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Can the America’s Cup Bring Sustainability to Sports Consciousness?

| Sunday February 19th, 2012 | 2 Comments

Although the America’s Cup is one of the most globally recognized names in sport, it remains relatively unwatched in its namesake country. That’s likely to change in 2013 when the cup roars into San Francisco Bay – the first time in modern history that it will be easily viewable by spectators on shore (in years past, the race has taken place well off shore so anyone without a boat or helicopter was relegated to watching on TV). In fact, no less than five million people are expected to crowd the piers over the course of the final two events in June & September 2013.

With such a turnout, one can imagine both the City of San Francisco and the cup organizers see a huge opportunity for education, outreach, and the promotion of all manner of issues. Sustainability will naturally be at the forefront of visibility.

Launched last week, the America’s Cup launched a thorough sustainability plan (PDF download here). Among the highlights:

The plan defines a “sustainable event” as one that minimizes “negative event impacts (such as air pollution from spectator travel or spectator waste) and maximizes event benefits (such as habitat preservation and promoting new green technologies) now and into the future”.

Reducing negative impacts such as waste will also have a far reaching cultural impact way beyond simple resource conservation. Thoughts in today’s SFgate suggest the event’s zero-waste commitment will introduce hundreds of thousands of people to the idea of brining their own water bottles and non-disposable picnic ware to the event. This is not exactly revolutionary, but by banning plastic bottles all together, the cup will make a powerful statement nonetheless.

Additionally, bicycling will be promoted as by far the best way to get along the waterfront during the event, and hopefully land a lasting legacy beyond. Leah Shahum of the SF Bicycle Coalition envisions a dedicated section of waterfront to be set aside as a bike highway of sorts to move spectators from one place to another. This is also great for the many bicycle entrepreneurs who will likely pop up to rent bikes to spectators – just one of the myriad positive economic impacts of the cup.

Although the plan also calls for innumerable energy and waste reduction plans for the boats and race itself, it’s this public impact that I see as having the biggest lasting effect.

Along those lines, one of the most visible and potentially impactful aspects of the plan is the e America’s Cup Healthy Ocean Project – a massive educational outreach to raise awareness of pollution, ecosystemic problems, and other marine sustainability issues.

As an organization who directly depends on a healthy ocean to thrive, it’s obvious that America’s Cup would chose this cause to emphasize. Inspiring millions of spectators to think a little more deeply about what’s going on underneath the multi-million dollar yachts on the bay, and to see huge global brands talking about it has powerful marketing potential. Cutting back on disposable bottles is great, but the deeper education about the oceans and their connectivity to all life on earth is the big win-win.


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  • Hunter Cutting

    Can you say green washing?  The America’s Cup is a cool race, but the deal bringing the race to San Francisco is, at it’s heart, a development deal in which the America’s Cup Event Authority will spend upwards of $100 million on waterfront improvements in exchange for both title and 66-year leases to prime waterfront properties.

    Interestingly, and sadly, new or improved facilities to support sailing on San Francisco Bay will almost assuredly NOT be part of the America’s Cup legacy in San Francisco.

    Sustainability is cool, but don’t mistake it as anything but window dressing for the development rights this are driving this deal.

    • Dave Shires

      Benefit of the doubt…. what’s wrong with waterfront development? Are there any specific projects you’re objecting to?