The America’s Cup wrapped up last week in San Francisco with a wild come-from-behind victory by Oracle’s Team USA – ensuring that the cup will remain here for another three years. As crowds gathered to witness the neck-and-neck battle between high tech sailing teams, Cup organizers took care to make their sustainability efforts both obvious and subtle. The idea, of course, was to not only showcase to the city that the Cup maintained a responsible event, but to take the opportunity to inspire and educate thousands of people who might have other things on their mind.
This was the spirit we discovered more than a year ago when I wrote about the Cup’s initial sustainability plan. It’ll be some time before all the calculations are done, but the Cup intends to produce another GRI-compliant sustainability report in the future. In the meantime, from a spectator’s view, by far the biggest impact the Cup seems to have had was through education and inspiring behavior change among spectators.
Let’s start with transportation…
Partnering with the San Francisco bike coalition, the Cup provided free valet parking for bicycles throughout the event’s run. It proved so popular that on two of the three occasions I came by, my bike was turned away for lack of space. There was plenty of additional bike parking against the fences, which was also heavily used. The rest of the crowd appears to have walked or taken pedi-cabs – who did a brisk business toting folks up and down the Embarcadero. Large numbers of bikes were obviously rentals including many from San Francisco’s new Bike Share program. I didn’t hear a soul complain about traffic.
Power & water…
The ubiquitous plastic water bottle is a classic thorn in the side of many a sustainability advocate. It’s almost impossible to run a large gathering without giving in to the convenience of handing out or selling bottles of cold liquid. At best, some of the bottles can be recycled. Instead, as I learned from Jill Savery, America’s Cup’s head of sustainability, the Cup ran piping into San Francisco’s municipal water supply to bring fresh cold Hetch Hetchy water throughout the event. To top it off, Cup sponsor Kleen Kanteen was on hand to fill any bottle presented (and hopefully sell a few of their own).
On the more subtle side, I learned that almost all large gatherings require racks of diesel generators to operate. Although it took more than a little arm wrestling with the local bureaucracy, the Cup managed to plug in to the SF grid eliminating the need for generators and running off the not-exactly-perfect, but still better, PG&E utility.
People still want their swag…
A major sporting event just wouldn’t be complete without souvenirs, but at least such consumption can be made as durable and sustainable as possible.
There were two major venues for buying clothing items at the Cup. Puma’s beautifully designed shipping container store and a more traditional store with strictly “official” America’s cup merchandise.
Dealing with plastic waste was the main sustainability theme. Puma replaced all coat hangers with recycled cardboard material with a message on them describing why they were being used. Unable to eliminate plastic wrapping from shirts, Puma invited shoppers to remove the wrapping upon their purchase and stick it into a giant bin through a nautical “life preserver” ring to be recycled.
In the official store, most products were made with recycled PET bottles as a major component. Tags and signage were everywhere mentioning this fact and also encouraging shoppers to read more.
Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention the multitude of basic educational material that the Cup laid out all along the piers of San Francisco, free of charge. Some was sustainability-specific, particularly as it pertained to the Healthy Ocean project, but there was also basic information about sailing – a sport not as accessible as it could or should be.
The world would do well to encourage more sailing, a quiet, wind-powered sport that is as much about connecting to the water and one’s companions as it is about seeking a high-speed thrill.
I’m eager to see what develops over the next three years as the Cup prepares for 2016.