When I tell people that the Atlantic Cup is the first-ever carbon neutral sailing race in the US, the typical reaction is a puzzled “wait, the boats are powered by the wind–isn’t that green?” Turns out the boats need lots of on-board electricity on long haul races like the Atlantic Cup. GreenSportsBlog spoke with Julianna Barbieri, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Manuka Sports Event Management, the Newport, RI-based company that manages the Atlantic Cup, about the challenges of running a green, world class sailing race; the state of “clean regattas”, and the greenness of that “other” sailing race, the America’s Cup. (Ed. Note: Lewis Brand Solutions, parent company of GreenSportsBlog, worked as a consultant for the Atlantic Cup in 2011-2012)
GreenSportsBlog: Julianna, tell us about the Atlantic Cup
Julianna Barbieri: The Atlantic Cup is an annual offshore sailing race, from Charleston, SC to New York City to Newport, RI. It’s the only Class 40 race in the US–Class 40s being 40 foot, high tech yachts, manned by 2 people. It takes place every May–we are preparing for the 4th annual race next spring. Environmental responsibility has been a central facet of our DNA since the beginning and our 2012 race was certified Carbon Neutral.
Atlantic Cup Class 40 Yachts race in New York Harbor
GSB: What are the key drivers of the Atlantic Cup’s strong environmental record?
JB: My Co-Founder, Hugh Piggin (a professional sailor from New Zealand), and I have always been environmentalists. The race’s environmental profile was enhanced when we signed 11th Hour Racing*, dedicated to the goal of “establishing a platform for responsible energy use in sailing”, as our Presenting Sponsor–they’ve been with us since the beginning. So with our core values and those of our Presenting Sponsors aligned, the Atlantic Cup’s sustainability will certainly have staying power. This is a clear, important signal to the racers, fans, media and the sponsors.
GSB: What specifically does it mean for the Atlantic Cup to be Carbon Neutral, to be green?
JB: Everything we do puts the environment first. For starters, there are no fossil fuels used by the boats during the race. The boats use a lot of electricity—for electronics, navigational lights, weather routing, satellite guidance, etc. So all of the boats are retrofitted with a combination of solar panels, fuel cells and/or a hydro generator.
Julianna Barbieri, Co-Founder and Managing Parter of The Atlantic Cup
GSB: Wow! How have the sailors reacted to the greening of the Atlantic Cup?
JB: Using alternative energy is something all of our sailors are happy to do as it allows them to carry less fuel when racing, which makes their boat lighter and a lighter boat equals a faster boat. On a micro level, the biggest sustainability-related challenge with our sailors has been with something that sounds small–single use plastic bottles. All boats have tanks to cover drinking water use but sailors want plastic because it’s so easy. So we have to work on it. Another component that we talk about a lot with the sailors is not throwing anything overboard. Almost all sailors when offshore throw what they deem to biodegradable overboard, like aluminum cans, glass bottles, and bits of paper. What we now know is that while those items will eventually degrade they will take years, not days and that’s not good for our oceans. Interestingly there is a new rule, Rule 55, in the racing rules of sailing for 2013 that no sailor shall toss anything overboard.
Now, from a macro point-of-view, sailors need the oceans to be clean to be able to compete. So, even before the Atlantic Cup, there was a heightened awareness about the environment. Sadly, not much was being done about it except for an organization called Sailors For The Sea , which certifies “clean regattas”–kind of the LEED certification in the sailing world.
GSB: Has the Atlantic Cup’s carbon neutrality attracted green-minded sponsors?
JB: Some sponsors, like 11th Hour Racing and Green Mountain Energy, support us specifically because we are green. Others, while supporting our mission, sponsor the Atlantic Cup for other reasons, to reach other marketing objectives.
GSB: What about the fans’ reaction?
JB: It’s really hard to get a read on the fans. Most of them follow the race remotely–via our website, Facebook, newsletters. The good thing is our reach is growing. In 2012 we had 16 million measured media impressions. That number grew 75% to 28 million a year later! Going forward we will reach out to our remote fans to get their take on our green efforts and to get them to help to effect change towards cleaner waterways.
Relatively few are on site at our events on shore. Those that have attended in person have responded positively to our sustainability messaging.
GSB: A question about The America’s Cup. It certainly is, by far, the most well known sailing race in the US. Have they embraced sustainability? And has the Atlantic Cup collaborated with them?
JB: You’re right–The America’s Cup’s reach is far greater than ours. That’s no surprise–it’s got 100 years of history and is funded to the tune of 9 figures by a billionaire (Oracle CEO and Founder Larry Ellison). And they are also moving forward in a green way, which is very good for the sport. One reason is the recently concluded America’s Cup took place in San Francisco and that city has very forward thinking and stringent environmental regulations regarding events. The other, perhaps bigger reason is they hired Jill Savery to run their sustainability effort. Prior to the America’s Cup, Jill was the sustainability director for the London 2012 Olympics (Ed. Note: Savery won Olympic Gold at Atlanta 1996 in Synchronized Swimming). She’s a consummate pro and did a great job with the America’s Cup. We did talk and compared notes. Since the Atlantic Cup is an annual race and the America’s Cup takes place every 3 years, we will have two more years of a sustainable track record to share with them before 2016.
GSB: What can we look forward to from a sustainability perspective for Atlantic Cup 2014?
JB: In addition to following some of the best offshore sailors in a very competitive event, we will have an environmentally focused event in each city we visit. Last year we screened a documentary film in Newport. In New York we started our Living on the Edge series, which included an excellent panel discussion on sea level rise and it’s affects on coastal communities. So we’re in the planning process now and as soon as the race details become available, we will let you know.
* 11th Hour Racing is a program of the Schmidt Family Foundation’s 11th Hour Project.