushing a requirement to have a sustainability programme. We’re asking them: ‘If you get the race, what are you going to do with it?’” In a more nuanced reference to the change of emphasis under the new ownership, Brisius remarked, “previously the goal was to work for Volvo our shareholder, now our only shareholder is the planet.”

The planned stop-over cities will once again include The Hague in the Netherlands, which, will be the penultimate destination before Genova this time, after being the final port-of-call in 2018. After the fleet had endured 45,000 miles and 126 days at sea, the Summit held at The Hague in 2018, was very much focused on accelerating the transition to sustainable solutions.  

Apparently more than 2.5 million sailing fans attended the race stop-overs for the last event, so there is little doubt that the sustainability message can get through to a wide audience via the global interest in the Ocean Race, and hopefully trigger more actions and initiatives within the boating community.      
The other cities along the route after leaving Alicante in 2022, and before the fleet reaches The Hague will be:  Cabo Verde, Cape Town (SA), Shenzen (China), Auckland (NZ), Newport (USA), Itajai (Brazil), and Aarhus (Denmark.)

Race entries to meet sustainable compliance criteria.

The next edition of the Race will be open to fully-crewed entries in the one-design V065 class, and the high-tech foiling IMOCA60 class. For each of the competing yachts it will be mandatory to have scientific apparatus onboard for collecting ocean condition data such as weather conditions, microplastics, salinity, sea surface temperature, chlorophyll etc.  The teams will also have to prove prior to entry, that they are able to provide at least 30% of their onboard systems energy from renewable sources.     

Volvo remains a premier partner of The Ocean Race as does 11th Hour Racing, who are known for investing heavily in their Sustainability education programme, which they plan to extend to secondary school children during the next event. 

Note: Kellie Covington, a consultant on sustainability initiatives with 11th Hour Racing, will be joining the series of virtual presentations and panel discussions presented by METSTRADE over the coming months. Kellie will present her views about how Circular Economy initiatives can be implemented in yachting. Look out for more details soon.

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