I often get quizzical looks when I tell people I run a carbon neutral sailing race. Most people, who don’t sail, simply assume that sailing is carbon neutral. Logic would say that sails are powered by wind and therefore you aren’t using any fossil fuel so what’s the carbon impact. Yet when you start to add up all the myriad of things that go into running an event (not just a sailing event)…well there’s an awful lot of carbon emissions created.
Now add in the sailboats and teams
When you stop and look at everything we do to put on one event it really does demand a lot of the earth’s resources. Getting back to just the sailing , what many people don’t realize is that to race offshore you need electronics and as we all know electronics don’t mysteriously power themselves.
The Class 40, the boat used in the Atlantic Cup, is designed to race offshore and has a good deal of electronic systems on board: standard navigational displays, routing computers, water ballast and an autopilot to name a few.
So where does all this energy required to get everyone and everything from one place to the next come from?
The Atlantic Cup takes an overarching approach so that all event operations are looked at through the lens of how can we minimize impact. Looking at that list above again, here are some of the ways we aim to reduce our carbon footprint:
Most of the staff car-pooled together white van and box truck, which also transported our equipment and the skipper’s gear.
In New York and Newport we stayed in apartments or houses. This eliminated maid service and daily laundering, it also reduced the amount of waste creation in mini soaps and supplies. And by staying in housing as opposed to hotels we were able to minimize our electricity usage as well.
We aim to host outdoor events but when that’s not possible, we work with venues who use energy-efficient lighting and then track all those hours of monitor time, electricity time and calculate our kWh usage.
Hours of monitor usage
This year we estimated 1,824 hours of monitor use for staff and competitors.
Always a tough one to calculate, but it’s important to determine how many miles people traveled to come to the myriad of events we put on. Our post-race estimate is 62,259.75 miles traveled by attendees.
Printing of signage (banners, flags, tents)
Things we keep in mind when purchasing any banners or signage: Where are the signs coming from? Are they made with recyclable materials? Will they have a usable life of more than one year? For instance, a lot of durable outdoor signage is made with PVC, we aim to avoid purchasing any PVC signage. Also vinyl is not recyclable, however there is an after market so we will bring what we no longer need to a facility in Pawtucket, RI so it can avoid the landfill.
Food production (i.e. where does the food come from, is it from a sustainable source)
This involves asking a lot of questions of the restaurants, venues and caterers and then working out a menu that keeps food as local as possible and as sustainable as possible. (i.e. Shrimp can come from as far away as Thailand, perhaps that is not the best option.)
Food waste and other waste (where does the food go, where does all of the other trash and/or recycling go)
We calculated the distance all of our waste had to travel this year to get to a landfill or recycling transfer station. Some cities have a shorter distance to travel than others. For instance in New York City waste travels and average of 272 miles before getting to a landfill. In Newport and Charleston we coordinated with local compost facilities and our event staff personally drove the compost to area facilities.
This can be a huge carbon offender and it’s somewhat unavoidable, however, some there are things we do to mitigate excessive shipping. By driving our staff and all of our gear to and from all of three cities we travel to we eliminate the need to for shipping of our gear and skippers’ gear. However, there are a lot of items we have coming to us from various places so again looking at our vendors and asking where their facility is located, how far will this have to travel to get to us can help us make informed decisions about who to work with. Often times you can find vendors who offset the shipping as well. We ordered recycled paper for printing of all of our posters and the company we worked with offsets all of their shipping costs with wind power.
Creation of event materials – programs, posters, flyers
One of our race partners is WindCheck Magazine and they print our race guide. Their magazine is always printed on 100% recycled paper and instead of printing a separate guide we are an insert within their May issue. This reduces the amount of additional printing resources and also keeps our material on recycled paper.
This really isn’t difficult, but it is a mindset and there is definitely a cost associated with making sure you buy recycled, renewable and sustainable product
The Atlantic Cup has a no single use plastic water bottle policy. To fulfill that goal there are always a lot of reusable bottles around. All event staff and volunteers are given bottles. All guests at our events in New York City were given bottles. We work with all of our event venues to make sure no one is serving or selling any plastic water bottles. Another race partner Zip2Water supplies our water filling stations that travel with us from venue to venue so that there is always a source of water available to anyone.
Now add in the sailboats and teams
Support boats are a huge offender of fuel consumption, but they are a necessary evil of running a sailboat race. I am hopeful that someone who has the engineering know how can create a completely hybrid electric engine that we can use for our race and other races across the country. One thing we do though in the meantime is use boats that are in each city as opposed to transporting boats by land to each place we go.
The Class 40 requires all boats to have an engine, which generally is used for getting to and from the docks and for charging and powering electronics while offshore. It’s also often used as a heat source. The Atlantic Cup or the Class do not make any stipulations about carrying a certain amount of fuel while racing, giving teams the option to lighten their weight by minimizing the amount of fuel they take and deriving their energy from an alternative fuel source. Most teams, however will carry some fuel in case of emergency and to get to and from the docks.
To mitigate this, Newport Biodiesel supplies all of the competitor boats with biodiesel to create a B20 blend (that’s 80% unleaded and 20% biodiesel). Realistically you could put 100% biodiesel in your marine engine and some of the teams do use more, but we set the bar at 80/20.
The Class 40s are strongly encouraged to carry an alternative source of energy production separate from their engine. Some teams use a hydrogenerator, some use fuel cells and some use solar panels. This year Dragon sailed by Mike Hennessy and Rob Windsor did both distance legs of the Atlantic Cup without turning their engine on once and only using the hydrogenerator as a fuel source.
Again tracking where are the competitors coming from to be able to do the race. In many instances they’ll have sailed into Charleston, but a lot of them do fly in so we track their travel and add that to our overall footprint.
Water (not the water they sail on)
For whatever reason using plastic water bottles has seemed to become the norm on a lot of sailing vessels these days, perhaps it’s a lazy habit, but in any case we don’t allow them in the event. All Class40s hold at least 1 40 liter tank of water. We supply the teams with water bottles and a filling station so they can fill up and use their tanks while racing.
Many boat-cleaning products are highly toxic. We supplied all teams with Matt Chem Marine hull and deck cleaner, black streak remover and engine cleaner this year. Matt Chem’s products are all biodegradable and sustainable and what we heard is that they work, which we know has been a complaint from competitors in the past about some of the eco-friendly cleaning products.
We supply each team with compostable trash bags. Most of the waste that the teams create that isn’t recyclable while offshore will break down over time in a landfill. So why would we give the teams plastic trash bags that will never breakdown?
Throughout the event we were tracking our footprint and when the event concluded we provided a recap document to Green Mountain Energy, the official energy sponsor and carbon offset provider to the Atlantic Cup. They currently have our information and are calculating what our footprint for the 2013 event was. Once that’s complete they will purchase Renewable Energy Credits and Carbon Offsets to bring us to a carbon neutral status.
While in some respects we are a significant event in the US on the sailing calendar we are in many respects a small event in comparison to a Super Bowl or Olympics. However, what we’re doing is scale-able and it’s doable, as long as those who are in charge of the event adopt a mindset and approach that puts sustainability and our planet first.