Americaís Cup Builds Sustainable Event From the Bottom Up

Borrowing some of the tools and measures adopted by the organizers of the Summer Olympic Games in London, the Americaís Cup Sustainability Plan sets a new green standard for future like-sized events happening in the Bay Area.

In addition to the thousands of people expected to view the races from beaches and other landside vantage points, pleasure-boat owners from around the world will descend on the Bay for a front row view of the action. Photo: Gilles Martin-Raget/www.martin-raget.com

By Bill Picture

Published: August, 2012

Borrowing some of the tools and measures adopted by the organizers of the Summer Olympic Games in London, the America’s Cup Sustainability Plan sets a new green standard for future like-sized events happening in the Bay Area.

The plan—which all involved say they are very proud of—is the result of lengthy discussions with agencies entrusted with the Bay Area’s environmental health, as well as a yearlong public comment period in which the general public was invited to weigh in on the local environmental impact of the upcoming America’s Cup races and suggest ways to minimize that impact.

The organizers of the Winter Olympic Games held in Vancouver in 2010 were arguably the first to take a holistic approach to event planning, with thought and action being taken to benefit the host city on every conceivable level—from creating jobs and supporting local businesses, to setting strict eco-standards for vendors and the event in general. America’s Cup is bringing that biggest-picture methodology to the United States, with sustainability being a key (and prominent) piece of the planning process.

"There were environmental conditions worked into the agreement we signed with the City in 2010, but our CEO was already committed to sustainability," said Jill Savery, America’s Cup Head of Sustainability.

When it was suggested that America’s Cup be the first event ever to undergo a very detailed environmental impact analysis under the California Environmental Quality Act, organizers consented without any arm-twisting. "We already hold ourselves to a very high standard; so we said we’d do it," Savery said.

The catamaran races taking place on the San Francisco Bay later this month are the first America’s Cup races to take place so close to land, and spectators are expected to turn out en masse for a view of the action. That accessibility and the draw it creates raised concerns about pollution. Not only do big crowds generate a lot of trash that can end up in landfill—or, even worse, in the Bay—but getting that many spectators to and from events can mean a huge amount of carbon emissions.

 

Raising its own bar

 

On the waste front, America’s Cup organizers took it upon themselves to go above and beyond the City’s call of duty. The Port Commission has enacted a policy that bans the sale, distribution and use of plastic water bottles and plastic bags at events happening on Port property that will attract 5,000 or more people. America’s Cup is applying this measure to all of its events, even those not happening on Port property. That’s in addition to working with Recology and the City of San Francisco on a recycling and composting plan to keep as much waste as possible out of landfills.

"The fact that San Francisco has such high standards when it comes to dealing with waste actually made it easier for us in some ways," said Savery. "The system that the City has in place with Recology is so efficient that we didn’t need to search for a vendor and create a program from scratch."

On the transit side of the equation, America’s Cup organizers are engaging with spectators, encouraging them to use public transportation or bike to events. In addition to the thousands of people expected to view the races from beaches and other landside vantage points, pleasure-boat owners from around the world will descend on the Bay for a front-row view of the action.

To minimize the impact of these visiting vessels. America’s Cup organizers created the "Boater Guide to San Francisco Bay," which explains in easy-to-understand language how to be a Bay-friendly boater.

The guide includes a map of protected areas and instructions on how to help control the spread of invasive species by doing a thorough cleaning of boats and trailers before entering Bay waters. This is designed to prevent the introduction of non-Bay-native species that can do serious harm to the Bay’s delicate ecosystem, not to mention threaten public health.

"We’re also developing a pledge program for boaters," said Savery. "Boaters pledge to adopt clean boating practices, and we give them a flag to fly on their boat. The goal is to engage with boaters, which is something the California Department of Boating and Waterways is already doing. And it seems to be working really well."

To further reduce event-related pollution, production supplies and equipment are being moved between America’s Cup venues in Rhode Island and San Francisco by train (see page 8) rather than trucks, which produce more carbon emissions.

A new methodology developed for the Summer Olympics Games that allows organizers to forecast an event’s overall carbon footprint was borrowed by America’s Cup organizers. The tool allows for the crafting of measures that take every carbon-resulting component into account and are therefore suited to that particular event and its scale.

"It basically allows us to predict the future, and then shape a goal accordingly," Savery said. "We’re using carbon as a planning tool, which hasn’t really been done before."

 

Two to eco-tango

 

No amount of planning can account for bad behavior, however. Spectators share some of the responsibility for making America’s Cup a green event. That’s why Savery says it’s so important to engage the public, to encourage responsible behavior.

"We can’t control what others do, unfortunately; so we need to use our influence to change behavior," Savery explained. "That’s not something that organizers of sporting events have really tried to do before."

To that end, organizers are planning beach cleanups, film screenings and panel discussions to highlight ocean-related environmental issues, and creating a waterfront exhibit to raise awareness of those issues. They’re also launching the Act Blue campaign to promote the protection of oceans.

"These are engagement points, opportunities to reach people with our message," Savery said. "We want to encourage people to act, and leave behind a legacy of stewardship that lasts long after this event."

To learn more about the America’s Cup Sustainability Plan, visit www.americascup.com/en/San-Francisco/AC-Sustainability-Plan/

 

 

Ultimately the spectators share the responsibility for making Americaís Cup a green event, which is why it is important to engage the public to encourage responsible behavior. Photo by Gilles Martin-Raget