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 | 23-05-2022


Oconomy – Sustainability in sailing: Current developments, relevance for sponsors


Our then managing director Dr. Alexis Katechakis moderated the discussion round “Sustainability in Sailing” for the recent PLAYBOOK from Beyond the Match of our partner SPORTFIVE with Boris Herrmann (professional sailor and sustainability activist), Oliver Schwall (CEO & Founder of Konzeptwerft Holding GmbH) and Jens Kuphal (Team Manager at Offshore Team Germany). We have summarized the answers to the most important sustainability questions.

How did it come about that Boris Herrmann's boat Malizia, with which he finished 5th at the Vendée Globe (a non-stop regatta for single-handed sailors that goes around the world along the Southern Ocean in the Roaring Forties area and is therefore considered the world's toughest single-handed regatta) carries the circle of the 17 SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations) on its sails?

Boris Herrmann: “Our sport has a certain strength in terms of sustainability. We are driven by the power of nature and we are confronted with the elements of nature – unlike indoor ball sports, e. g. – and we are also inspired by the beauty of nature. And our sport can also serve as a platform to inspire people to learn about this beauty of the ocean ecosystem that is worth protecting, how complex it is, how threatened and fragile these ecological systems are. And I just think that's the most important contribution we can make as Team Malizia and as a sailing community. (...) The core is the outreach that we can provide, using the emotions of sport here as a platform for the topics of the ocean and climate change."

How important is sailing as a pioneering sport in the field of sustainability?

Oliver Schwall: “There is no other sport in which athletes are so dependent on the climate when doing their sport. There is also no sport in which the athletes feel it so directly. We are dependent on the sun, wind, water, tides, currents and low-pressure systems – on a small scale when sailing on the Alster as well as on a larger scale on the ocean. Nobody feels that as directly as we do.”

Why does sailing contribute so much to the 7th goal of the UN Ocean Decade – Inspiring Ocean?

Oliver Schwall: “I don't think there is any other sport where you can have so much fun and experience the sport up close as a non-athlete. We have held many customer events with people who have never been on a ship (...) and afterwards they came to us and said: You have changed my life. And that comes in different forms: in the Ocean Race, for example, guests ride along who are thrown overboard and collected after 3 km, allowing them to sail a short stage. That would be like playing the first 10 minutes of a Grand Slam alongside a tennis star. That's what sailing can offer and that's what makes this fascination possible."

Even the sport of sailing has to be able to be measured – also on the basis of its CO2 footprint. What does that mean in concrete terms for professional sailing?

Jens Kuphal: "At the Ocean Race Europe 2021, the message was issued at the start of the race: We have to measure our footprint. We had to write everything down, deliver data – as a kind of practice round – not least to avoid such things in the future in the big edition around the world in 2023. A real rethinking really took place there.”

What can the world learn from the sailing community?

Boris Herrmann: "The great achievement for society that we can bring in sport – this applies to all sports by the way – are the emotions, the inspiration and the motivation to motivate people to get involved. That's what defines us as athletes."

Boris Herrmann on the biggest threat to his "job":

“Our main focus is on climate change. My workplace and our playing field are the oceans. And the biggest threat to the oceans, in my view, is climate change. Of course there is also the plastic problem and overfishing, but climate change is the most profound intervention in our planet with all the consequences for the oceans. (...) We want to use the emotions of sport to inspire ambitious thinking and action – in line with our slogan CLIMATE ACTION NOW!"

... and why he takes a very close look when choosing partners and sponsors:

“We are fortunate that the topic of sustainability is a strategically central topic for our partners and sponsors – that was also a selection criterion for us with regard to the cooperation. In my view, sustainability is always a CEO issue. There can only be a substantial transformation if it is part of the corporate strategy to become truly sustainable. (...) Some companies are already more aware of this than politicians."

And last, but not least: The evergreen greenwashing topic “climate neutrality”:

Boris Herrmann: “None of us today can claim to be climate-neutral or to do everything right – neither a company nor an individual. (...) It's about the transformation, big and small. We can for example make boat building materials more ecological and recycle or make sails from ecological materials.”


Here's the full video interview.