AT THE HELM: A MEETING OF MINDS, STARTING THE FUTURES PROGRAMME AND CHANGING THE FACE OF CLASS40




In our second edition of ‘At the Helm’ exploring the latest movements from across The Race Around, we speak to the Co-Founder of the Futures Programme, Enrico Benco.


Benco and The Race Around’s Managing Director Sam Holliday, who featured in our last At The Helm’ entry, crossed paths just over two years ago and were instantly aligned on their vision for all things sustainability for the race. They went on to form the Futures Programme – an owned initiative built to challenge operations on land and sea in a bid to reduce impact on the planet through technology, smarter thinking and cross sectoral collaboration.


Here, we’ll get the lowdown on why that connection has been so crucial to The Race Around’s sustainability objectives, and how it can create long-lasting impact within sailing and beyond.


A MEETING OF MINDS (AT LAST!)


When I started GS4C in 2012 – a business aimed at implementing complete zero-landfill manufacturing and promoting solutions for the composite sector – alongside Cristiana Talon, we did so with the specific aim of finding technologies that could make industries cleaner and more sustainable.


And it wasn’t long until we were finding a lot of solutions that we thought could be transferred to the sail racing industry, an industry we’ve always wanted to work in due to our history with the America’s Cup and its ability to create a fantastic vehicle for communication. It’s easy to tell the story of innovative solutions through the lens of something that triggers such passion and emotion in people.


It was also the challenge of sailing that attracted us. It’s one of the most difficult things to apply our trade to. A boat must be light and stiff, face incredible mechanical solicitation and impact, all while operating at 100% on salty water and being exposed to UV – which provides the toughest kind of environmental conditions for any kind of composite or plastic. Our tagline has since been: if we can make a sailboat, we can make pretty much everything else.


A few years ago I reacted to a post I stumbled across on LinkedIn, on the topic of sustainability. It was from a sailor and race organiser from the UK, and I just remember thinking, ‘let’s check him out. There’s something really interesting in the way he’s talking about sustainability within the industry’. It really got me thinking.


I happened to be keeping a close eye on Class40 at the time, because I knew it was the perfect class in which to demonstrate our work. A Class where sustainable materials are completely legal. Then, I saw the announcement that The Race Around was happening, and had to get in touch properly.


It was at this point I met Sam Holliday, Co-Founder and Managing Director of The Race Around, it was instantly clear to me that we had to do something together. I think the answer from Sam was the same. It was a perfect match.


I actually met Sam a few weeks ago for the first time in person, after two years of working pretty much full-time on this project together. The fact that we’ve managed to build so much without even meeting because of COVID, distance and many other things is fantastic.


It’s a demonstration that if you have the same focus and the same vision as others, things can really happen. I'm confident that things will continue to happen even faster than we think. We’re only just getting started.


WHY WE STARTED THE FUTURES PROGRAMME

The majority of my work with The Race Around has been focused on an initiative we devised when we started working together – our innovative Futures Programme, where we look to challenge our operations to implement an overall more sustainable, socially-conscious race around the world for all. We were – and still are – highly passionate about taking action and initiating meaningful change within the sailing industry and beyond.


It was always our aim to operate as a net-zero waste event and to provide living case studies across areas such as circularity, sustainability and decarbonization – something we’re continually working on. It allows us to back up the project in a very real and tangible way.


Our approach at GS4C is that we demonstrate we are reliable and fully feasible. We started with exactly this attitude more than 10 years ago, knowing we’ve got to do it ourselves before we can propose it to everybody else. We’ve transferred the same attitude within The Race Around and this Futures Programme.


Here we have a category in Class40 where the rulebook is relatively open, where we can implement the cradle-to-cradle use of recyclable materials in the boat production phase. We can make a fully sustainable and recyclable boat that can race against traditionally-built boats. We felt we had to use this race as a showcase for that. All backed up by data.


We know there's still a lot going on in the boat yard that is not quite as sustainable as we as sailors would like to think. So we felt compelled to help identify the critical issues – initially focusing on the composite part of the boats, before later assessing the complete environmental impact of a new build and running a full life cycle assessment of a campaign alongside building out eco-design with end-of-life planning paramount to a boats beginnings.


Most significantly as part of the Futures Programme, we're going to make our own Class40 boat with only sustainable and recyclable materials. It will compete in The Race Around with a mixed, double-handed crew. We have to put our money where our mouth is.


Short-term, we’re creating a benchmark and a case study. The second phase is then about enlarging the fleet of recycled boats participating in the race, with the vision of eventually becoming the first race with a fully recyclable fleet. We’ll also move onto technology transfer across industries and look at setting up an academy where, as part of the Futures Programmme, we are creating new jobs and new professionals with environmental awareness.


It’s long been our ambition to not just talk about sustainability, but to make it happen. And this is what we’re doing through all our activity on and off water.

The lifecycle of The Race Around's very own cradle-to-cradle Class40 build

TRANSFERRING THE KNOWLEDGE


We are also taking the process we’ve been working on to a global level. The boat is simply the start.


We’ve already taken solutions to big Italian research entities in the material science sector, who’ve then set up a research project within the automotive industry. Across energy, mining and other industries, numerous conversations are ongoing. We’ll look to make an impact for the long-term.


This also paves the way for much more meaningful partnerships for teams and skippers within sailing. Having partners to share this knowledge with forms a much bigger commitment than just a logo on a boat. If we manage to demonstrate that the materials we’re using for the boats can be applied elsewhere and help solve major issues, that will be fantastic. That’s the end goal.


At the moment, though, other sectors are often still falling short of the full cradle-to-cradle process. We're not prepared to compromise on that. The downgrading of reclaimed materials is not an option for us. If you can reclaim fibre, but you can't make new fibre out of it, then you are just downgrading the material and initiating another step towards landfill. It doesn't matter when that will happen, but it will happen. As soon as you start going down that route, it will eventually end up in landfill.


So we need to break that and go back up at each step. This is what we must demonstrate. We will eventually recycle our boat and make a new one out of the material that we will reclaim from the previous. Once we show this fully circular boat is as competitive and that price wise over two campaigns we’re on similar levels to current Class40s, it’ll be a big step forward.


We want to always raise that question of sustainability. To sailors, not just in The Race Around. To sponsors, who can get behind a progressive class. To the likes of World Sailing and other classes, racers and cruisers alike. This is a question that should be widespread. A constant bug in the head of everyone.

Axel Tréhin's Project Ocean Rescue in construction

We also want to show this is accessible to all. That this is a class where there’s still room for people like Axel Tréhin, who has recently built his own boat. The narrative behind that is hugely appealing and must remain. But we also have to educate and boost the number of people capable of building in new and innovative ways.


I was reading an article recently about the sheer number of jobs that the sail racing industry is generating, and how difficult it is for the shipyards trying to identify the right people, because you can’t just get anyone on board to make a boat.


You need to have sailors, who understand sailing. Who have the passion to stay in the shipyard a couple more hours than a contract states, because they want to see it happen. There needs to be a personal feeling and emotional connection with this. So we want to foster this kind of information for more people as part of the Futures Programme and make sure that we can offer the industry the assistance in providing competent, passionate and sustainability-conscious people to work in this space.


It’s our aim to make a true difference.


T-MINUS TWO YEARS

As I mentioned earlier, it was only a couple of years ago that I found The Race Around. In the same amount of time from now, our first event will have begun, in September 2023.


We recently announced our Preliminary Notice of Race and have had a fantastic number of skippers and teams contact us since. We’ll also be confirming our Race Director and our final race course before 2022 is out.


Top of the agenda right now is also to keep working on the technology to make sure that we're ready for our boat build. Everything is in place. We’re ready to go for production in 2022.


Meanwhile we’re committed to staying on top of every new innovative solution that comes out, so we can continue being a race that’s making a statement about sustainability. We need to stay at the forefront of development, without losing the focus on what the bottom line is – that we need to build a racing yacht.


We’re really excited. We've been working full time on this vision for the last 10 to 12 years as GS4C. And now being able to see this taken to such a global level, for us, is fantastic. Our collaboration with The Race Around is now really the starting point for something even bigger. This race is going to explode exponentially in terms of the visibility and impact for the industry. I for one can’t wait to see it.

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