11th Hour Racing's athletes-turned-sustainability-consultants developed an open-access toolbox to help entities along their sustainability voyage. It lays out an eight-step process supported by case studies.

February 20, 2024

5 Min Read
11th Hour Racing

Wherever we live, whether along the shore or inland, we are all ocean citizens. That’s the philosophy of a professional sailing team that goes by the name of 11th Hour Racing, and with that conviction these diehard racers started their own sustainability department, first to lessen their carbon footprint, then to help other organizations and companies do the same. The ultimate goal is to improve the health of the ocean as climate change takes its toll.

The athletes-turned-sustainability-consultants developed an open-access toolbox to help entities along their sustainability journey. It lays out an eight-step process supported by case studies. And it provides templates for each step, beginning with starting a sustainability program; then creating a policy; engaging stakeholders; and reporting and communicating, with a few processes in between.

Available in four languages, the toolbox guides about 600 organizations across 100-plus sectors, from a solar manufacturer in Japan to a bed and breakfast in South Africa, farming operations, tourism groups, and other businesses.

“We were lucky to have a lot of great sustainability professionals who understand the broader need for what we were doing and, most importantly, who understood the objective of the toolbox to be relevant to any organization of any size,” says Damian Foxall, sustainability program manager for the 11th Hour Racing Team.

“This is about systems thinking, and there’s no better system than a natural one. With that said, being informed by natural systems is a good starting point,” he says.

The racing team trains and competes hard, participating in a roughly six-month race around the world, which takes place every few years. Yet they decided to take on this new focus when they learned about their own carbon footprint and water footprint. It was clear: 11th Hour’s biggest impact was in its supply chain; in fact, about 90 percent of the organization’s footprint, as with most entities, was in the value chain (i.e., Scope 3 emissions).

They began reaching out to their vendors to discuss how they might adopt greener strategies. 

“As we started making calls, we learned everyone wanted to do something but didn’t know where to start. This was a great responsibility [to contend with], but also where the biggest opportunity lies,” Foxall says.

“There is a huge opportunity to find better, cheaper products; to change the type of electricity we are using and that of the [vendors] we are working with.”
These are among pointers Foxall has for companies who have launched, or are thinking of launching, in-house sustainability initiatives:

Carve out your overall objectives. And companies should look beyond the gate of their organization at what their peers are focusing on.

They will often find the door is open. While on the commercial side companies compete, on the sustainability side they are collaborating and benefiting from each others’ experiences.

Create a policy framework.  New issues will come up, or the priority of issues may change. But define what’s important now, to create a foundation that will serve as a reference point to achieve meaningful reductions over time.

Map out stakeholders and decide who to engage. Involving stakeholders early—the people who may influence a company’s policy or be influenced by it—will help in defining issues and setting targets.

Identify issues and create a plan. Large companies tend to be most successful if they address every core issue they identify. Due to the broad scope of this work, as integral to success is to establish cross departmental collaboration and collaboration from hub to hub.

Small companies typically must narrow their focus to a few issues. “This is what we are doing for a start, and we will get better. It's about moving from prioritizing issues to setting targets,” Foxall says.

Set targets. Assign targets that are measurable, obtainable, and relevant over time.

The Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) owns the World Beach Games. This long-standing event has been an impetus for the organization’s climate work—protecting the oceans is at the core of the Game’s existence.

ANOC has embedded sustainability into its daily operations since 2020, beginning with signing the UN Sports for Climate Action Initiative, pledging to reduce its carbon emissions 50 percent by 2030 and to attain net zero by 2040.

The work in reach of this goal is guided by the toolbox.

“We need to understand where cuts can be done to reach our commitment. We’ve also committed to encouraging our 206 member committees to embed sustainability policies within their own organizations and to promote to their national federations who hopefully will push it to their own clubs to make a difference for our planet,” says Gustava Harada, director of NOC for ANOC.

The question is, how could they embed sustainability without disrupting the organization’s main goals: promoting sports at scale and winning medals?

“We need partners, as developing sustainability strategies is not our specialty. That’s why the toolbox resonated with us. The framework is  structured, and it’s a straightforward methodology that is easy to understand,” Harada says.

ANOC continues to engage its members in meaningful ways, with a big part of that being to bring them together to share best practices around climate, energy, and related areas. They come from different continents. From different cultures and with different levels of available resources.

But they are still finding success. So the message to our 206 members Harada says, is regardless of your size, we can all take effective action.

Speaking of 11th Hour Team’s vision, CEO, Mark Towill (USA) stated, “From a business perspective, there are competitive advantages and a strong case to being a purpose-driven leader. Alone we can do a little, but collectively we can achieve so much. Our goal is to establish sustainable business practices as the new norm within the marine industry and beyond. We hope the Sustainability Toolbox can help others put these skills into play while forming a strong community of collaborators working together for an entirely new way of doing business.”

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