Sailing towards sustainability

How sailing is dealing with environmental and climate protection

Humans, nature and the climate – hardly any other sport sees these elements be so intertwined as sailing. And there’s probably hardly any other sport where athletes are so dependent on the climatic conditions. Sailors can only attain success if they understand the power of nature: wind, water and waves. It’s no surprise that they feel so connected to nature and are forging ahead with climate protection. 

“A race we must win – climate action now!” 

This motto was written on the sails of German professional sailor Boris Herrmann. He attained global renown when he sailed climate activist Greta Thunberg to New York so she could attend a climate summit, but it’s not only since this legendary Atlantic crossing that Boris Herrmann and his crew have been committed to ocean and climate protection. His yacht “Malizia” is kitted out with sensors. When it’s on the high seas, it collects data on temperature and CO2 concentration in the oceans and sends this to research institutes around the world. The goal is to better monitor and understand the impact of climate change on the marine environment. 

"Climate change is the biggest threat facing the oceans. We want to use the emotions of the sport to inspire people to think and act ambitiously. Sailing can be the vehicle that brings the issue of sustainability to society’s attention."

Boris Herrmann

“Klar zur Wende!” 

Sailing is shaped by sustainable initiatives, even outside the Malizia team headed up by Boris Herrmann. “Klar zur Wende”, meaning “Ready about!”, is the motto of a future sailing initiative to improve sustainability. And it’s not the only one. Whether it’s “Turn the tide on plastic”, a campaign by the Mirpuri Foundation to draw attention to the enormous pollution of the seas by single-use plastic, or #SailingArt4GlobalGoals by the Sailing Bundesliga that artistically interpreted the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals on 17 sails: with its sustainable initiatives and clear social messages, sailing is leading by example. In so doing, it offers all its sponsors a high-profile platform where they can position themselves to appeal to their target group in terms of sustainability. 

An important part of this is for companies to see sustainability as a central topic, something that is a core component of their corporate strategy rather than something undertaken alongside it. Boris Herrmann: “Sustainability is a topic that CEOs need to deal with. We can only attain a substantial transformation if being sustainable is part of a company’s strategy. And we can see this with our partners.” 

Climate, water and gender equality as core issues 

Sailing’s core themes clearly align with the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): along with SDG 13 (Climate Action) and SDGs 6 and 14 (Clean Water/Life Below Water), SDG 5 Gender Equality also plays a key role. With mixed crews, sailing is one of the few sports that embody and convey the topic of gender equality with authenticity. 

An appealing target group  

With more than two million sailors and more than eight million sailing fans in Germany, 30 million in Europe and 250 million globally, the sailing community has a huge reach. A presence in yacht clubs gives sponsors access to an otherwise hard-to-reach, educated and sustainability-focused target group with high purchasing power. The sailing community is hugely diverse. “The barrier to entry in the sport is relatively low. It’s home to a broad spectrum; there’s probably no other sport that’s so multi-faceted. Of course, there’s the world of the billionaires who sail the world with their superyachts in Porto Cervo. But we’ve also got the world of clubs and sailing schools where young people learn to sail,” explains Oliver Schwall, CEO and founder of Konzeptwerft GmbH in the SPORTFIVE Playbook. 

Grippin races around the seven seas

Its potential is far from exhausted: things that previously happened on the water, far from the cameras, are now being seen by increasing numbers of people online and on social media – like the Vendée Globe, the hardest solo regatta around the world, where Boris Herrmann took 4th place in 2021. The Ocean Race is a spectacular global sailing race with stages on all five continents. Boris Hermann’s “Malizia” team and “GUYOT Environnement – Team Europe” will be among those lining up for it in January 2023, making it the first iteration in its history to include two sailboats with German involvement – around 20 years after the “Illbruck” entered Kiel’s harbour in June 2002 as the sensational winner of this marathon sea race. 300,000 spectators flocked to the ford back then. This city on the Baltic Sea is planned as an intermediate stop on the new Ocean Race, too: on 9 June 2023, the yachts will sail into Kiel harbour – a veritable highlight for all sailing-lovers in Germany. 

The Ocean Race was founded in 1973 and has been around for almost 50 years, but it has undergone substantial changes over that period. Previously, it was a technological and sporting competition, but now the protection of the oceans is at its forefront: its slogan is “Racing with Purpose”. “The notion of sustainability is paramount and is the central message,” explains Jens Kuphal, Manager of “GUYOT Environnement – Team Europe.” 

The long duration of the competition gives it a clear edge in terms of communications. The sailors in the Ocean Race spend more than six months competing, with stopovers on all five continents. Events on land, in particular, offer the opportunity to make thousands of attendees aware of sustainability and generate an understanding of the changes needed. 

Logistics, materials, resources – the race has also undergone massive changes in recent years in terms of its own environmental footprint. Previously, hundreds of containers needed to be shipped around the world, whereas teams now use local resources. “This sparked a real rethink. We have to, and we want to, get to grips with this – how can we do better?” says Jens Kuphal. 

National and European sailing leagues as sponsorship platforms 

Even outside the races on the oceans, the Sailing Bundesliga and the Sailing Champions League offer an array of opportunities that let sponsors tap into the potential of sailing themselves. The Sailing Bundesliga is divided between two leagues, each with 18 clubs. From Bremen, Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg via Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Brandenburg, Berlin and Lower Saxony to North Rhine-Westphalia, Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, every federal state with a large body of water is represented. Just like in the Football Bundesliga, clubs can move up and down. The champions in the first and second Bundesliga are crowned at seven three-day events held from May to November in Hamburg, Kiel, Travemünde, Warnemünde, Berlin and Friedrichshafen. For sponsors who want to use sailing to activate sales via lead campaigns, events in yacht clubs are the perfect platform to do so. The same goes for companies that want to provide their customers or employees with individual sailing voyages for an unforgettable experience. 

The topic of sustainability plays a crucial role in the Sailing Bundesliga, too. This was clear from the season kick-off on 21 and 22 May 2022 in Hamburg: the season started on the Outer Alster and was supplemented by a culture regatta where the boats once again brought the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals to the water. 

"Alongside an awareness of sustainability, we have also been able to make a contribution within clubs and the Bundesliga that strikes at the very heart of what we’re doing: we use different materials, we avoid taking plastic to events, we use regional products. We’re seeing that clubs have already spent years trying very hard to make their core operations more sustainable."

Oliver Schwall, CEO & founder of Konzeptwerft GmbH

Sailing Champions League – the pinnacle of the European sailing leagues 

The idea behind the Sailing Champions League is simple: it’s the championship for national champions. The most successful clubs from the countries with national sailing leagues come together and square off for the title of “Best Sailing Club of the Year”. 

The Sailing Champions League has met with major interest in the media and is also well-received by clubs, athletes and fans: more than 3,000 sailors from more than 300 clubs across 20+ national sailing leagues now head to the start line for the Sailing Champions League. This makes it the most fast-growing sailing format of all time. The final of the international club competition will take place from 23 to 26 July in Travemünde. 

Whether national or international reach, storytelling, customer acquisition and loyalty, or employee incentives: sailing offers the perfect platform for every communication need. SPORTFIVE is the marketing partner for both the Sailing Bundesliga and the Sailing Champions League. The company also works with the Ocean Race and the French/German “Guyot ENVIRONNEMENT – Team Europe.” 

Beyond the Match
The SPORTFIVE Magazine

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