The environment will be one winner of Ben Ainslie’s drive to bring the America’s Cup trophy to Britain
Sir Ben Ainslie is one of the legends of British sport, knighted after winning gold medals in sailing at four consecutive Olympic Games (and a silver before that in 1996). He was also the architect of one of the most unlikely comebacks in the cup’s 150-year-plus history in 2013, when he was drafted in to the Team Oracle boat, which was 8-1 down against Team New Zealand in a first-to-nine series and ended up winning 9-8.
Though the America’s Cup actually began in Britain in 1851, a British team has never won it. Ainslie is seeking to change all with his Land Rover BAR (Ben Ainslie Racing) team, which is based in Portsmouth.
From the team’s launch two years ago, sustainability has been at its heart. This is reflected in a headquarters that is rated BREEAM excellent, powered by renewable electricity and harvesting its rainwater, as well as the fact that the team is the only British sports team that has been awarded the Olympics-inspired 20121 sustainable events management standard.
Other initiatives range from an artificial reef outside the team HQ to help rebuild the declining native oyster population to using technology to remove the need for one of the team’s chase boats, saving 10,000 litres of diesel a year. The team also backs the campaign to eliminate single use plastics to stop plastic pollution of the oceans and BT’s 100% Sport initiative to inspire sports fans to switch to renewable energy.
The sustainability drive is not just focused on the environment: the team also provides work placements, internships, apprenticeships and training programmes for local students, with 53 apprentices from City College, Southampton, building the team’s specialised docking boats.
Inspiration for the team’s ethos comes in part from sailing’s reliance on the ocean environment, but more concrete support came from Wendy Schmidt, founder of 11th Hour Racing and wife of Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google’s parent company, Alphabet. The charity uses the platform of sailing, it says, to “increase our understanding of the oceans, find solutions to the challenges that impact marine resources, and promote stewardship of the seas that sustain life on our planet”.
Ainslie explains that Schmidt was on the organising committee of the 2013 America’s Cup and when he outlined his plans to start a British team and she urged him to “instil sustainability into the DNA of the organisation from the start”. Schmidt backed up her words by making 11th Hour Racing one of the team’s first sponsors.
Ainslie is not just trying to create a sustainable team. He also wants to make the America’s Cup more sustainable from a business perspective. Historically, the competition has spent as much time in the courtroom as on the water, because the holder of the cup was allowed to set the rules for the next challenge, including the design of the boat. This also led to the contest becoming increasingly the playground only for the world’s richest sailing enthusiasts.
Ainslie and his backers want to create a series more akin to Formula One, with standardised rules, a global circuit of races and a reliable calendar that allows teams to plan ahead. To emphasise the similarity to the motorsports model, Land Rover BAR has brought in Martin Whitmarsh, former head of the McLaren F1 team, as chief executive.
McLaren has a spin-off business called McLaren Applied Technologies, which has made products for sectors ranging from healthcare to energy and transport, and has been awarded the contract to supply electric car batteries for Formula E from 2018. Whitmarsh is looking to recreate the formula at Land Rover BAR. “We’re very focused on winning the America’s Cup but it is clear to me that the marine sector is a number of years behind aerospace and the automotive sector in areas like control systems, so there is an incredible opportunity to improve things,” he says.
A particular issue for the team is what to do with the carbon fibre used in its race boats, once it has finished with them. “Recycled carbon costs less than a quarter the price of virgin carbon fibre and its embedded carbon is also less than a quarter,” says Dr Susie Tomson, the team’s sustainability manager. “If we can work out how to recycle it, it won’t just help us – it can have a major impact in sectors such as renewable energy, automotive, aviation and construction.”
Sir Keith Mills, one of the team’s backers, adds: “We want to use the base to accelerate the regeneration of Portsmouth by attracting new developments and other marine-based businesses, as Formula One has done.” The team has also established a new charity, the 1851 Trust, with the Duchess of Cambridge and Ainslie as patrons.
“We aim to use the America’s Cup to support a number of programmes designed to inspire and engage young people. We will focus on youth sailing, STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths] education, the marine environment and marine training and apprenticeships,” Mills adds. “The Olympics led to the regeneration of East London and inspired millions of young people and this is what we are hoping to achieve with the Cup. Over the next few years we would hope to have an America’s Cup racing team which is sustainable and the best in the world. We will have started to develop other businesses off the back of the team like applied technology and marine businesses and a foundation which is putting a lot of money into the whole range of projects to encourage the next generation.”
Sustainability links everything together, says Ainslie. “We are trying to leave a legacy. It’s about trying to show some leadership.”
Mike Scott technology Ben Ainslie America's Cup sailing BT