Sailing toward sustainability: SailGP outlines progress on engaging fans, combatting emissions and championing climate action

The organisation also became the first sport to disclose its carbon strategy with CDP

SailGP’s Season 3 Purpose & Impact Report, published on Thursday (10 August), detailed how its latest sailing season attempted to engage more fans and grow support while reducing emissions and championing sustainability.

The report highlights the performance of Season 3, which consisted of 11 global events with nine teams, against key climate targets. SailGP reported strong progress in its ambition to be 100% powered by clean energy on-shore and on-water by 2025, delivering five events powered by 100% clean energy, compared to four in Season 2. SailGP saved a total of 236 tonnes of carbon as a result.

One such event was in Plymouth, which utilised bio-methanol and solar as an energy source for a Race Village, along with hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) for a Technical Area.

SailGP also reduced emissions from its on-water support fleet by 13% per average event and reduced emissions related to staff emissions by 2022.

One major breakthrough was delivered in partnership with global logistics company Kuehne+Nagel. SailGP was able to reduce its freight emissions by 83% compared to Season 2 by eliminating air freight in favour of maritime transportation, utilising low-carbon routes and using biofuels to inset “unavoidable emissions”.

The progress pushes the organisation toward a target to reduce carbon emissions by 55% by 2025 from a 2019 baseline and then reach net-zero by 2040.

SailGP’s chief purpose officer Fiona Morgan said: “With 2023 shaping up to be the hottest year on record, it’s clear every sector – including sport – needs to step up to the challenge of mitigating climate change. I’m incredibly proud of the work we did at SailGP in Season 3, making positive headway in our ambition to be the world’s most purpose driven and sustainable global sports and entertainment platform.”

Transparency and action

Scope 3 emissions account for more than 98% of SailGP’s carbon footprint, with suppliers being the main contributor. Other factors, such as staff transport, waste, social media and broadcasting, accommodation and spectator numbers, have all been measured and accounted for.

Suppliers accounted for 80% of SailGP’s Season 3 emissions and the organisation has set up a supplier engagement strategy to uncover decarbonisation opportunities. A clean energy roadmap has also been developed and refined to include carbon intensity targets and “clear guidance” on what constitutes clean energy across fuels and energy supply.

The organisation also became the first sport to disclose its carbon strategy with CDP.

Season 3 saw the number of events increase from eight to eleven and the number of teams from eight to nine. As the organisation attempts to grow in order to highlight and champion sustainable actions amongst sports fans, emissions did increase as a result.

For Season 3, SailGP’s carbon footprint was measured at 79,669 tCO2e – an 67.7% increase from Season 2. The organisation believes the lessons, transparency and successes it was able to generate in Season 3 will put it in good stead to deliver carbon reductions moving forward.

“Despite an upward trajectory on overall emissions, our level of ambition has not changed and we will continue to innovate and challenge. We are committed to driving a low carbon agenda across sport and learning from our challenges. We know that as a league we want to grow and bring wider sustainability benefits, beyond carbon, to locations all around,” the report states.

“Carbon is a key focus, but not our only one, and we expected a likely increase in our carbon emissions from Season 2 to Season 3 owing to the growth of our league – the increase in the overall number of events and teams, the growth of our fan base, and the expansion of our geographies.”

Looking ahead to Season 4, SailGP is aiming to champion four key pillars in its Impact League. These include a “race to zero waste”, continuing climate action, accelerating inclusion and “breaking boundaries” through the Women’s Pathway initiative to increase the involvement of young people and the number of female athletes participating in F50 racing.

“Embedding sustainability in sport is a marathon, not a sprint, and Season 3 has been all about learning and striving for continual improvement,” Morgan added. “We’ve enjoyed some great success in key areas, and despite increasing scope 3 emissions, our commitment to a low carbon agenda remains unchanged. Sustainability in sport is not easy, especially when SailGP is a growing league and we need to minimise our environmental impact.

“But at SailGP we love a challenge and we see every obstacle as an opportunity to innovate and collaborate, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. We have to continue to be brave, challenge the status quo and show the world that purpose can go hand-in-hand with driving business value.”

edie spoke to SailGP’s chief purpose officer, Fiona Morgan, as part of its ongoing #SustyTalk series. Click here to listen to the conversation.

During the discussion, Morgan outlined the company’s ambition to be the world’s most sustainable and purpose-driven global sports and entertainment platform. Morgan also argued that sports must go beyond ‘getting their own houses in order’ and empower and inspire competitors and fans.

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