If the organizers of the Newport stopover for the Volvo Ocean Race could script the 13 days of the event that will take place from May 8-20, every attendee would ride a bike, walk, take a water taxi or carpool to cut down on emissions, bring reusable plastic water bottles, properly recycle their trash and dispose of their food in the marked receptacles and do everything possible to minimize the race’s carbon footprint.
The VOR is one of the world’s premier off-shore sailing competitions, featuring the sport’s top athletes in a race that spans six continents and four oceans, with stopovers in 12 host cities. For Sail Newport and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, which are serving as the co-hosts of the Newport stopover, it’s an opportunity to educate the public about ocean health. The theme of sustainability, which local organizers first introduced to the VOR during the 2015 stopover, will once again be a major focus.
“We set the bar pretty high [in 2015],” said Dave McLaughlin, co-chair of the Sustainability Committee for the 2018 Newport stopover.
During its stopover three years ago, Newport brought together leaders from the world of sport, industry, government and science to partake in a summit to discuss ocean health and marine pollution. For this edition of the VOR, seven of the stopover cities are hosting ocean summits, with Newport’s summit scheduled for May 18 at the Volvo Pavilion at Fort Adams State Park.
In addition, one competing boat, Turn the Tide on Plastic, is collecting data on ocean health as it takes part in the race.
According to a sustainability report released following the 2015 Newport stopover, more than 1,500 pounds of trash was removed before the boats arrived, more than 1,100 pounds of seagrass was planted to offset 700 tons of C02 and 23,000 less pounds of trash went to landfill.
As a result of Newport’s initiative, the VOR incorporated a sustainability plan as a requirement for all 12 stopovers in 2017-18. “It’s great to see the progress that’s been made. You can fairly ask the question if it would be this way if not for the Newport stopover in 2015,” McLaughlin said.
Organizers are asking local residents, business owners and community groups to sign the “Clean Seas pledge,” which was launched in February 2017 by the United Nations Environmental Program with the goal of eliminating marine plastic litter.
Signing the pledge could range from making a commitment to using products with less plastic packaging or avoiding products with microbeads to supplying your own takeout containers. Individuals or businesses can sign the pledge by visiting cleanseas.org/take-action and clicking on the “sustainability” tab.
“It could be as easy as an individual saying no to straws or as robust as putting in a compost at your local business,” McLaughlin said. “Although the pledge is only active for the 13 days of the event, we really hope people take it in perpetuity. We want to leave a legacy.”
The stopover’s sustainability plan will include a commitment to reduce fuel consumption through the use of bio-diesel on the sailboats, shuttles and vessels that transport visitors to the event. Organizers are also working with public transportation to run more buses. And of the 120 containers that will be trucked in to build the village, approximately 90 will be removed from the state pier and placed on a barge for the journey to the next stopover in Cardiff, Wales, thus further reducing the carbon footprint from the event.
In addition, the event will have approximately 20 water-filling stations as organizers seek to encourage visitors to bring reusable water bottles.
The local sustainability effort will begin on April 8 with a clean-up of Fort Adams State Park hosted by Sail Newport. It will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and the public is encouraged to attend.
Plastic and other waste materials have been documented as clogging sea ports worldwide.
During the May stopover, the One Exploration Zone, which will be the centerpiece of the Olympic style village at Fort Adams, will feature nearly 30 nonprofits and universities showcasing ways to take better care of the planet.
Ultimately, the goal of the sustainability plan, McLaughlin said, is to increase awareness regarding plastic pollution of the ocean, minimize the event’s emissions footprint and avoid the use of single-use plastics.
“When people come to the [Newport stopover], they will be part of the experience of sustainability,” he said. “We hope they will realize that, one, it’s fun, and two, it really makes a difference. We want to hold the most sustainable event possible and educate the public about ocean health and environmental stewardship.”
By Rob Duca for Newport Now