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SailGP: Driving change through sport, on-shore and on-water

August 24 2023

SailGP recently released its latest Purpose & Impact Report, which highlights the competition’s ongoing commitment to environmental and social sustainability. The international sailing series first took place in 2019 and is aiming to be the world’s most sustainable and purpose-driven global sports and entertainment platform.

SailGP: Driving change through sport, on-shore and on-water

Reporting for Change 

Season 3 of SailGP took place between June 2022 and March 2023, with F50s – the quick, technologically advanced foiling catamarans that fly through the water – racing in the US, Bermuda, the UK, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. 

One aspect of this ambition is to report on its on-shore and on-water footprint, and initiatives that are driving its journey to changing sport for good.

SailGP became the first sport to disclose its carbon strategy with the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), an international non-profit organisation that works with businesses and cities to manage their environmental impact.  

The competition was rated B- by CDP, with the scale ranging from A to D-. It has committed to improving on that in future seasons as it continues to be dedicated to accountability and transparency. 

“I think transparency and honesty is key; we’ve set ourselves some pretty ambitious targets and I think we’ve painted quite an honest picture through our Season 3 report,” said Rosie Gosling, SailGP’s Sustainability and Impact Project Manager, told Global Sustainable Sport.

“An indicator of how transparent we are trying to be as a business, was our disclosure to CDP last year. We are really proud to be the first sport to disclose and we got a B- in our first year, which we are proud of. We’ve just completed our disclosure for 2023 and really hope that we will improve. It’s a learning process, and we learn from them on how we can improve things and what we can do better over the next few seasons.”

Progress

SailGP’s goal is to be 100% powered by clean energy on-shore and on-water by 2025, and delivered five events 100% powered by clean energy in Season 3. This was an increase from one event in Season 2. Powering five events with clean energy in Plymouth, Copenhagen, Saint-Tropez, Cádiz and San Francisco saved a total of 236 tonnes of carbon last season.

Season 3 also saw SailGP reduce its on-water support fleet carbon footprint by 13% per average event compared to Season 2. It also saw emissions relating to staff transport decrease by 22% per average event by optimising its operating model, hiring locally and remote working.

SailGP has ambitious targets in place, with a 55% reduction in its carbon footprint by 2025 from its 2019 baseline and to eventually reach net zero by 2040. In Season 3, Scope 1 emissions relating to fuels for support fleet, fuels for temporary power and fuel for helicopters made up 1.8% of its carbon footprint. Scope 2 emissions in Season 3 made up 0.04%, through electricity and gas powering the office and electricity at events.

The majority of SailGP’s carbon footprint comes in the form of Scope 3 emissions. These relate to the supply chain, staff transport, accommodation, freight, social media and broadcast, waste and on-water spectators.

"Our goals are long term and we are looking for continuous improvement season by season." Rosie Gosling, SailGP’s Sustainability and Impact Project Manager

“I feel like we’ve achieved so much this season. I would love to say that we’ve surpassed all of our targets but I think we still have a long way to go, and obviously embedding sustainability across our sport is a marathon rather than a sprint,” said Gosling.

“Our goals are long term and we are looking for continuous improvement season by season. We’ve certainly seen a lot of successes this season, which we are really proud of. It’s about tracking our progress and Season 3 has very much been about advancing and expanding on the groundwork that we’ve established in previous seasons.”

Autonomous electric race marks developed by SailGP helped to reach the 13% figure, as previously they would have been dropped in position by support boats. The race marks were rolled out in Christchurch in March and will be used in Season 4 to further reduce the series’ on-water emissions.

Through a partnership with logistics company Kuehne+Nagel, SailGP also reduced its freight emissions by 83% compared to Season 2, by eliminating air freight and opting for sea transportation. This process saw SailGP select efficient, low-carbon routes and insetting unavoidable emissions through biofuels.

SailGP is further engaging its supply chain, which is a major element of the series’ footprint, to make sure the right suppliers are chosen and to continue to bring those emissions down.

Better Sport and Better Planet

Gosling explained that SailGP’s goals are split into two pillars, ‘Better Sport’ and ‘Better Planet’.

An area in which SailGP is tracking well against its goals, is in its ambition to be powered fully by clean energy by 2025.

“This season we’ve made really great strides towards this goal both on and off the water,” explained Gosling.

“We’ve achieved five events fully powered by clean energy, which increased from one last season. This means that all of our onshore operations were powered by clean sources, depending on the venue and the infrastructure for each event. This really varies, so that includes through solar, biofuels, hydrogen, as well as clean grid sources.”

Gosling continued: “And then on the water, we’re really proud to have reduced our emissions by a per average event of 13%. This was achieved through trialling electric chase boats, conducting trials of sustainable fuels at some of our European events, as well as looking at ways that we could operate more efficiently at each event, and reduce the need for support boats on various areas on the water.”

SailGP is not only tracking well against its goals, but has actually surpassed its targets in some areas. The sport was aiming to engage 10,000 young people by 2025 as part of its ‘Better Sport’ pillar, but in Season 3, SailGP reached the figure of 14,665 young people. This was done through three programmes based on learning, career and work experience opportunities, and through racing, where kids from local clubs can practice their sailing skills.

Making an Impact

Elsewhere, SailGP’s international thought-leadership network ‘Champions for Change’ also hosted seven events, bringing sustainability leaders and change-makers together to share expertise and innovations on climate change and inclusivity within sport.

Then, its own athletes take part in the Impact League each season, which measures the efforts made by each team towards sustainability goals. Season 3’s Impact League saw the ROCKWOOL Denmark SailGP Team take top spot, with New Zealand second and Emirates Great Britain finishing in third.

Denmark took the top spot through numerous projects including its ‘More Speed Less Plastic’ initiative. For every 1km/h speed clocked during each event, 10kg of plastic litter was committed to be removed. At the end of the season, five tonnes of ocean-bound waste had been cleared.

“I’ve been with SailGP for two years now, and it’s just incredible to see how the teams have embraced the Impact League and how it is truly embedded across the teams now,” said Gosling.

“They are highly competitive, and it’s been amazing to see how their competitive mindset has changed the way that they do things as a team to try and get themselves to the top of that leaderboard.

“It’s not easy all the time, but the survey that we did at the end of the season showed that 75% said they had changed the way they did things as a team as a result of the Impact League, and we’ve evolved it further for Season 4.”

Gosling added that many features of the Impact League for the first three seasons have now become “business as usual”, surrounding the correct management of waste, and energy consumption and keeping this below its baseline. There are minimum requirements for each of the teams to meet at each event, but these have now become the ‘norm’.

SailGP has also inspired others to turbocharge their own sustainability efforts through events, initiatives and its wider network. SailGP delivered 13 local impact projects to help protect, support and restore delicate ecosystems and promote clean energy solutions.

“From a local Impact Project perspective, we work closely with our host cities and stakeholders at each event to leave a positive impact at the venues where we race. In Season 3, we delivered four clean energy projects and nine ocean conservation-led projects,” said Gosling.

“This leaves a really good impact at the host venues, and also enables our athletes and fans to engage and see the impact that we’re having locally.”

A Pathway for Women

Season 3 saw 26 female athletes race on F50s with more than 65 hours spent on female training in non-strategists positions. A notable moment highlighted in the Purpose & Impact Report was British athlete Hannah Mills returning to racing after the birth of her first child. Mills became the first mother to race in the SailGP championship, and demonstrated the ability of women to navigate a sporting career and family life.

“We’re making great strides towards gender equity through a Women’s Pathway,” explained Gosling. “It was launched in Cádiz in 2021. Over the course of Season 3, we’ve had 26 different female athletes on the boat, and we’ve started to see female athletes develop into and be trained for different roles. [We’ve had] strategists, where they’re supporting the driver on tactics at the back of the boat, and we’ve had women training in the Driver, Wing Trimmer and Flight Controller positions.

“This season we had someone racing in the Flight Controller position in one of the races, so it’s great to see women in different positions on the boat, and I hope that by this season or next we’ll have a female athlete driving the boat. We’re doing all we can to drive gender equity on the boats and the teams are putting a lot of focus into training up their female athletes.”

Forward Thinking

SailGP Season 4 is already underway, and is next heading to Saint-Tropez in September. The calendar has seen five new cities added, with the hope to drive sustainability through sport globally.

“It’s not easy, it’s an ongoing challenge to embed sustainability and I’m really proud of everything we’ve achieved,” said Gosling.

“It’s definitely not easy, but we need to continue to be brave, to innovate, push boundaries and collaborate as much as possible to drive change, and inspire our fans to do the same. It’s very rewarding at times.”

You can read SailGP’s latest Purpose & Impact Report, here

Images: David Gray/Ricardo Pinto/Jon Buckle/Bob Martin for SailGP

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