Denmark navigate sailing towards a sustainable future

nacra 17 fleet

Aarhus World Championships

Denmark has a long history of innovation on the water and the Hempel Sailing World Championships Aarhus 2018, which drew to a close on Sunday, has set a new standard in sustainability. Thomas Bach, the IOC president, who visited the event last Sunday, called it a “benchmark project.” From recycling at sea, to the use of bikes and electric vehicles, to the mushroom bacteria test to clean-up petrol in the harbour, the Danes are making waves.

“Sustainability is an area that is important for keeping sailing relevant to the younger generation,” Kim Andersen, president of World Sailing, says. “They take it for granted that you take care of the environment.  It wasn’t seen as so relevant in the past, but we have made big steps and this event will be independently audited, and is the first International Federation to achieve ISO 20121 (an international standard for sustainable event management), so he (Bach) was also very impressed by that.”

Sustainability was one of the areas that most impressed Bach. I think it’s remarkable that World Sailing, Aarhus and Denmark have built programmes with regard to sustainability,” he said. “This is a benchmark project for these kind of World Championships.”

As a Dane, Andersen knows how seriously Denmark takes sustainability and it was baked into the bid for these World Championships from the start.

“Sustainability is a core ideal for sailing and major international sporting events staged in Denmark,” Lars Lundov, CEO of Sport Event Denmark, said. “As with all the sporting events we partner in Denmark we strive to build sustainability into the project from the start. We are constantly aiming at setting new standards not meeting old ones.”

Organisers have been travelling around the city streets and Aarhus Ø harbour area on hundreds of orange sharing bikes. There is full electric vehicle policy for all internal traffic. On the water, teams with RIBs have been given a specially designed recycling satchel so they can store and sort waste while they train and race.

“The coaches especially have told us that they’re fond of the bags and the idea,” Klaus Natorp, the president of the Danish Sailing Federation said.  said. “There’s no sailor who wants to throw things in the ocean, but when it’s windy and the RIB is full of rubbish we know what’s going to happen.”

The bags were developed in conjunction with the Danish Sailing team. “What we were trying to do is see how can we support the teams doing the right things,” Natorp said. We’re aiming for the reduction of the single-use plastics, or at least making sure it’s in a closed circuit so that we collect the bottles and recycle them. We’ve encouraged all the athletes to drink our tap water. We have also supplied them with refillable bottles - we’ve given out close to 4,000 drinks bottles to the athletes and all our staff and athletes. The backbone is the waste management, knowing how to define the recycling and where it goes.”

But perhaps the star of the event has been a seven-metre-long tube stuffed with mushroom bacteria (mycelium).

Mycoremediation - the process of using fungi to clean up the environment – is an innovative, yet simple biotechnology inspired by nature being tested at these World Championships. The floating tube developed by WorldPerfect in collaboration with scientists from Aarhus University has been placed in the sea near the gas station, where more than 300 coach boats are supplied with fuel.

Accidental spills are then meant to be absorbed by the tube and broken down by the mushroom mycelium. The digestive enzymes of the mycelium can eat oil and other toxic substances. Mushrooms are nature’s great decomposers, meaning they are highly effective in breaking down organic matter.

“We want to test the effect of this method in seawater, knowing that it works well in soil and freshwater,” Rasmus Hørsted Jensen, a partner in WorldPerfect said. “If it works: harbours and sailing events could apply this solution, which is simple, cheap, biodegradable, and a contribution to local circular economies. If not, it can still deal with pollution coming from many different sport events on land.”

A local mushroom farm grows oyster mushrooms on spent coffee grounds, collected from local cafés and restaurants. After harvest, the leftover substrate - containing still living and active mycelium - is mixed with straw, and the mycelium can continue to grow, and now be used for bioremediation purposes.

Real sailors have often seen themselves as guardians of the sea and now the largest events they compete in are seeking to set the agenda on the global sports stage.

“Our Sustainability Agenda 2030 is an ambitious long-term strategy agreed by all of our members which sets out how the sport will contribute to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals,” Dan Reading, World Sailing’s Programme manager said. “Whilst we’re just getting started in the delivery of our 56 different targets, the Hempel Sailing World Championship gives us the opportunity to work with our partners on a number of initiatives that we can replicate and evolve for our future events.”

The future is greener and it might just smell of mushrooms.