As professional sports adopt more sustainable practices, initiatives have been heavily focused on American football, basketball, soccer, baseball, and auto-racing. What about more niche sports?
In the sailing world, a new player has entered the fray. Sail Grand Prix (SailGP), a start-up league, is working not only to provide exceptional competitions but to educate fans about combatting climate change. According to SailGP, it is the world’s first climate-positive sport.
Starting in 2018, SailGP is made up of teams representing nine countries. A prize of $1 million is on the line as races take place in famous harbors all worldwide, including San Francisco, Taranto, Italy, and Sydney, Australia. Season Three concluded in San Francisco this May, and Season Four starts in June in Chicago.
As the sailing league has grown in popularity, SailGP and the respective teams have worked to increase awareness about the need for climate action and switching to sustainable living. The company’s efforts include campaigns on and off the water.
Photo Courtesy SailGP
In 2021, SailGP undertook the Race for the Future campaign to educate fans on the importance of utilizing advanced green technologies to reduce pollution and power consumption. Each team’s catamaran was outfitted with electric engines to use them while the sails were drawn. The plan is for all race boats and support fleets to be powered by renewable energy by 2025.
The engine batteries are powered by solar energy, and panels are installed on the catamarans to charge them. The league hopes electric engines combined with wind power will show that renewables can be powerful and useful when properly converted into electricity.
Beyond electric boats and solar-powered charging, SailGP is stepping up in other ways. In July 2022, CEO Sir Russell Coutts announced the creation of the Impact League, an initiative designed to make sustainability and environmental advocacy a key part of the league’s racing experience.
“The Impact League shows our commitment to racing for the future,” explained Coutts. “It will ignite the competitive nature of our world-class athletes and reward success off the water — for impactful actions — in the same way we do on it.”
All race teams compete and are held accountable for participating in environmental advocacy campaigns. They could be anything from reforestation efforts to embracing a plant-based diet. SailGP tracks everyone’s progress, and the winning team is crowned right before the sailing champion at the end of each season.
“Our commitment to sustainability is much deeper than words or promises; it’s based on long-term, measurable action,” Coutts continued.
Photo Courtesy SailGP
The racing teams also carried out some interesting initiatives in communities holding their events. In the second season, at the Taranto, Italy, race, a grand reforestation effort was carried out by SailGP executives, centering on more than just planting new trees. The goal was to engage young people in sailing and conservation while promoting gender equality through the SailGP Inspire campaign.
In 2021, Around 118 Taranto youths aged 9 through 23 met with SailGP to learn about career opportunities, training courses, and sail racing. They then went on to plant 50 poplar trees at an old 19th-century arms factory site to reduce soil contamination levels, protect local wildlife, and sequester carbon dioxide emissions from air pollution in the area.
The poplar trees are estimated to reduce emissions by up to 1.48 tons in five years. The active engagement by SailGP allows kids and young adults to learn about climate advocacy at a young age and finds ways to keep them involved.
Along with reforestation, solar power provided by portable energy provider Aggreko allowed for a cutting-edge solar grid that generated immense volumes of renewable power for the catamarans, engine charging, and other electricity needs. This efficient portable energy supplier has made it possible to make sure SailGP events create little-to-no greenhouse gas emissions.
Over the course of the Taranto race weekend, enough energy was produced to power a standard U.K. household for close to a month. The sailing league is unafraid to take up all kinds of eco-friendly practices. SailGP is back in Taranto in Season Four.
As SailGP is still a new sports league, it remains to be seen how they will continue their extensive environmental action campaigns in the future. We can expect teams to take up more of them, especially with the league’s mission of reaching carbon neutrality at all events by 2025. SailGP is charting the course of sustainability across all niche sports, and the early campaigns are showing promise.