Anne-Cécile Turner is the founder of Blueshift, the sustainability consultancy helping organisations to motivate decision makers and employees to integrate sustainability throughout the whole value chain. Most recently she has been the Volvo Ocean Race’s Sustainability Programme Leader assisting the round the world yacht race in its desire to reduce its environmental impact, optimise its sustainability potential and utilise the power of the race to create positive change on the oceans’ health on a global scale.
Emily Caroe caught up with Anne-Cécile from her base in Lausanne, Switzerland, to find out more about the Volvo Ocean Race's sustainability programme and what rights holders and brands should be considering when the considering a sustainability programme.
Emily Caroe: Anne-Cécile - you and I most recently worked together on the Volvo Ocean Race where you led the sustainability programme, working with the round the world yacht race to really encourage not only the teams but the race itself as a rights holder, to reduce their environmental impact and optimise the sustainability potential at the race.
First of all, can you tell me a little bit about the concept of the programme, how was it conceived and what were the key activation pillars to the programme?
The concept of the sustainability programme of the Volvo Ocean Race was born a long time ago with the idea that a global event has a powerful voice. Combine that with the fact that our oceans are threatened, we knew we could use our voice to create positive and tangible impacts to improve the situation.
We have used our platform and the voice that the Race has, not only the media voice but our voice with all the stakeholders, to create a sustainability programme. Our first goal was to maximise our impact across all the range of stakeholders: media, private sector, our partners, our future partners, the fans and the volunteers. Secondly, we of course needed to put our own house in order, so minimising our footprint was a parallel process but a very important one for us. The third goal was to leave a positive legacy, to make sure that we could work with our local stakeholders and leave something positive behind, in our wake, after the race has departed.
EC: It was obviously very impactful and you’ve just recently won a Beyond Sport Award. What is it about the Volvo Ocean Race programme that really made it stand out and what are the achievements you’re most proud of?
AC: Well I think, having been working in this space for a few years now, what’s special about the Race is its scale, the fact that it’s totally global and very long: it’s a nine-month race. It’s one of the longest sporting events and thanks to this longevity we can create real impact. We have stopped in 12 host cities so there is real global coverage for the Race and also there is a real momentum in understanding around the issue of ocean plastic pollution. We have created a successful programme and maybe the proudest, but the most difficult to deliver, was the education programme where we reached almost 100,000 kids subscribed to our education programme online. We’ve also managed to secure both private sector and key influencers’ engagement thanks to the UN Environment Clean Seas Campaign and delivered a series of seven ocean summits worldwide, where we managed to have countries, cities and states sign the pledge all thanks to the presence of the Volvo Ocean Race.
It’s really showcasing the impact and power that a sports event can have.
The last achievement I’m thinking of is probably all of the commitments that our partners have announced. Volvo Cars, for example, announced that they’re going to ban single use plastics across all their operations and that they’re going to use 25% recycled plastic in their cars in the future. This shows the industrial commitments a big manufacturer in the automotive industry can make. That’s influence and that’s impact and that’s one of our proudest achievements I’d say.
EC: There was a scientific programme as well behind the sustainability programme, you had scientific equipment onboard some of the boats and you had the sailors doing test during the Race?
AC: Yes, the scientific programme of the race was an innovation in itself because at that scale, with that level of sailing and sport competitiveness, it’s not easy to add another element onboard, on top of the boat performance and the objectives that the sailors have to be racing the fastest they can be.
We successfully managed to have two campaigns, thanks to the involvement of AkzoNobel and Vestas 11th Hour Racing, accepting to contribute to the scientific data collection onboard the actual race boats. Thanks to their involvement we’ve been able to create a global map of plastic concentration that has reached an impressive level of attention throughout the media. We’ve found that of the 75 locations that we’ve collected data only three of them were without plastic. So now we are more focused on the idea of trying to identify where there is no plastic rather than where there is plastic. This is showing the scale of the issue and that’s thanks to the impact of the race and the sailors’ contribution themselves.
EC: And just so people reading this understand that because these boats go into some of the remotest parts of the world where scientific ships wouldn’t normally go, it was very valuable to be using the opportunity of having the race boats down there to be able to do the scientific research and get the samples.
AC: Scientists usually split the ocean into several zones where they have enough data or not enough data and of course the Southern Ocean is the most interesting because it’s totally unknown. We know that we know nothing about the Southern Ocean. So having a fleet of boats going down there and launching drifters, we have been able to get all sorts of scientific data and not only about plastics. This is of the most value for the whole scientific community and the wider consortium we have created.
What we’ve demonstrated is that the scientific data we have captured, through pioneering and innovative instruments we've developed to go on board, is reliable, so much so that the scientific community definitely want to carry on using the sailing race as it’s going to the most remote parts of the planet
EC: Coming back to looking at sustinability as a business challenge and opportunity and thinking of right holders who may be contemplating implementing a sustainability programme. What are the key things that a rights holder should be contemplating and considering before they implement a sustainability programme?
AC: So, for me the first element is to define the real motivation to start the journey. I know a lot of people have an interest in this area, which is great, because sustainability is not only a buzzword. It happens because we [human beings] have created impacts on our environment that we need to solve. I always say that my main purpose is to disappear as a sustainability consultancy because then we will have done a great job.
So motivation is key. The motivation should first and foremost be about creating an impact and using the way we use our voice that we have to create that impact. Secondly, involve the management, the top-level management, in the journey so that things happen effectively because it’s not always easy to find the resources and distribute those resources in terms of time and funding. But above all I would say try to seize the opportunity that it creates rather than look at the constraints first. That’s the angle and the strategy that we took on the Volvo Ocean Race. We understood the size and also the excitement that it creates. We had a sizeable voice and we used it as a powerful tool, and then it’s creating real commercial benefits and that’s a good thing because otherwise we would not be able to fund the implementation of the programme. It’s creating real content and news stories that are normally a bit on the side but they’re now core to the story of the race or the sport event.
It’s also creating real internal engagement. Once you’ve done that you need to put the house in order and go through the difficult path, but having seized the opportunity first before the constraints is for me an important angle to look at.
EC: And from a communications point of view my thoughts are that it’s absolutely fine and necessary to be bold, to be brave and transparent with the comms. If the sustainability programme is new to your organisation, whether you’re an event or a brand, that’s ok to say it. You don’t have to wait until your house is in order to be able to talk about it. It’s a really positive thing to be talking about the journey you’re about to go on.
AC: Yes definitely.
I think the way you communicate about sustainability is totally different from the traditional way of communication, either you’re communicating from an event or rights holder’s perspective or from a brand’s perspective, we’re talking about adding purpose, but we’re also talking about a journey.
I couldn’t even think of one organisation today that is called sustainable in the true word of sustainability. We’re all on that journey and what is important to communicate about is the vision and the objectives – usually the credibility comes from where you are able to define KPIs in the time-bound objectives. It means that you’ve done a bit of work internally to define a plan of action on how and how much of a useful impact you are looking to have and then you can communicate about the difficulties of that journey. That’s not only adding credibility to your voice but it’s also helpful for others to see what kind of solutions you’ve found. At the end of the day the impact will be created by collaboration, so being true and honest about the challenges is definitely very important to add to the value.
EC: Do you think that the Volvo Ocean Race’s sustainability programme has set a template for other sporting events? And also, coupled with that, is is in line with what other sporting events are doing?
AC: Well I hope to say that, yes, we’ve set up a template and I have a good sign for that because we’ve had a lot of requests from the outside world and other events, not only in sailing, to contribute to their sustainability journey. I do think we have taken a very innovative approach from the beginning and it has worked very well across all the KPIs. Of course, we had our challenges but that’s also part of the journey.
I’m also a founding member of an organisation called Sport and Sustainability International. It was first created in the United States and it’s now a European based organisation here in Switzerland. It’s an alignment of all the big sports to actually create a collaborative platform so that we are all helping the voice and I really see that as an interesting sign of the times, to see that sport has a powerful, not only impact, but a powerful voice to actually be raised to create advocacy programmes.
EC: How do you see and where do you see sustainability sitting in a rights holder’s commercial proposition? Do you think it will become absolutely the norm, that it’s part of the packages that are available for commercial partners?
AC: I see that absolutely. I see it at the centre providing that there is a real, credible programme in place. It can’t just be sold under the sustainability name, as a commercial add on, or just as a communications story. It has to be fact based, project based and programme based with a real and tangible impact, otherwise it’s going to be easily called out .
I really see it sitting in the commercial proposition but we need more people inside sports, the event rights holders and the sports rights holders to understand the scale and being able to put that in place in a credible manner.
EC: So, if I’m a rights holder and I have my event and I feel passionate about sustainability and want to make my event as sustainable as possible, what are the first steps that I should make?
AC: I think the first step is to look inside: look inside your event, look at all your stakeholders, look at your impact, look at your voice, and look at the issues that are most prominent across your sport and your organisations and decide where you want to makea difference.
You can’t fight all the battles, or at least you can’t communicate about all the battles that you are fighting. You need to embrace them all but strategically define the priorities. Define measurement criteria as well as timescaled objectives and put resources in place. Internally, either you recruit someone or you use a sustainability consultancy and then integrate that into the whole organisation.
What we found with the Volvo Ocean Race is that sustainability is touching pretty much all of the departments, from finance to HR to the boat builders, to the partners and management.
Make sure there is an understanding and proper training in place as well. It’s a new journey but it’s very exciting and very powerful.
EC: Finally, with the Volvo Ocean Race what are the plans going forward? The next race isn’t going to be until 2021 so where are you know and how do you see the future playing out?
AC: So, with the Volvo Ocean Race we have the incredible opportunity today to carry on a four-year plan.
The next race will happen in 2021 and the sustainability programme is starting right now.