A new chapter for World Sailing and sustainability: Aarhus 2018 and beyond

A new chapter for World Sailing and sustainability: Aarhus 2018 and beyond

The 2018 Sailing World Championships may not quite be ground zero for World Sailing’s Agenda 2030, but it will play a significant role in shaping future events around sustainability

A good sustainability plan is all about psychology. It’s about presentation. And storytelling.

It’s about how you can engage the public to do something for the planet in a way that makes them feel motivated to get involved. That, at least, is the philosophy of Rasmus Jensen, a partner at Danish sustainability consultancy World Perfect.

The company’s name alludes to Jensen’s belief in the importance of communication. One of World Perfect’s major lines of work is developing waste separation bins for major festivals, which may not initially sound sexy or complex. But Jensen’s method of combining human psychology with communication makes it sound like an art form.

“We do a lot of very geeky stuff regarding waste and energy,” he says with a laugh. “We look at people’s behaviour at festivals and try several approached with coloured waste bins. We found that we needed to develop something that people would like to communicate and interact with. So that they would walk those two extra steps to sort their waste, not just throw it in the trash or the ground.

“We interviewed people from different festivals and municipalities to see what would be the best design. So we designed something that you couldn’t place a beer on top of. We actually made one EventBox (the name of the waste bin) black and the others white. The black characterises a Sith Lord (Star Wars villains) and it’s only for trash. Hopefully this will be empty because people are sorting their waste in the white units. This is the storytelling we like to do. This is communication.”

A similar trash concept has been developed by World Perfect for the Sailing World Championships 2018, which is being contested in the company’s hometown of Aarhus, Denmark. As the event’s sustainability partner, the consultancy has also created an innovative waste system for competing sailors.

Spending several hours at sea during the competition, sailors must bring adequate supplies to nourish and hydrate themselves. However, trash carrying those items can often find its way overboard, contributing the the increasing ocean plastics crisis. World Perfect’s waste system can be tied around the ribs of the boat, and allows sailors to separate their trash in various compartments.

“We made a few refinements on the system. The straps were too tiny and were not recyclable material,” Jensen tells The Sustainability Report. “You know when trucks go abroad and they have huge containers with plastic covering them? The straps on the waste system are now made from the straps that were used to tighten those covers.”

“Where did you source those?” responds a bemused The Sustainability Report.

“We go the extra mile to find the right stuff,” Jensen says, once again laughing. “We needed to find somebody who knew somebody, who knew somebody. World Perfect has an insanely huge network. But seriously, it’s a very huge part of sustainability; we cannot do everything ourselves. We need to cooperate with the small companies and huge companies.”

One such cooperation is World Perfect’s partnership with Danish energy company E.ON, which will use all of the food waste from the Championships to make biogas at their plants, “closing the circular value chain”.

Spectators congregate for the opening ceremony of the event (Credit: World Sailing)

With approximately 1,500 sailors taking part in the event (not to mention the number of spectators), waste management is a logistical headache. But the subject of waste is tangible to sailors who, generally, know first hand the growing concerns around ocean pollution.

Where World Perfect really needed to harness its communication skills, explains Rasmus, was convincing the competitors to drink tap, not bottled, water.

“Water in Denmark is so pure,” he says. “It’s important for us that all athletes, coaches, judges and officials from all over the world come to Denmark and drink the tap water, and make sure they don’t buy plastic bottles. I hate them.”

He adds that “communication, communication, communication” is the key to making them all aware that the water is safe to drink, particularly competitors afraid of getting sick before their big race. To drive home the point, Jensen has recruited ambassadors from Denmark’s sailing and coaching team, including national team coach Peter Hansen, to demonstrate the purity of the nation’s tap water.

There was even a plan to manufacturer reusable bottles from bamboo, but Jensen reveals that the product would “blow the budget”, so plastic was used instead.

“Of course we need to also deliver solutions that a suitable economy wise,” Jensen laments. “So right now our world is not in the position where you can make sustainable solutions for everything.”

Unfortunately this edition of the Sailing World Championships 2018 won’t be completely free of single-use plastics, although that feat was achieved at the Youth Sailing World Championships in Texas last month under the watchful eye of Dan Reading, the sustainability programme manager for global governing body World Sailing, and sustainability partner 11th Hour Racing.

The good news is that Aarhus 2018 will be the last World Championships in which this will happen. After agreeing a comprehensive sustainability strategy (Agenda 2030) earlier this year, World Sailing now stipulates in all contracts that event hosts must commit to fulfilling a certain number of mandatory sustainability requirements. And that includes the abolition of single–use plastics.

“We’re using the event in Texas as a bit of a benchmark,” Reading tells The Sustainability Report. “That’s more of a typical event with around 400 competitors. We have a variety of long-term strategic targets. Some of them are around the adoption of electric propulsion for support boats. We also want a 50% reduction in overall carbon usage by 2024 before becoming totally carbon neutral.”

World Sailing’s targets are ambitious. But when the governing body asked members to approve its Sustainability Agenda 2030 strategy, all 145 affiliated countries accepted its scale and scope. Reading “almost fell of my chair” at the unprecedented 100% support for the document, but accepts that when it comes to implementation, some of World Sailing’s policies may raise eyebrows.

“Everyone has agreed that we will reduce carbon emissions by 50%, but then how do you go about doing that? There may be controversial parts within that ambition that will have to be navigated carefully,” he explains.

“In theory, we could change a rule and say that from next year everyone has to have electric coachboats. It wouldn’t be very popular because some smaller nations can’t afford that equipment. You have to really think before you put in cost barriers for people. It’s about having balance and implementing things in stages.

“So, for example, we could have an incentive where we reduce the number of coachboats by 50%, but if a nation has electric coachboats they wouldn’t be counted in the quota. Some teams will see that as a performance gain and they might potentially invest in that.”

Reading is also hoping that World Sailing’s “good relationships” with boat manufacturers will move the needle on the strategy and change the sailing industry more widely in the way that Formula E has for the motor industry. When new classes of boat are being designed, World Sailing could stipulate that 90% of the boat’s hull must be recyclable and “let the industry come up with the solutions”.

He’s identified competitions like Volvo Ocean Race and the America’s Cup as fertile ground for innovation due to the teams’ “large research and development budgets” and their drive to achieve maximum performance gains.

And while the Junior Sailing World Championships in Texas will be World Sailing’s ground zero, Aarhus 2018 offers the governing body an excellent opportunity to start effective measurement in order to lay the strong foundations its wide-ranging strategy requires to flourish.

“We’ve got data for the 2012 Olympics, but for some of the other events we need to at least find out where we are,” Reading says, laying bare the scale of the challenge. “And this (the Sailing World Championships) will be one of our biggest events.”

Reading, Jensen and the sustainability team will measure how much fuel is being used, how many coachboats are in operation, as well as statistics on water and waste. World Sailing should then be a position to create concrete plans for reduction – including rule changes if necessary.

“World Taekwondo recently changed a rule to facilitate gender equality, which set quite a precedent,” Reading says. “After that it’s then more straightforward for me to convince our federation to do the same regarding sustainability. Hopefully that will also push other organisations to do the same.”

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