Could sailing be the greenest sport around?

A great article by Tolly Wright on

His sport may have won him gold, but the savvy sea-tamer is now all about going green, by making sailing a shining example of sustainability. Here’s how

Sir Ben Ainslie isn’t just a pretty face or, for that matter, a four-time Olympic gold medalist. He’s also a leading force behind bringing sustainable practices to elite competitive sailing. After winning the prestigious America’s Cup as part of San Francisco’s Oracle Team USA in 2013, Ainslie decided to create a team from the ground up, Land Rover BAR (Ben Ainslie Racing) to win Auld Mug (the nickname for the America’s Cup, yachting’s most prestigious prize) for Britain. The skipper doesn’t just want to win, though, he wants to deliver the shiny silver trophy while creating the smallest carbon footprint possible.

“We had a vision of creating a sustainable business from the start,” explained Ainslie at a media breakfast in New York City on Friday. In town for the NYC leg of the eight-city world series, Ainslie and Land Rover BAR’s partners – 11th Hour Racing, Land Rover and BT – were offering up both coffee and their plans to make the world a better place. They had plenty to boast about: carbon fiber recycling methods, an impressive new headquarters in Portsmouth, UK, which receives 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources, and, most recently, plans to create a sustainability charter with the five other teams competing in the series.

Ainslie was more than happy to share the green spotlight with his partners and began the morning by giving credit for much of the environmental progress to 11th Hour Racing, an organisation that promotes sustainability in sailing. The Olympian remarked, “Wendy [Schmidt, co founder of 11th Hour Racing] really impressed upon me my responsibilities as a sportsperson and as a leader to use renewable resources.”

The idea that sports can make a difference in this resource-guzzling world of ours was a recurring theme. Schmidt cited a study, “I read 20 per cent of Americans follow science writing, but 80 per cent follow sports.” It would seem that the study is correct: during the two days of races in New York, thousands of spectators lined the Hudson River to see the action. It’s hard to image a science study receiving as many clamouring fans.

Still, sailing isn’t as mainstream as other sports – you’ll rarely see people painting themselves from head to toe to root on the local yachting club. However, Niall Dunne, chief sustainability officer for BT, noted, “Sailing is a great place to start [bringing sustainability to professional athletics], because it is a sport connected to the biosphere.” (BT is also Land Rover BAR’s technology in sustainability partner – and also one of Collectively’s partners; BT joined forces with Ben Ainslie last year to launch 100% Sport, a campaign to inspire sports’ fans to tackle climate change and use more renewable energy) Like surfers, sailors work closely with the ocean and need clean seas in order to properly perform.

Susie Tomson, Land Rover BAR’s sustainability manager, was also on hand to discuss some of the finer details of project. The rules regarding the size of the yacht and certain regulations are decided before the races, but there was plenty of room to make the process greener. Tomson said, “The boat itself is actually just a small part of the [building process]. If we can recycle the mold – reclaim some of the fibers – that would be massive from the environmental standpoint.”

Land Rover BAR is currently testing different methods for recycling carbon fibers and resin to effectively build these molds. Tomson admitted, though, that the big question remains: “What do you do with the boat after the races?”

They may still be figuring that out, but rest assured that the sails of past models have already been used to create tote bags. This is great news here in New York, where recently passed legislation means that there’s now a five cent fee on plastic shopping bags.

This story appeared on:, May 18, 2016 .