Tackling Sustainability Challenges - Sailors for the Sea

Tackling Sustainability Challenges

 February 20, 2023  | By: Jennifer Brett

From left: Sailors for the Sea director Shelley Brown moderated the panel, which included Emily Conklin, Lizzie Howard and CJ O’Brien

In early February 2023, the Sailors for the Sea team joined hundreds of passionate and enthusiastic sailors at US Sailing’s Sailing Leadership Forum and hosted a session on the different sustainability challenges that Clean Regatta organizers face. Our panelists included Lizzie Howard, environmental project manager for Starboard SUP, CJ O’Brien, ocean friendly programs manager for Surfrider Foundation, and Emily Conklin, Sailors for the Sea’s program manager. The goal for our session was to learn from and “swap notes” with not just the panelists, but the audience members as well.

A lively discussion followed, and we touched upon several roadblocks that some of our Clean Regattas organizers experience.

Challenge 1: Management or other members of the yacht or sailing club perceive making changes that are more environmentally sustainable as too expensive or time consuming.

All three panelists, as well as audience members, could identify with this struggle. “Cost and time are the biggest barriers I hear about,” said Lizzie.

What’s the solution? As Emily noted, “no two situations are totally alike, but frequently all it takes is one champion to really get the ball rolling.” Get the word out there and try to build some momentum. Do some research on what areas could have the biggest impact for your club, and focus on that for now. You will have a Green Team built before you know it. And don’t forget to celebrate even tiny victories.

Challenge 2: Finding alternatives for single-use plastic items.

Each panelist has worked with people, organizations, and events that are trying to ditch single-use plastic serving items, and each warned of the pitfalls of choosing “bioplastics” and “compostable” plastics as alternatives. “A huge misconception is that all biodegradable or compostable plastics are better,” said CJ. When looking for alternatives, “be on the lookout for green washing, and seek out items that are made out of bamboo or paper.”

“Bioplastics” are typically not encouraged as an alternative to cups and serving ware. These items cannot be recycled, and usually can only be composted under industrial composting conditions (much higher heat than is achieved in backyard composting). Lizzy noted that when searching for alternatives, “know what questions to ask, like ‘under what conditions will this item break down, and how long will it take?’”

Emily suggested working with your event’s waste hauler to learn what your options are regarding trash, recycling and compost. They will be able to tell you what they will and will not accept, and might be able to suggest alternatives.

Even better than swapping one type of single-use item for another is to ditch single use altogether. Which leads us to…

Challenge 3: Making the change to reusables

If your club has been strictly using single-use items at events, making the change to reusables – dishes, cutlery and glasses – will be a major change with many aspects to consider. Budget, size of club/events, staffing, and your facility will all factor into the decision. CJ, whose position with Surfrider Foundation has her working with restaurants to help them go plastic free and make more sustainable choices, said that often the restaurants she works with assume that switching to durable or reusable items will be cost prohibitive, but frequently they learn that it’s not the case.

A lack of dishwashing facilities during events is a major barrier that came up in the discussion, and a variety of solutions were suggested from the panel and audience: If there is a lack of staff to help with dishes, could volunteers help? This is where a Green Team could step in! Are there just not enough resources to purchase complete sets of reusable items? Perhaps you could offer drink discounts as an incentive for participants or guests to bring their own cups or dishes.

With only an hour for our discussion, we barely scratched the surface with all the topics and challenges that we could have covered. Some parting advice from the panelists? Sustainable solutions will look a little different for every club and event, and when it comes to the Clean Regattas best practices, there is no one “right” way to do things. Don’t get discouraged by trying to accomplish everything on the list, be creative, seek help, and celebrate little wins. Also? Involve the kids. Junior sailors are often a driving force for change at clubs.


Questions about all things Clean Regattas? Visit Clean Regattas or contact Emily Conklin

While these resources are focused on switching school cafeterias to reusables, the info is interesting and helpful for any organization looking to make the switch: Transition Considerations – Ditching Disposables Toolkit and Cafeteria Culture – Cafeteria Culture

An excellent resource for single-use plastic alternatives: Ocean-Friendly-Foodware-Guide