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Sports: SailGP’s Champions For Change sustainability programme promises “More Speed, Less Plastic”

As SailGP, the sailing world’s hottest global race series, arrives in Singapore for the first time this weekend, the competition organisers remain humble of their popularity, and are using the platform as a vital force for good.

SailGP’s thought leadership program Champions For Change brought together like-minded individuals at the Adrenaline Lounge as the build up to the first Grand Prix of 2023 continues. The Danish SailGP team are using the event to launch a new initiative with its partner One Ocean Foundation – “More Speed, Less Plastic”, which will take the top speed of the Danish team in each event and turn that into an amount of plastic trash to divert from the ocean. This will also be done for the fastest overall team and the Danish will offset on its behalf, so it gives teams another reason to go fast. 

Since Season 2 in 2021, SailGP has introduced the Impact League, which tracks the positive actions teams make to reduce their overall carbon footprint and help accelerate inclusivity in sailing. A second leaderboard, which runs alongside the Season Championship, was created to monitor the performance of teams in the Impact League, with each team’s score at each SailGP event being added to the overall Impact League leaderboard. This also marks the world’s first, integrated initiative designed to make sustainability action essential to the fabric of sport and to accelerate the transition to clean energy, in order to help mitigate climate change.

SailGP’s Impact League has a set of sustainability critera – social and environmental – to operate against with each team awarded points based on its fulfilment of these criteria. The criteria range from pioneering new technologies focusing on clean energy solutions and removing all single-use plastics, to diversity and inclusion and using the team’s voice for good. Each team will be externally audited and an overall leaderboard created after each event. By independently measuring and auditing every aspect of sustainability, the Impact League ensures that SailGP and its teams are maximizing their efforts, ensuring genuine systematic change and crafting the new ‘sustainable-normal’.

Says Fiona Morgan, SailGP’s Chief Purpose Officer: “SailGP has set its ambitions high, and aims to be the world’s most sustainable and purpose-driven global sports and entertainment platform. We’re not there yet, but we’re going to get there, with other goals such as to reduce our carbon footprint by 55% by 2025 by running on clean energy, and use innovation and technology to make an impactful change for our planet through sports. The UN itself says that fashion and sports are the two sectors that are the next space to make change for climate, and with such a huge platform of fans, we can make change happen.”

SailGP’s sustainability initiatives are not simply a solo effort, and involve a slew of other parties and stakeholders to make their impact even greater, including collaborations from NGOs, sponsors, government bodies, and of course, participating athletes, contributing to SailGP’s overall philosophy of teamwork as key to making change. These even include statutory boards such as the Singapore Tourism Board, who are making a case for increased sustainable tourism as part of their ongoing Tourism Sustainability Programme roadmap.

SailGP also frequently collaborates with local NGOs and projects in each host country, such as Parley for the Oceans in San Francisco, and One Ocean Foundation and Ocean Purpose Project here in Singapore. Recognising that the impact of climate change can and does affect the ocean, with almost 81% of the world’s total plastic waste coming from Asia, the aim is to innovate around the problems, identifying issues such as fuel consumption, rising sea levels and plastic pollution.

Says Jan Pachner, Secretary-General of environmental sustainability project One Ocean Foundation: “Climate change is closely connected to the ocean, like rising sea levels, and we work together with other industry players and use Funds from the Impact League go into projects that look to combat plastic waste.”

Says Mathilda D’Silva, founder of local social enterprise Ocean Purpose Project, who has lent their support to the event as Singapore’s Impact Partner: “We focus on using technology and innovation to find a solution, and we are here to lead where our story will go, whether its through the medium of raising funds or changing the way hydrogen is obtained. SailGP isn’t just any squad, but a squad powered by nature and the wind and the sea, and gives us a chance to share what that beauty is and take steps together to make the future of the world a possibility.”

Even beyond sustainability, SailGP’s Champions For Change programme also vouches for gender equality, in the form of the Women’s Pathway, a scheme that provides opportunity for women to receive world-class training and development, before racing at the top levels to create role models for the next generation.

Says Katja Salskov-Iversen, Strategist for Denmark’s SailGP team and Olympian: “The Women’s Pathway allows for a sport that doesn’t include many women right now a chance for greater gender equality, and I’ve received the great opportunity to go for everything I’ve ever dreamed of. I look forward to the day we can have a more mixed gender team in the main race.”

Says Fiona Morgan: “I’m very optimistic about the future. The Impact League has only just begun but we’re already making so much progress – it shows that thrusts like education and incentivising via competition can be a viable way to promote sustainability.”

“SailGP is trying to make that change, whether in terms of inclusivity or just opening up more opportunities to learn and do things. Beyond the Women’s Pathway, our events also involve so many young people from all backgrounds, and we want to offer them exposure and experience, and keep the momentum going, alongside our partners and athletes.”

SailGP Chief Purpose Officer Fiona Morgan speaking at the Champions for Change event at the SailGP Adrenaline Lounge in Singapore.

“And as we move forward into Season 3 and beyond, we’re starting even more new initiatives and setting targets, especially looking more at the supply chain and how much impact they have on our carbon footprint,” she adds. “We’re looking to switch to more carbon neutral products and services, like clean energy such as electric and solar power in future, or even switching to drones over helicopters for our broadcasts. Meanwhile, we’re also trying to make travel more sustainable in terms of aviation, especially being a global competition, and we’re working closely with partners like STB to promote sustainable tourism.”

“In the road to sustainability and change, it’s not always difficult or radical, sometimes it’s about doing what you can, just one or two things to make little differences. We have our partners to thank, because we’re all here trying to drive change in the industry. Everyone is on this journey together to do something brave in doing something different, and challenge the norm.”

Photo Credit: SailGP

SailGP takes place from 14th to 15th January 2023 on the beach at Parkland Green, East Coast Park. Racing starts at 2.00pm local time across both days, and the Festival Village opens from 1.00pm to 5.00pm. Tickets and more information available here

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