Guest Blog: Sustainability in Bite Size Pieces, Creates Big Results | Sailors for the Sea Clean Regattas Program

2017 Environmental Innovator of the Year: Sailors for the Sea

Guest Blog by Sailors for the Sea

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Sailing is a life-long sport that allows participants to get involved and achieve success at just about any age. As one learns to sail, they create a true connection to nature, and often the elements of nature – wind and waves – are harder on sailors than their fellow competitors. Nature demands a certain amount of respect from sailors, but for years sailing events have felt that by utilizing the wind for movement, they were being environmentally conscious sport. But when you look at the details of how the sport operates, you begin to see many ways sailors can change their behavior and give back to the waters that bring them so much joy.

10 years ago, Sailors for the Sea started the Clean Regattas program – the only sustainability certification for water-based events. It is a hybrid model of sustainability based on the ISO 20121 standard for Event Sustainability Management; the ISO 14000 standard for Environmental Management; and the Global Reporting Index (GRI) Event Organizers Sustainability Guidelines.

But to make those big words accessible for overburdened volunteers who often run sailing events, we simplified the concepts into Best Practices and provided checklists to allow regatta organizers to achieve Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum levels. Over time, the program has evolved and become more streamlined, and today it has 25 Best Practices with specific guidelines, such as a minimum of 7 to meet Bronze level, and a requirement of composting and public engagement at the Gold level.

The Clean Regattas program instills the concept to “Play Greener” throughout the sailing community. The introduction of the program to an event often starts with just one individual. As planning begins, the influence expands as a green team is formed. The green team, which can range in size from 2 to 250 people, is trained in the sustainability efforts – often helping sort trash, recycling, and composting; helping refill water bottles; or creating emergency plans for oil spills. Every athlete at the event is engaged in the sustainability initiatives, as they are embedded in the event planning and management. Spectators or fans also partake in the Clean Regattas program when watching from a boat or onshore.

We’ve worked with events from all over the world, from the smallest children’s regatta to the largest sailing events in the world, such as the 34th America’s Cup or the Volvo Ocean Race, with more than 100,000 fans in attendance. This is possible because the program is made to be scalable and practical. Over the course of 10 years, more than 1,100
events have participated in the program with more than 400,000 people partaking in sustainability efforts. 2016 marked the 10-year anniversary of the program, and was the largest year yet with 216
events and 42,256 people in 32 US States and 31 countries and territories.

But more than numbers, we are proud of the way the program impacts communities and changes dialogue around environmental issues. The feedback on the program is overwhelming positive. But don’t just take our word for it! Recent quotes from program users include:

“The discussion generated by the event promises to have a lasting beneficial impact on our clubs attitude toward waste management. We were about to demonstrate the workability of sustainable practices and debunk any justifications for the continued reliance on single use disposables. Participants who brought their own durable goods were make to feel proud for having done so… We also raised enough money to sponsor recyclables pick up service for a year.”

– George Michels, Vice Commodore, North Flathead Yacht Club, Somers, MT

“There were so many ‘best parts’ about being a Clean Regatta! We partnered with community organizations and businesses that would not normally be involved with the regatta or sailing in general. The entire process is straightforward and transparent. We are already talking about how to improve on next year’s event and will be thrilled to be a certified clean regatta.”

– Marcia Ward, Green Team Organizer, Little Traverse Yacht Club, Harbor Springs, MI

“Clean Regatta has given the [Royal Honk Kong Yacht Club] a structure and a checklist to ensure that whilst we are sailing we are also protecting our oceans.  Enrollment in the Clean Regattas [program] was the catalyst for the club to become plastic water bottle and plastic bag free on Ocean Day earlier this year.”

– Marcy Trent Long, Sailing Manager, Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, Hong Kong

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