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McConaghy 2022 - MC63p & MC75 LEADERBOARD

Bruno Dubois on the France SailGP Team's sustainability and diversity efforts

by David Schmidt 15 Jun 08:00 PDT June 18-19, 2022
France SailGP Team helmed by Quentin Delapierre in action on Race Day 2 of Bermuda SailGP presented by Hamilton Princess, Season 3, in Bermuda. 15th May . Photo: Thomas Lovelock for SailGP. Handout image supplied by SailGP © Thomas Lovelock for SailGP

It’s no secret that SailGP offers some of the world’s coolest sailboat racing. The traveling circuit’s fleet of foiling F50 catamarans are the most outrageously fast One Design boats afloat, and the racing—while short-lived (races are generally less than 15 minutes)—offers the kind of leaderboard changes and not-so-occasional carnage that pleases fans of all stripes. Then there are the personalities of the drivers and teams, and a now-packed racing calendar that includes ten Season 3 events. These began in Bermuda (May 14-15), and will continue this weekend in Chicago (June 18-19).

What’s less well known are the efforts that SailGP, as well as the nine individual teams, have been taking to collectively lower their environmental wake, while also creating a welcoming and diverse environment for the sailors. A big part of this latter effort involves giving women sailors a chance to sail and compete alongside their male counterparts.

While the F50s are One Design and are supplied by SailGP (meaning that teams have a lot less leeway to reduce the carbon signature of new builds and new foils and wings), each of the team’s CEOs has latitude to make decisions that can further the league’s push towards sustainability and diversity…and to compete for the Impact League Trophy, which is awarded to the team that has made the biggest sustainability and social efforts in a given season. (The New Zealand SailGP team won this following Season 2.)

I checked in with Bruno Dubois, team manager of the France SailGP Team, via email, to learn more about their Season 3 sustainability and diversity efforts.

Can you please tell us how the French SailGP Team is working to incorporate sustainability into every decision that the team makes?

Sustainability has been one of the key elements of the series since its inception, and an Impact League for all teams taking part in the races was created to specifically focus on this area. At the end of each event, the team that tops the leaderboard and has amassed the most points in relation to a list of criteria, including waste, energy use, travel, food and diversity, wins a prize fund for their Race for the Future partner organization. So, in essence there are two races: one on land and the other on water.

Using these criteria as a benchmark, the French team has stepped up to the challenge with every member, from shore crew to sailors, having a key role to play in improving our performance in all areas. For example, one of our shore crew is in charge of our waste, making sure we optimize recovery. The responsibilities also extend further with the athletes whom we like to nurture their personal interests in specific areas, such as minimizing the environmental impact of the food they eat or in raising awareness of the sport and our environmental efforts to groups of children that visit the team bases. We also explore ways that we can engage and share knowledge with local community projects within the cities we visit.

Our team also has a mission to foster collaboration and innovation over clean energy solutions within our league and beyond to deliver positive impacts for people and the [planet], in collaboration with our Race for the Future partner Energy Observer. Through these actions and by communicating to audiences through social media we aim to raise awareness about current and future sources of energy production. One way we are practically working on this is by facilitating the introduction of hydrogen-based solutions to power our onsite operations.

SailGP is all One Design, so, when we are talking about sustainability, is it fair to say that we are talking about how you run the campaign, s opposed to how you are building the boat? Or, is vessel construction also involved?

All the boats being used in the SailGP series were designed for, and competed in, the America’s Cup in Bermuda in 2017, so we’re reusing them in competitive sailing events.

Whilst our sustainability initiatives are certainly focused on operations, there is also research being carried out to constantly improve the way we use the boat and how we integrate reusable materials as opposed to those designed for single-use. Indeed, the development of technologies and innovation are actually criteria within the Impact League.

Furthermore, SailGP Technologies was recently launched to deliver leading edge, applied innovations in sustainable design, manufacturing, engineering, software and systems use.

The ‘carbon cost’ of repairs following a collision have been evaluated, and minimizing incidents where boats are damaged is something we are actively working to reduce. Teams judged to have been responsible for such incidents are penalized with an Impact League points forfeit.

How is the French SailGP Team handling the carbon costs of flights and travel? Are we talking about carbon offset credits, tree planting, or something else?

From its inception in 2019, SailGP has been measuring, reducing and offsetting its own carbon footprint and has set an ambitious target of 55 percent reduction of its carbon footprint, based on science, by 2025, as well as committing to being fully powered by nature by 2025.

Teams are encouraged to reduce the number of people flying and there is a policy in place to ensure all team members who must travel use economy class. Travel Places, SailGP’s travel partner, has achieved ISO20201, as has SailGP itself, which provides a framework to help identify the potentially negative social, economic and environmental impacts of events. In collaboration, we are focusing on using airlines with net-zero policies and selecting the most carbon-efficient travel routes. Carbon that cannot be eliminated is offset via a partnership with One Carbon World, which directly supports renewable energy projects around the world.

Can you please tell us more about how the French SailGP Team is working to promote diversity?

Through the Inspire outreach program we aim to advance gender equity and racial diversity. The French team [is] partnering with local clubs, within host cities, to engage with a wide variety of children and adults to provide them with the opportunity to experience the sport of sailing, join tech-based tours of our operations and by working on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) based activities as well as offering internship career opportunities.

Through our Women’s Pathway (WP) we aim to promote inclusion, inspire change and provide opportunities across all levels of the sport of sailing. This program fast tracks the development of top female sailors, providing them with the training and opportunities to gain the valuable experience needed to race the high-speed F50s.

How many women and/or sailors of color are currently on the sailing team? Also, do you plan to grow these numbers beyond what SailGP requires?

SailGP requires each team to have at least three women as part of the sailing team. The French team has gone even further by increasing that number to four as we want to provide as many women as possible with the opportunity to spend as much time as possible foiling sailing and gain experience on the F50s.

The women who are on the program this season have tailored training and mentoring sessions to encourage their involvement and development.

Encouraging racial diversity and sailing opportunities for people from a range of backgrounds is extremely important, and we are always looking for ways to promote their inclusion.

How far off do you think we are from the day that a woman will be driving the French SailGP Team’s F50 on a SailGP starting line? Or, are you measuring success by a different metric?

With the WP there is absolutely no reason why this won’t happen in the near future. A barrier to this is the fact that we have a really tight racing calendar consisting of a series of short races, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for anyone, either male or female, to practice.

Our team is currently looking at organizing training camps using different foiling boats so that women can gain as much ‘on-water’ practice as possible to prepare them for fast paced, high adrenaline, racing.

All sailing teams like to win. Do you think that the efforts that the French SailGP Team is taking to become better environmental stewards and to involve a more diverse cast of characters on the crew will make the team more competitive? If so, why, and what kind of timeline do you think is realistic for these results to manifest as podium finishes?

The SailGP athletes are competitive by nature and this extends from us all wanting to win on the water to on land, for the environment, through the Impact League.

I’ve found that the Impact League has definitely created another level of engagement and motivation within the team, and we are determined to do our best to be at the top of both leaderboards at the end of this season.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add, for the record, about the French SailGP Team’s sustainability and/or diversity efforts?

We want to engage with sports organizations, sustainability initiatives and [non-governmental organizations] to collaborate on integrating best practice within all operations and develop meaningful synergies to reduce our impact, benefit as many people as possible and promote diversity.

If anyone reading this would be interested in working with us then please do get in touch.

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