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An interview with Sam Holliday about The Race Around's Futures Program

by David Schmidt 8 Oct 08:00 PDT October 8, 2020
Class 40 racing action at the Atlantic Cup © Image courtesy of The Race Around/Billy Black

Sailing may harness the wind to create lift and forward momentum, but anyone who has been around boatbuilding knows that some of the commonly used materials are not exactly green in nature. As the world moves towards a future that’s increasingly focused on sustainability, sailing, too, must evolve and embrace greener, more environmentally sensitive materials and practices. The great news is that events such as The Race Around—a doublehanded, around-the-world race that will be contested aboard Class 40s and that’s slated to begin in the summer of 2023—is already looking at ways to lower competitive sailing’s environmental wake without lowering competition levels.

The Race Around recently announced The Futures Program, which is focused on creating life-cycle assessments (LCAs) of boat building—including the use of recyclable fibers and resins—via a series of workshops with various event stakeholders. In addition, teams that actively reduce their carbon footprint for new builds and refits can enjoy reduced entry fees for the 2023 race. More importantly, however, the event will build a state-of-the-art Class 40 using recyclable materials, and this groundbreaking boat will be raced around the world in 2023-2024 by a select crew of young, mixed-gender sailors.

While The Futures Program will also consider ways that owners and skippers can extend the life of existing Class 40s—and how they can sustainably refit their boats and deal with end-of-life disposal issues involving large fiberglass structures—the program’s main goals will involve taking collected data, pushing for sustainable Class 40 boats to become the norm (and also influencing industry standards), and creating mandatory carbon budgets for the race’s 2027 edition.

I checked in with Sam Holliday, co-founder of The Race Around, via email, to learn more.

The Race Around doesn’t start for three years—what does the race and The Futures Program plan to do with this sizable build-up time?

You can’t convince an industry to change overnight. We’re looking to set new sustainability standards. It has to be a collaborative process and that takes time.

We’ll be working with academics, organizing industry workshops and building the education and diversity elements of the program in order to help equip a new generation of environmentally aware operators with the information they need to help achieve our mission.

We’ll also be planning the race itself, which is no mean feat and involves ensuring the highest standards of sustainable event production are attained.

The Class 40 rules allow for the use of sustainable materials and practices—can you please explain what kinds of materials that the Futures Program would like to see used in boatbuilding?

It cannot be underestimated how much the class rules allow for innovations through the use of sustainable boat-building techniques, compared to other classes, making it the perfect testbed, plus we have the support of the organization’s technical committee.

We’ve identified a preliminary set of raw materials, following the work carried out by our race partners GS4C who built a Mini 6.50 prototype, and proved that they can be reclaimed from cured composite without downgrading the recycled material or affecting its performance. This is helping us identify the best options for Class40.

However, there is constant evolution as new materials are introduced to the market so we want to be a knowledge hub for the latest sustainable solutions.

What kind of sustainable practices does the Futures Program hope to see implemented?

Sustainable practices must go beyond that of just hull construction methods. Sailors must now look for 360-degree solutions to the impact of sail making, energy production, the way teams are managed and how they communicate. We cannot look at one element and consider that job done.

Our approach has to be circular and has to focus on what we can do as a collective. How can we change our approach and how can we look to tap into the sharing economy.

Do all teams racing in the 2023 Race Around have to embrace the Futures Program, or is it on a voluntary basis? Also, are there any points incentives to get sailors and teams to embrace the Futures Program?

No, the program will not force competitors to fully embrace the program but elements, such as involvement with our education program, will be mandated within the notice of race.

That said, we hope that the data we gather and the work we do with the Futures Ocean Racing Team will be enough to engage the majority. Entry fee incentives are in place for those who share data or choose sustainable materials in the build or refit process but these will not give them a points advantage on the water. If it did, it would defeat the overall objective. We have to prove that an increase in sustainability does not equal a decrease in performance, once on-the-water teams must compete like for like.

Can you tell us about the Life Cycle Assessment initiative? How will this work and what are the goals of the LCA?

The LCA will assess environmental impacts linked to all stages of a boat’s life, from the raw materials and construction process to how we can reuse the parts at the end of life. We will then have a benchmark to set targets for future builds.

We’ll be working with teams to collect the valuable data which will give us a complete understanding of the most up to date practices for sustainable boatbuilding and what carbon emissions they produce. This will allow us to identify priorities and define future guidelines to keep reducing the impact of The Race Around, and, in time, the industry as a whole.

Will teams be contributing data to the race organizers in order for you to create carbon budgets for the 2027 event? If so, can you please explain the kind of metrics that are being considered? For example, does this carbon budget only focus on the boat-building process and the resources (sails, halyards, etc.) that will be used to race, or will it also consider things such as airline tickets and even the food that’s eaten onboard?

We will work in partnership with our teams to obtain, where possible, the data to inform the introduction of a carbon budget for the second edition of the race in 2027. The metrics will explore all aspects of a team's preparations, from build materials and water consumption to on board energy use and production.

The Futures Program will look at carbon emissions, from flights and team logistics too, but these metrics directly link to the race itself, but the sailors' diets onboard aren’t something we’ll include. The specific parameters are being looked at in collaboration with industry partners and academics, Class40’s technical committee will also be consulted to ensure we move forward hand in hand and with chosen metrics being fully understood by all stakeholders – this is key.

Can you please tell us about the education and diversity outreach initiatives?

Promoting equality, including development pathways and mentorship possibilities for women, is a key pillar of the program. This will include internships with staff, such as the race director and apprenticeships with industry specific race partners. There will also be opportunities for disadvantaged groups to experience the thrill and excitement of sailing during stopovers.

Educating school children is an important part of the Futures Program and we will focus on local issues within each host city and create a global environmental project to encourage student collaboration across stopover countries. The program will also create opportunities for those studying at [the] Masters- or PhD-level to integrate the data we collect within their studies and theses.

Can you please tell us about any steps that the race is taking to reduce the use of single-use plastics and fossil fuels? Also, is the race encouraging teams to work on any other onboard practices to lower their environmental wake? If so, can you please explain?

We’ll work hard to integrate sustainable practices and encourage teams to join our mission, elements will be mandated and we’re working on understanding just how far we can take this.

The management of sustainable events is not new to us. The Atlantic Cup, another event I’m involved with, alongside Manuka SEM, was the first to be awarded platinum as part of the Sailors for the Sea Clean Regattas program in 2016, an accolade achieved again in 2018. It was also the first sporting event to be certified ISO 20121 compliant in the United States.

The long-term plan is to use The Race Around, and the boats, to develop solutions that could be transferred to the wider industry and other sectors too. The race is a great testbed for innovation and all solutions will be made available open source to affect real change on land and at sea.

Anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?

Sailing needs to do much more to integrate sustainability within everything we do. We, as a collective, are having a detrimental effect on the natural environment and our operations, from the way we build boats to how we dispose of them, are contributing factors. There’s been a lot of talk but little decisive action. We want our efforts to create that ripple effect within the industry and beyond to drive long term, data driven, change.

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