SailGP has made sustainability a primary focus for their inaugural season; it's part of the new high-performance sailing championship's goal to modernize and redefine the sport. Constant innovation is not just happening in the design and racing of the boats, but from the ground-up on the event sites, where staff carry re-usable coffee cups, wear locally sourced and sustainable clothing, keep recycling bags on support boats and work with local organizations to take care of the coastlines at each venue.
SailGP is spearheading an effort in the marine industry to “turn off the tap” on waste, establishing a clear link between ocean waste and remove dependence on single-use items, challenging the process of how the public values products and materials and creating a “green” culture that the organization hopes will trickle down through fans.
"Sport is a powerful vehicle to drive change," said Dr. Susie Tomson, SailGP director of sustainability. "When the sailors, the heroes, are standing up wearing something that's ethically sourced or made from recyclable material or making a statement about how easy it is to refill their water bottle, all those young people will follow their example."
This week SailGP will become the first World Sailing Special Event to commit to a sustainability charter and be activating across all its points, ranging from carbon footprint reduction to supporting the UN Clean Seas Campaign.
"This sport relies on harnessing the power of nature; the sailors are interacting with the environment constantly. They are some of the first people to realize the changes that are happening on our planet. Working on how our sport overall can reduce our impact and advocate is important,” said Dan Reading, Head of Sustainability for World Sailing. "We have members in 145 countries when we survey them; sustainability is always one of the most important issues raised."
Three days out from the Cowes event, members of the SailGP organization gathered with local community group The Final Straw Solent to clean up a beach area on the River Itchen used by the local rowing club and the local community. Eight million tons of plastic enter the ocean every year, and the activity was a demonstration of the overall action to bring that number down.
Bianca Jayne-Carr, founder of The Final Straw Solent, knew precisely the spot where SailGP athletes could make an impact on the community.
"We're near Southampton port, which is one of the most active ports in the entire UK. The movement here is immense, the number of people and containers, things that are going through the Solent. This beach is public, not taken care of by anyone particular. We hope after we clean up, locals will come down to have a cup of tea or picnic with their kids, because right now it's not a safe place to do that."
"It always astonishes me the amount of plastic, but also the microplastics you can hardly pick up," said Great Britain SailGP helmsman Dylan Fletcher. "I think as sailors, it's our responsibility to keep our playground and our field in the best condition. It may seem like a small thing today, but if everyone did something small, it would make a big difference."
For the athletes, participating in sustainability efforts means being stewards of their workspace. The overwhelming response from the athletes is that they should be responsible for where they race, and that caring for the racecourse is essential to the future of the sport.
France SailGP Team helmsman Billy Besson imagines a better future for his kids, "For me, I would like to affect the thinking about the ocean and the plastic in it. I am one generation to live with that, but I would like to change the future for my children and the next generation, we need to improve."
SailGP estimates that re-usable cups and water refill stations in the Cowes SailGP Race Village will save over 10,000 plastic bottles. Even the F50s themselves are made out of recyclable material; the carbon fiber tooling for the current boats is from recycled fibres and recycled plastic bottles. SailGP is accelerating towards a sustainable future where the championship has a net positive impact on the environment and society, inspires future generations, and innovates to target performance alongside stewardship of the environment.