Sailing may be green, but not the sails
Published on September 7th, 2023
by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
The extent of Naples Sabot racing is limited to about a 100-mile range in Southern California, with several prominent sailmakers getting their start in the Class. So it was with some surprise that my new sail came with a shipping charge, as it was not built locally but rather in Asia.
I hear how it is hard for sailmakers to find qualified workers, which makes sense when even sails for this 8-footer are manufactured overseas. But this idea of seeking cheap labor now comes with a shipping charge, let alone the environmental impact of transporting sails from across the globe. Sounds like regress, not progress.
To address this problem, the prominent offshore racing IMOCA Class enacted a rule implemented in 2023 for all teams to have one “Green Sail” among the eight sails authorized on board during races. There is a points-based scoring system, designed to minimize harmful emissions, with the reduction of air transport being a variable.
Nine months after being introduced, the rule has led to an average 30% reduction in CO2 emissions for every kilo of finished sail produced under its restrictions. I don’t know what this really means, but seems like some kind of progress to me. Maybe the Naples Sabot Class needs a similar rule.
Now the plan is to expand the rule and make it more stringent, as Imogen Dinham-Price, IMOCA’s Co-Sustainability Manager, explains: “Since January, we have had frequent round-table discussions with the sailmakers to see how to improve the rule and how it works within sail production. The mission now is to work towards a potential carbon cap for the Green Sail.
“We are going through a test phase this winter,” she continued, “testing the transport element and energy element as part of a carbon cap, to see whether it works for the sailmakers and whether or not we are able to collect the right data at the right time to put the cap in place. Existing auditing has given us a constant level of feedback, so we know how to measure CO2 production.”
Alongside a possible cap is the expansion of the rule to cover more than one sail in the eight-sail IMOCA inventory on any one boat and, more ambitiously, to eliminate all air transport from point of manufacture to client, thus requiring sailmakers to use alternative transport on Green Sail orders.
“IMOCA was one of the first to come up with a fairly ambitious rule and we were very happy to see it come to the fore,” said Matthieu Souben, Co-Manager at All Purpose sailmakers. “I’ve always been convinced that users should be the agents of change because industries always respond to demand.”
An interesting element is that all sailmakers say they are heading in the Green Sail direction with their raw material acquisition, transport policy, and manufacturing methods in any case. That is because classes like IMOCA are demanding they do that, but also private clients too, in a world where people increasingly want to know how a product is sourced, created, and delivered.
I wish I had thought of where my Naples Sabot sail was to be built beforehand, but will keep this in mind when buying my next sail. Will you?