International Sailing League brings sustainability on board


Last weekend, San Francisco Bay hosted the Formula 1 of boating, the Sail Grand Prix, co-founded by Oracle’s Larry Ellison. Fifty-foot catamarans raced across the bay to conclude the organisation’s second season, with Australia winning the final on Sunday. The league is part of an effort to raise awareness of sailing as a sport and this is only its second season, but it is the only major global sailing event outside of the America’s Cup.

Australia wasn’t the only winner to be crowned on Sunday. The New Zealand team finished first in SailGP’s Impact League, a second competition that focuses on each team’s sustainability efforts and carbon footprint at the season’s events. As part of this competition, each team works with a non-profit purpose partner including Wave of Change, Energy Observer Foundation, STEM Crew and A Plastic Planet, with whom they work on projects throughout the season and during race events. The New Zealand project partner Live Ocean received 100,000 US dollars for the win.

Teams track their food waste, water use, travel emissions and total carbon footprint for each of the seven events that make up the season and are audited by third party Simply Sustainable to earn points.

Many teams, including winner New Zealand, switched to a plant-based diet during the events and separated waste into compost and recycling; added vinegar to their boat wash programs to reduce water usage; and even made small changes to securing equipment, e.g. B. moving away from disposable cable ties. The teams also worked with a New Zealand-based Future Post to turn plastic waste from the boats into fence posts instead of throwing them away.

“We wanted to make sure it was fair, accountable and measurable,” said Fiona Morgan, Director of Purpose and Impact at SailGP. “And that was for the external exam. But in the future we have to make it more efficient. At the moment it takes one day per team per race to review the Impact League, so a full eight days of review for each race.”

While SailGP allows its competitors to make small changes to their day-to-day processes for sustainability, it also has its own goals and brings sustainability into every aspect of the event.

By 2025, SailGP is committed to “being powered by nature in our events both on water and on land” and reducing carbon emissions by 55 percent. SailGP also reports to CDP and will receive its score this summer. According to Morgan, it will be the first sport to do so.

Alongside the racing events, SailGP held a sustainability presentation for event sponsors on Friday called Champions for Change. The session included interviews with event sponsors, including Oracle Chief Sustainability Officer Jon Chorely and Simon Fischweicher, Head of Corporations and Supply Chains at CDP North America. There was also a demonstration by NGOs including the Energy Observer Foundation, a non-profit organization run by ex-seafarers that is researching hydrogen energy solutions for on-water power.

Behind the scenes, SailGP has transitioned to full telecasting and according to CEO Russell Coutts, it was the first sport to be televised live in this way. The move will reduce the amount of equipment shipped worldwide to events taking place in locations such as Bermuda, Italy, UK, Denmark, France, Spain and Australia.

“One container replaced 28,” said Warren Jones, SailGP’s chief technology officer. “And we don’t have 100 people traveling to every event. They stay back in London, they use the same equipment and they do exactly the same thing because [Oracle’s] cloud-to-cloud services.”

According to Jones, the data centers used for transmission run on 100 percent renewable energy. SailGP will also go carbon neutral for the Championship by offsetting its carbon footprint with its partner One Carbon World, funding mangroves in Myanmar and contributing to Climate Neutral Now, a United Nations portfolio of wind and hydropower projects.

Sailing uses the wind and water power of nature with innovative technology. Coutts believes that many innovations developed for sport can be applied to other sectors. A division of the organization, SailGP Technologies, combines its expertise in sailing with partners for technological advances. Together they are investing in electric boat innovation, an area that is lagging behind the fast-growing electric vehicle market.

While the boats in the race are wind-swept sailboats, the spectator, pursuit, security and media boats that accompany events like these are traditional hogs of fossil fuels that need to be replaced to make the sport greener. Self-steering, solar-powered buoys marking the race course provided by MarkSetBot eliminates the need for an additional boat to travel to and from the buoys to set them up and move them in changing winds. The racing boats are equipped with dozens of sensors that record everything from wind speed to drag to clock angle. Teams are using this data to rake in profits, but SailGP Technologies is evaluating whether it can be used for an innovative shipping solution that generates energy from waves similar to a wind turbine.

“If you’re developing this technology anyway, you might as well direct it towards a purpose, to hopefully do something good,” Coutts said.

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