Sailing the World's Cup into San Francisco's sustainable waters

Editor's note: Jill Savery will be speaking at the GreenBiz Forum in San Francisco (Feb. 26 to 28). Get more information about the event here.

The America's Cup has not sailed smoothly into San Francisco Bay. The America's Cup Event Authority, the organization established to manage the event operations, paid a $225,000 settlement last summer after a group that included the Sierra Club filed suit, alleging the sailing races and required infrastructure would harm the waterfront. Race officials have also received the ire of some city lawmakers who argued the event would not adequately benefit the city.

But the organization appears to have made it through those rough waters  and gearing up for the America's Cup Finals in September, local team Oracle is back on the water with a repaired boat following a calamitous capsize during training.

As the event authority's head of sustainability, Jill Savery is charged with keeping the environmental impacts related to the event  from facilities to catering to transportation  minimal. But a big part of her job is to also use the events, which began last summer with two weeklong America's Cup World Series races, as a platform for turning fans of racing into fans of ocean health.

We spoke to Savery, who will join Mike Lynch, managing director of green innovation at NASCAR, and Jennifer Regan, global sustainability director of AEG, on a panel about sustainability and sport at the GreenBiz Forum in San Francisco on Feb. 28, about why sporting events are a great platform for talking about sustainability, what America's Cup racing has achieved thus far and its plans for this summer's big races.

GreenBiz: You're an Olympian turned sustainability professional. Can you give us the quick version of how you ended up heading sustainability for the America's Cup in San Francisco?

Jill Savery: In 1996 I earned a gold medal in synchronized swimming in Atlanta. I grew up in Walnut Creek, so I'm from the Bay Area. Halfway through my career I decided to pursue a master's degree in environmental management, because I wanted to combine my passion for sport with my passion for the environment. Virtually all of the same types of things you'd do to make sports more sustainable you'd also do for big events, so there is a big movement right now around sustainability and events on a global basis. I was living in London and was supporting the London [Olympics] 2012 sustainability efforts and when I came back I just happened to be introduced to someone from the America's Cup.

GB: How does your experience in London inform your work here?

JS: Sustainability in sporting events is relatively new. Vancouver [Olympics] was the first Games to embrace sustainability and have real strategies and commitments, then London took it to a whole other level. I worked with the [Olympic] organizers with everything from sitting in on technical venue meetings to developing sustainability plans to reporting and being on the Commission for Sustainability London 2012, that group was the first of its kind and was set up to audit London against its commitments. These things are new and these challenges are very real, and working through those challenges gave me great experiences.

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