How sailing is being reborn as a sustainable sport

Sailing on folks
Sailing on folks   -   Copyright  Sailing GP
By Evan Bourke

This year, SailGP – Sail Grand Prix, the Formula One of boating – launched the Impact League, which established social and environmental sustainability criteria for its catamaran-racing teams, awarding them points for reducing their carbon footprint and increasing inclusivity in sailing.

The ground-breaking initiative is set to change the course of sailing, turning it into one of the world’s most sustainable sports.

The only major international sailing event outside of the America’s Cup, SailGP introduced the Impact League while just in its second season, running the competition in tandem with its sailing championship.

“We have the sport championship – the teams competing against each other on the racecourse – but we also have the Impact League,” explains Julien De Biase, Chief Operating Officer of SailGP. “It's a parallel leaderboard where the teams are scored on the positive impact that they have in reducing their footprint, sourcing their food responsibly, managing their waste, and having a number of operators stay at home and operate remotely, and all of that gives them a ranking.”

In the Impact League, teams are recognised for pioneering new green technologies in sailing, as well as following best practices, such as removing single-use plastics from operations

“The boats are pretty innovative, starting with the design,” says De Biase, “Obviously, they're pretty big boats, very light, supercharged, but quite big, and we need to transport them from one venue to another in containers. The first thing we did for efficiency is design a boat that you can fully pack up. So, imagine a boat that’s made of bits of Lego that you can disassemble and put in one or two containers. That makes us massive gains, both financially and in terms of carbon footprint when we transport our boats.”

The teams are also awarded for using their voice for good and demonstrating a commitment to diversity within the team. Each team is externally audited, and their scores are tallied on the leaderboard after each event, with the winners receiving cash prizes.

“The teams all have a foundation that they race for and the prize money they get for their Impact League ranking enables them to fund their foundation and support local projects at home,” says De Biase.

This year, while Australia won the championship, the New Zealand team came first in SailGP’s Impact League and New Zealand’s project partner, Live Ocean, was awarded $100,000 for the win. And this is just the beginning of sailing’s green rebirth.

Sailing GP
Sailing GPSailing GP

Besides being the first major league sport to use sustainability as a competitive metric, SailGP has pledged that all its events will be powered by nature both on-water and on-shore by 2025. In addition, events are being broadcast sustainably. For the 2021-22 SailGP, broadcast operations were carried out and coordinated remotely through SailGP's production hub in London, powered by renewable energy, making SailGP the first carbon-positive entertainment broadcast in the industry.

The association’s ultimate goal is to inspire other sporting leagues to follow suit.

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