On Monday I was asked to come along to the Ocean Solutions panel at the Borrow-A-Boat Southampton Boat Show. Sitting alongside my World Sailing Trust colleague Hannah Hoare and Nick Doman from the Ocean Bottle, we talked about practical environmental initiatives people could take as sailors, as well as the governance lead that World Sailing has set with Agenda 2030 and setting up the World Sailing Trust, and the inspiring leadership shown by projects such as SailGP.
Putting together an intro slide, I looked back on the last 20 years and realised that I had been involved in this growing movement for 20 years - but had we come far enough? 20 years ago, I was taken on as the RYA’s first environmental advisor, my remit was really to protect the interests of boating folk from the perceived increasing wave of environmental legislation. Now ocean health and campaigns around ocean health are front and centre to many sailing campaigns. But it wasn’t always like that.
Back in the early 2000’s together with my good friend Justine Davis at the British Marine Federation – now British Marine, we set out to develop a project called the Green Blue. If we needed to protected boater’s interests, we needed to ensure they were looking after our playground. My argument as to why we needed to be doing this, was firmly routed in the concept of protecting our playground which continues to be used now. On the stage just before our panel was Mike Golding, Ocean sailor but also Green Blue Ambassador and Chair of World Sailing’s Sustainability Commission.
As the Green Blue pushed the RYA and British Marine into the realisation that they may not be environmental organisations, they were responsible organisations, the Green Blue took hold and started to become ‘second nature’. The next big step was TeamOrigin, which was set up and led by Sir Keith Mills and drove the development of Race for Change a forward-thinking partnership with the Carbon Trust to “win the America’s Cup and inspire action on climate change”. Lucky enough to be in the right time at the right place, I was taken on as their Environment Manager and formed my company Earth to Ocean. The America’s Cup then went through those tumultuous years and Team Origin was disbanded. London 2012 shifted the sport and sustainability needle internationally and The Weymouth and Portland Sailing Academy was one of the ISO20121 pioneers – embedding sustainability well and truly into its operational management. ISO20121 is the international standard for sustainable event management systems developed by the London 2012 Games.
During and after London 2012, golf was pioneering sport and sustainability with the Golf Environment Organisation and the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles built on previous work and started their own standard for sustainable tournaments. At this time Ben Ainslie was part of the American team, Oracle Racing - winning the America’s Cup in San Francisco and BAR which became Land Rover BAR was formed. I remember the clearly the meeting with 11th Hr Racing early on that led the BAR team to commit to a sustainability pathway where a major sponsorship partnership was formed and Land Rover BAR took sailing and sustainability to new levels winning awards for its achievements in this field. What did I think could be achieved ……….. I said that was only limited to your level of ambition.
The Volvo Ocean Race had been involved in ocean science and collecting data and I was asked to come and input into a much bigger strategy they wanted to form. The event has gone from strength to strength creating huge awareness around ocean plastics and the health of the oceans and building on the ability to bring sustainability partners on board.
In 2016, I helped World Sailing define their sustainability agenda, which culminated in publishing their Sustainability Agenda 2030, realising this was a full time role to deliver and setting up the World Sailing Trust. Almost full circle, that Agenda 2030 has resulted in the World Sailing Special Event Sustainability Charter to be formed and working with SailGP, we developed the Charter and were the first signatories. At SailGP, we have another opportunity to accelerate change. A league driven by technology and ambitious in its goals, we have an opportunity, not just in sailing or the industry but wider. Committing to the UN Climate Change’s Sport for Climate Action Framework will hopefully bring sports together to drive change quicker.
20 years ago, everyone at Southampton Boat Show through I was nuts, they might still do, but I am not the only voice anymore and the movement is growing and that is exciting.
The evidence is there - at Earth to Ocean we started tracking sport's sustainability initiatives and the last 20 years progress is clear.