Sustainability Director Imogen Dinham-Price kicks off the At The Helm series for 2022 – our bi-monthly feature taking you to the heart of all the significant behind-the-scenes action at The Race Around.
Price has recently returned to Lorient having spent the New Year period sailing back from Martinique – the destination of the Transat Jacques Vabre finish – onboard the Class40 Crosscall and is all set for a big 18 months ahead, where she’ll drive the formation of The Race Around’s first global sustainability strategy.
Focusing on key areas such as host city collaboration, The Race Around’s life cycle analysis (LCA) tool and how the subject of sustainability will ebb and flow throughout all elements of the event, Imogen breaks down in detail the race’s activity in this space.
In her own words, here’s the plan for the year ahead…
THE NEW NORMAL
When I heard about The Race Around and first discussed joining the set-up a couple of years ago, one thing appealed to me above all else – the desire to make the complex topic of sustainability ‘normal’.
But what did that mean, exactly? Well, I think the best way to put it is that, for us, genuine sustainability is about implementing something that comes from the heart. It’s a subject that I live and breathe, and care deeply about. What I want sustainability to be to The Race Around, and to the wider sailing industry as a whole, is best described as the new normal. No frills, just real action.
What we don’t want it to be, for example, is us pressuring everybody that we can’t use a certain plastic or leveraging the subject as a commercial lever for money and publicity. This area to us is actually, in the end, simply about proving where we were, where we are going and how we do it. No signing of charters or PR stunts. Just proof of concept.
The new normal is, what we feel, we should expect more and more from races and the people that are running them, otherwise known as us! It’s an outlook we as a whole team appreciate and agree on – so as Sustainability Director you can’t ask for anything more than having the backing of the people you work with. It makes it so much easier.
My role here is to essentially define what our whole global strategy is, across every single aspect of the race itself. That includes logistics, how we place people around the world during our multi-stop international event and many more topics!
In short, we will be Carbon Neutral by the end of our first event in 2024, then net zero for the next race in 2027. So CO2 first, all other emissions later. We know this is plausible at this stage.
When you go about trying to be carbon neutral, there is always going to be some form of offsetting taking place. There will always be emissions that you can’t control, for example taking planes to get to far-flung places as it is an operational necessity. We’re not saying we won’t produce carbon at any point. We’re realistic about it but small changes such as increasing the length of a stop-over by a week allows us to half the number of travelling support containers being transported around the world, a huge impact on perhaps one of the most carbon costly exercises involved in a race of this magnitude.
I do intend to be at every city, as I want to see the projects that we’ve started and I want meet local people. This is something I think that is incredibly important - making relations, having that contact and understanding. If we want to keep doing sailing races and improving them we need this understanding of where we are going and what we are doing. Once you understand who you are working with and what you are doing you can improve and I think that makes sense for any sector.
However, those emissions that we do produce are going to be to offset or compensated for, through things like blue carbon projects linked to the sea and within the host cities we visit and putting some money back into the sector and industry to boost and change the materials we as a sport rely so heavily on. That’s one thing that’s quite interesting that we intend to do.
So those are some of our aims for the event and how we’ll go about treating the subject of sustainability. But first and foremost for us it’s about nurturing real sustainable practices, creating living case studies and embracing multi-generational education. You’ll know if and when The Race Around are shouting about sustainability, that it’s as real as it gets.
PUTTING WORDS INTO PRACTICE FOR 2022
A big focus for us at The Race Around this year is beginning the process of working with all our cities and partners to bring to life our sustainability plan. As an new event we don’t have a history to change or need to go through a revolution. We’re able to start from a blank page and that’s hugely exciting. We’ve been lucky enough to be in control here, selecting cities and partners with sustainability at their heart, which was always one of our main desires since the beginning. It makes things easier and ensures we’re all on the same page. We don’t need to explain to them what sustainability is. We can work together from the outset and learn from them as well.
We are really lucky to have our host city in France confirmed – the identity of which for the moment shall remain unnamed! But they are already heavily involved in sustainability and intend to become net zero themselves by 2040. They have a huge motivation to go green, put their city at the forefront of sustainable innovation and try to have the lowest carbon race possible.
It’s not just the city, either, but both the wider department and region is aiming to become net zero. So we’ve got a really engaged host city, who’ve also built a port which is certified and at a standard that is considered very clean and can integrate biodiversity easily. This year, I also have a lot of work to set up with the cities in South Africa, New Zealand and South America – the other stopovers of The Race Around. We want to get every host city and event location up to a certain standard – if not the city itself, all of which have started their own journeys we’re proud to be a part of.
Another element of the task ahead is continuing to be a race that is very close to the teams that compete. We are always working with them to see what we can do to ensure that the race goes ahead in the way that they want it to, so we need to have all their considerations coming in, including feedback and opinion on best practices.
We’ve tried to be on the front foot with this. Within our Notice of Race, we notably haven’t got a sustainability section, we have all the rules throughout the notice of race as we believe that sustainability is going to be, as previously mentioned, the new normal. We will have rules that are integrated so people naturally become sustainable, segmenting it highlighted it but it's now time for integration.
We’ll also have an annex that covers areas like marketing where, for example, anyone that wants to put flags or stickers on their boats through partners, will have to abide regulations so that they will be using the best possible products and helping contribute to the circular economy.
There is a lot of motivation for it. There are a lot of skippers now, especially within Classe Mini and Class40, who are very much for this, many have in fact been doing their part for years and years albeit quietly, sustainability in sailing isn’t new. In general though over the last two years the sustainability element has been growing in offshore racing, so now it’s really something which people are starting to expect. We’ve had no negative comments or pushback so far. We are holding monthly meetings with the Class and potential competitors to keep them informed. It’s ambitious at the moment, but hopefully we can adapt the Class40 rules by proving The Race Around as a concept.
We are going to really try and push across all areas, so that there is as little waste as possible and so that we are as autonomous as possible in terms of energy and use of good products across the board.
There will, of course, be a lot more to come, too. At the moment its about getting the foundations sorted. The work with the teams, cities and sponsors is really essential so to having the best possible outcome for the next phase.
LIFE CYCLE ANALYSIS (LCA) KEY TO OUR PROGRESS
As part of our sustainability projects - which include the creation of The Race Around’s own Class40 contender into the 2023 or 2027 event, that will be made from cradle-to-cradle recyclable materials - we’re using a life cycle assessment tool to help us shape all of our activity.
It’s more of a design tool for us at the moment, but the idea is to get it to the point that people take this tool, design their boat and select different material options to see what could be an alternative to the traditional materials they might otherwise have used. It would come up with the eco advantages against materials like carbon, but also provide technical advantages they could utilise on certain parts of the boat. It’ll largely be used for both eco conception and design initiative.
It will also be used across offshore racing classes, by architects, construction firms etc, and allow people to really understand the impact and the alternatives which are on offer. Traditionally with an LCA tool you will input your data from construction and build, and it will go through the calculations and spit out a load of information such as ‘you’re producing 500 tonnes of carbon dioxide’. But then, it’s up to you to interpretate the numbers. It gives you perspective, but it won’t tell you where to go from there.
But we’ll be using a tool that you can chuck all the data in and it does the calculations for you. Like other LCA tools it will cover the entire build cycle. This means it covers from the production of a boat, so everything from the fibers you use and where you have extracted these fibers from, to the use phase, so when you are using your boat and what happens if you break something. Finally, it covers the end of life. So what do you do with your boat after its use. Can you recycle it? If so, to what extent? Do you put it in landfill? Do you incinerate it?
We are building this tool in conjunction with others, through a partnership that’ll soon be announced, so it will be formed in a way that we will be able to start using it straight away for The Race Around. The others will be able to use it as well. Of course, it will go through improvements but it will be accessible for everybody to use soon. The intention is also that we will be able to give it to Class40 and they’ll be able to distribute it, so if people intend to build boats they can really see the areas of sustainable improvements possible, the reductions they can make and perhaps even the specific advantages of newly available materials.
For now, it will be boat related, but ideally we will share this tool with other industries in future as well, that have that overlap and comparability. For example, the boat building industry is close to the wind industry. Offshore wind turbines endure the same kind of conditions - water, wind, sun, salt. All those kind of things can really damage composite materials, so what a boat is made out of and what a wind turbine is made out of could one day be similar in the kind of composites used.
It’s all very interesting stuff!
A GENERATION’S WORK PAYING OFF
Don’t get me wrong, working in this area can be tough. Often life seems like a bit of a juggle, a bit of a blur. But I love this topic to bits. I’ve been passionate about it since I was 14 and I want nothing more than to create a genuine, living case study for The Race Around.
I realised when I was young that this topic was becoming something. I grew up on a farm, so you see every process of life, all the different problems you could face, and I gained a good appreciation of nature. I think probably more so than most people, to the point I always knew what I wanted and now, 13 years later, I’m really seeing the effects of how it can work in the industry.
I’m highly passionate about creating and helping something I love - in this case, sailing - work better with nature. It’s very enriching to see sustainability as a topic really coming through. It’s slightly frustrating that it’s taken so long, and that we are only really starting to think about it because it has become such a major concern. But I hope in that sense it’s not a fashionable subject and that it will be something that we will continue to pursue. I’m hoping that it’s not just a big topic at the moment and that companies purely get involved to improve themselves and their image.
I know I, along with the rest of the team, are really motivated to get The Race Around right in this area. It’s great to be a part of a team that is so genuine, both on the subject of sustainability and more broadly. We are young at heart, are very open but importantly forward-thinking. We’re willing to try things and make mistakes. We know we’re not going to be perfect all of the time. We want to set the standard but not in a way that will be us preaching at people and telling them what to do and not to do. We’ll continue to be honest, open and transparent, and genuine with people so that we can all move forward together and not make it complicated - in a subject that can, at times, already be complicated enough!