Intense racing on the water and a podium for the planet off it

Laureus caught up with Fiona Morgan, Chief Purpose Officer for SailGP in a quick Q&A following on from the feature aired in January episode of Spirit of Sport. The episode focused on the Impact League and how SailGP is committed to sustainability. Fiona was also on the judging panel for the Sport for Good Index in 2022

Please tell us more about the Impact League and it being ‘The First podium for the planet?

The Impact League was launched in 2021, born out of our commitment to being the most sustainable and purpose-driven sport, and redefining performance. It is a world-first initiative using behavioural science to embed sustainability action into the fabric of sport and ignite the competitive nature of our world-class athletes.
It’s not just about the racing on the water, but also racing for purpose off it and inspiring change. 
The Impact League rewards the teams’ positive environmental and social actions, resulting in two podiums at the end of the season - one for the planet, and one for racing.
The first-ever winning team – New Zealand – was crowned alongside the SailGP Season 2 Champion in San Francisco last year, earning funding for its purpose partner, Live Ocean Foundation.

Each team is scored against a sustainability criteria, please tell us more?

That’s right. Teams compete and are held accountable across ten key sustainability criteria at each race, ranging from pioneering new technologies focusing on clean energy solutions, removing single-use plastics, more sustainable travel options, transitioning to plant-based diets, to driving diversity and inclusion opportunities and using the team's voice for good by engaging fans. 
The criteria are all rigorously and independently assessed by an external auditor to maintain integrity, and it’s become incredibly competitive! Once the scores are released internally after each event, my phone is inundated with messages from Team CEOs challenging scores, and I have even got videos from teams showing others not being as sustainable as they could i.e. leaving their lights on!
When we first introduced the concept, I think athletes were worried it would take away from performance and be a distraction, but it’s been the opposite and really added value to the league. It's amazing how quickly athletes have learned new behaviours.
A survey at the end of last year showed that nearly 80% of athletes believe the Impact League has changed their behaviour, while two thirds said the Impact League has the potential to change the mindsets of fans to act more sustainably.
In a massive vote of confidence, 84% of SailGP athletes think other sports should introduce an Impact League, and that’s something I’d really love to see so watch this space!
The Impact League was launched for Season 2, can you tell us who won last year, and what set them apart?

The New Zealand SailGP Team won sport’s first podium for the planet in Season 2, leading the competition from inception, and it was a hugely proud moment to see them crowned as Impact League champions and presented the trophy by one of my career inspirations, the legendary Dr Sylvia Earle in San Francisco.
The New Zealand SailGP Team has had purpose baked into its DNA right from the start as the co-CEOs of the team, Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, founded their marine conservation charity Live Ocean Foundation years earlier, and created the team together. Pete and Blair really saw the opportunity to harness the power of sport to unite people, and to use their platform to bring global awareness to the critical role the ocean plays in a healthy future.
A real highlight for the winners was playing a pivotal role in the signing of a significant agreement between the Governments of New Zealand and Spain to address the conservation emergency facing seabirds that migrate across international waters, including albatrosses and petrels.
This really demonstrated how sport can be a power for good and make a real impact. But it wasn’t just Pete and Blair, we saw a real team commitment and passion, with all its athletes, shore team and management looking at every area of its operations to see where it could be more sustainable and innovate. 

The winning Impact team received investment, how has this helped the Season 2 winning team?

New Zealand earned USD $100,000 for the Live Ocean Foundation to fund partner research into the importance of kelp forests and their regeneration in New Zealand.
Kelp is vital for ocean ecosystems to flourish, creating habitats for marine life and is hugely efficient at fixing carbon. However, many coastlines which were once home to vast forests of kelp, now lie bare, with thriving reef ecosystems replaced by sea urchin barrens.
The research project is also investigating how kelp forests contribute to coastal carbon cycles. The work will help researchers understand the role of kelp forests in climate change mitigation and provides an exciting potential opportunity for quantifying and valuing blue carbon.
SailGP is using the power of sport to change the world by being one of the first to reward for reducing carbon footprint within competition. Have you seen many other sports take your lead?
In the past few years, we’ve seen more sports take responsibility and introduce sustainability practices at different scales. In my last role at Sky we saw the strategic value of showcasing sustainable campaigns using sport with Sky Ocean Rescue at the Oval cricket, Tour de France and working with the Premier League.

The Sports Positive Leagues are super, a yearly ranking system by the Sport Positive Summit that gives top football leagues sustainability scores, and the recent Green Football Weekend with Sky Sports, BT, Planet League and Count us In looked like a great success, with over 80 football clubs coming together in the fight against climate change across one weekend.

Some sports have always had an environmentally friendly focus, mostly water sports, and it’s great to see new clean energy sports like the eSkootr Championships launched. There are some sports doing some great things, but I think as a whole, we can do more and be better at collaborating to solve problems as there is no competition in sustainable action.

A big objective for the first ever SailGP Purpose & Impact Report we published last year was to help inspire other sports and businesses to take action when it comes to protecting our planet. We know there are a lot of challenges, so not only does the report keep us accountable moving forward but it enables us to share key learnings with the wider industry.

One of my goals this year is for the Impact League to be adopted by other sporting organisations, and it’s been fantastic to receive inquiries from the likes of motorsport, tennis, golf and even the Olympic committee, to look at adopting it. Imagine the impact that would have. When sports acts fans will follow and we need to use the power of sport for good more than ever.

You joined the judging panel for the Sport for Good Index in 2022, how important are such initiatives on the transformation of sport?
I'm incredibly proud to have joined the judging panel for the Sport for Good Index in 2022, helping shine a light on the organisations having the biggest impact on our industry. It's only by collaborating with, and learning from others that sport can collectively drive the biggest change, so I think it's a really fantastic and vital initiative. Whether sports organisations are at the start of their purpose journey, or well advanced, we can all learn a lot from others and that's what's so great about the Sport for Good Index.

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