The mountains and oceans are our key climate action allies. Sport must be collaborative and innovative to protect them, says Ingrid Beutler
While ski touring in the mountains around Chamonix, three mountain addicts – a leading ocean sustainability campaigner (Anne-Cécile Turner), an international sports lawyer (Ingrid Beutler) and an expert in sustainability and digital communications (Pierre Germeau) – contemplated how to bring the learnings of sustainable innovation from sailing to mountain sports. The idea of the Sustainable Mountain Alliance was born with the mission to help facilitate the transition to sustainable sports and tourism.
A year later, the Sustainable Marine Alliance was established, joining forces with Kellie Covington, with the aim to accelerate the integration of sustainability in the recreational marine industry. Sailing sports have pioneered the use of collaborative partnerships between scientists, boatbuilders, sailors and sponsors to reduce and inset carbon emissions, reduce waste and stimulate a circular innovative economy with race owners and sponsors integrating sustainability criteria as conditions to race.
Mountains are particularly sensitive to climate change and are crucial to life on earth. As the world’s ‘Water Towers’, mountains supply around half of the world’s population with water for drinking, irrigation, power generation and other invaluable uses. Mountains are islands of biodiversity, home to more than 85% of the world’s species of amphibians, birds, and mammals, far exceeding the species diversity of the lowland. Mountains are home to 22% of the world’s population and are the milieu for millions of mountain sport athletes and tourists, attracting around 15-20% of global tourism.
So, with that in mind we established the Sustainable Mountain Alliance (SMA) 2021, a Swiss based non-profit that acts as a collaborative platform for inspirational, innovative solutions and a regenerative economy in the mountains. The SMA works across three programmes, one of which is ‘Sustainable Sport and Tourism’.
Through the SMA Impact Fund, the Alliance supports solutions that contribute to a sustainable transition of the alpine sport and tourism industries, seeking them out through a series of challenges. The first of which, the Air Quality Challenge, was launched on 11 December 2021, together with ThinkSport, and the Sustainable Sport Lab (SSL), after having identified poor air quality as one of the greatest threats to humanity.
The 2023 Challenge will focus on Sports for Nature, seeking innovative solutions that promote and enhance biodiversity conservation, particularly in the mountain environment linked with sport.
The SMA’s key annual event is The Big Climb, an annual journey to the summit of Africa, Mt. Kilimanjaro (5895m), which raises awareness about social issues affecting communities. Ten young people from Kenya and Tanzania are sponsored to join The Big Climb, joining representatives from the private and public sectors who subsequently mentor the youth. The Big Climb 2022 focused on sustainable mountain development, with the Impact Fund supporting solar panels on the local Marangu Hospital roof to offset the carbon emissions related to The Big Climb.
The Big Climb Nepal was launched in 2022 in partnership with UNESCO Nepal, an 11-day expedition to Everest Base Camp (5,300m) through the Sagarmatha National Park. The aim of the trek was to raise awareness about the challenges faced by indigenous mountain communities, to highlight the International Year of Sustainable Mountain Development 2022 and to raise funds for local sustainable mountain sport and tourism NGOs.
As of 2023, the SMA will be part of the European Union Erasmus + Funded Project ‘SIEPPUR: Sustainable Snow Management’ with partners including the International Biathlon Union (IBU), Peak 63, the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL), Svenskt Skidskytte AB (SSAB), the Polish Biathlon Association (PZB), and the Slovenian Ski Association (SZS). The project aims to identify, develop and promote sustainable practices in snow management from production, storage, transport, grooming to handling. Recognised as a transitional solution, the issue of snow management is pertinent, with climate change particularly affecting winter snow sports.
From summit to sea
The Ocean is also one of our greatest allies in combating climate change. It generates 50% of the oxygen we need and absorbs 25% of the CO2 emissions we create. But this critical and diverse ecosystem is increasingly threatened by pollution, global warming and overfishing.
A natural advocate for the ocean, the sport of sailing has become a leading voice for its protection and restoration with The Ocean Race, 11th Hour Racing, Sail GP, World Sailing and others winning awards for their ambitious programs. However, sustainability initiatives remain dispersed, uncoordinated, and unaligned resulting in delays and missed opportunities to restore the ocean to health.
In response to this challenge, the Sustainable Marine Alliance was launched at the end of 2022, with the support of sustainability professionals across the sport of sailing. Its mission is to advance the integration of sustainability across the recreational marine industry by increasing collaboration in the face of complex and systemic challenges, and using our common influence to accelerate ocean restoration.
The Sustainable Marine Alliance has a holistic approach with five key target areas where increased industry collaboration will allow us to go faster, further and more effectively: sustainable boat building, ocean science, diversity, equity & inclusion, biodiversity protection and sustainable events. In 2023, programmes will be launched for sustainable boat building and ocean science.
The sustainable boat building program is the result of work produced during The Ocean Race Sustainable Boat Building Innovation Workshop Series, hosted between 2019 and 2022. More than 80 leading industry companies and teams came together to identify opportunities for innovation and to address the key systemic challenges facing the transition to a sustainable future.
Together the industry has co-created the Industry Roadmap 2030 to advance actions under the pillars of materials, waste, energy & enablers, and built an industry platform for sharing best practices, case studies and technical information. The workshop series has also delivered a report on barriers and enablers as well as an overview of impact reducing actions that you can take today. All of these resources are accessible on the Sustainable Marine Alliance website.
In December 2022, the participants co-created the following program for 2023:
– Continue developing the shared industry platform as per the workshop recommendations including the addition of a library of mistakes (sharing more case studies of failed trials to prevent others from making the same mistakes)
– Launch a materials consortium to build trust in alternative materials.
– Host a fourth innovation workshop to continue the momentum and identify further actions for 2024
In addition, the Ocean Science Consortium programme will focus on increasing data collection via a collaborative approach of the usage of data collection devices, and by onboarding the recreational boating industry and their immense and untapped fleet.
Developments around data analysis, archiving and visualization are also included in this program, together with work on a data science protocol. Finally, and in line with the overall proposition of the Sustainable Marine Alliance, our team will also dedicate its energy to develop advocacy around Ocean Science, via reporting tools and events.
Ingrid Beutler is the co-founder of the Sustainable Mountain Alliance