Say It Ain’t So! Ben Ainslie Racing Signs Title Sponsor Deal with Fracking and Chemical Company Ineos; 11th Hour Racing No Longer a Partner

Sir Ben Ainslie is the most decorated sailor in Olympics history. As skipper of Land Rover BAR, the British entry in the 2017 America’s Cup in Bermuda, he won deserved plaudits from the green and sports worlds, for making environmental sustainability, in particular ocean health, a core value of his team.

One thing Land Rover BAR did not win was the 2017 America’s Cup, despite spending in the neighborhood of £100 million ($USD135 million) over the four-year cycle. By some estimates, it will cost as much as 30 percent more to mount a legitimate campaign for the 2021 Cup, to be contested in New Zealand.

So when British fracking and chemical company, Ineos, and its founder Jim Ratcliffe, offered Ainslie £110 million ($153 million) to fund the lion’s share of his 2021 America’s Cup quest, Sir Ben had a choice: Take the money and risk being labeled a greenwasher, or keep his good name and his well-earned global reputation as an eco-athlete among fans, his competitors, sponsors and more.

He chose the money. 

 

Since 2015, GreenSportsBlog has posted no less than 10 stories featuring Sir Ben Ainslie and his Land Rover BAR sailing team’s significant and substantive sustainability programs, including an interview with Sir Ben. I publicly lauded his and his team’s sustainability bona fides any chance I got.

That is why, as recently as two weeks ago, I could not have imagined writing this sentence:

Sir Ben Ainslie is a greenwasher.

Sir Ben earned that moniker with the April 26th announcement that his team had signed Ineos, one of the UK’s leading fracking firms, as title sponsor for its 2021 America’s Cup campaign. This was big news beyond merely the Green-Sports niche: The Guardian and CNN, among others, covered it.

 

Ainslie Ratcliffe

Jim Ratcliffe (l), CEO of Ineos, with Sir Ben Ainslie (Photo credit: Toby Melville/Reuters)

 

To get a sense of how stunning Ainslie’s 180 degree flip from eco-athlete to greenwasher is, one has to turn back the clock only two years or so.

 

AINSLIE WALKED SUSTAINABILITY WALK AND TALKED SUSTAINABILITY TALK IN 2017 AMERICA’S CUP CAMPAIGN

It is no exaggeration to say that sustainability was the most core of core values — along with trust and integrity — for the Land Rover Ben Ainslie Racing (BAR) team during its four year campaign to win the 2017 America’s Cup. The team:

  • Built a state-of-the-art home base in Portsmouth to BREEAM Excellent (the British equivalent of LEED Gold) standards
  • Used Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to measure and improve the efficiency of its use of resources, including from a carbon point of view, in the building of its race and support boats. This was a first in sailing
  • Promoted its clean oceans ethos to fans around the world during the America’s Cup World Series prep races and at the America’s Cup finals in Bermuda through engaging, interactive educational programs
  • Shared its sustainability stories with millions of fans around the world through a myriad of mainstream, sailing and green media
  • Funded the installation of solar panels at Bermuda’s National Museum

And much, much more.

Land Rover BAR would not have been able to pull the above without its groundbreaking and close partnership with 11th Hour Racing.

The Newport, RI-based organization partners with elite sailing teams committed to sustainable practices, providing them with financial, technical and other support. America’s Cup hopeful Land Rover BAR was certainly the organization’s highest profile elite sailing team partner. In addition to an annual investment estimated to be in the seven figures, 11th Hour Racing provided Sir Ben and his team with a wide range of sustainability-related services.

As Jeremy Pochman, 11th Hour Racing’s President, said in an April, 2016 GreenSportsBlog post, “We work with [Land Rover BAR] to meet the ambitious standards we set together: challenge and change practices in technology, procurement, energy production and use, efficiency, economy, community and legacy.”

 

Jeremy Pochman

Jeremy Pochman, President, 11th Hour Racing (Photo credit: Yachts And Yachting)

 

In the same story, Sir Ben showed he was fully on board: “It was clear to me when we launched the team that we could make a real difference – to operate sustainably, protect the marine environment and positively impact the people and local businesses we needed to build a winning team. With the help of 11th Hour Racing, we’ve set up Land Rover BAR to be one of the most sustainable sports teams on the planet.”

And, after attending “Inspiring Sustainability Through Partnership,” a two-day, late 2016 program at the University of Cambridge sponsored by 11th Hour Racing, Sir Ben went even deeper, talking about the need for humanity to aggressively take on climate change.

“In the last 30 years, climate change has accelerated and we have lost the equivalent of a third of the size of Europe in Arctic sea ice. The impact of this change is an infrastructure breakdown in some parts of the world, with increased conflict and migration as people are displaced in their efforts to survive; and agriculture and food supply are lost through extreme weather events, such as huge droughts or severe flooding.”

“We have already seen a one degree global temperature rise since pre-industrial levels. I’ve got a 3-month old daughter and if we continue to do nothing then in her lifetime she will see a further three degree global increase. It will lead to a sea level rise of almost a meter and potential loss of over 24 per cent of the mammals and half of the plant species currently on the planet. In that scenario we can anticipate massive disruption to society as individuals and nations struggle for the resources – water, food, energy – required to survive.”

When one takes into account the depth of this quote and Ainslie’s massive global popularity (sailing is a very big deal in many countries, not so much in the U.S.), it’s not a stretch to say that Sir Ben was the most influential eco-athlete in the world.

 

SAY IT AIN’T SO! SIR BEN SELLS OUT FOR INEOS’ FRACKING MONEY

What a difference a year makes.

Last year at this time, Land Rover BAR and 11th Hour Racing were working together to bring sustainability to racing fans in Bermuda, site of the 2017 America’s Cup finals.

But just a couple of weeks ago, Sir Ben announced he had ditched incumbent title sponsor Land Rover — which supported the team’s sustainability ethos in a number of ways — for fracking^ giant Ineos.

As reported by Matthew Campelli in Sport Sustainability Journal on April 30, Ainslie’s partnership with 11th Hour Racing also is no more. While representatives of the organization declined to comment for this story, it seems impossible to imagine that 11th Hour Racing would have worked with Ineos Team GB. Pochman, co-founder Wendy Schmidt and the rest of the 11th Hour Racing team must feel gutted.

 

Ben Wendy Harry Kenney-Herbert-Land Rover BAR

During happier times, Sir Ben Ainslie with Wendy Schmidt, co-founder of 11th Hour Racing (Photo credit: Harry Kenney-Herbert/Land Rover BAR)

 

What the frack happened?

The prospect of skippering Britain’s first-ever America’s Cup win clearly trumped Sir Ben’s (I guess not so deep) commitment to sustainability.

And, with costs to mount a 2021 America’s Cup campaign expected to run as much as 30 percent higher as compared to 2017, money was an understandable concern for Ainslie.

Until Ineos’ Jim Ratcliffe, recently announced as Britain’s richest man, stepped up with his £110 million offer, that is.

Ainslie was quoted thusly by Martha Kelner in the April 26 issue of The Guardian: “The investment of Ineos leaves us with our best ever chance of bringing the America’s Cup home.” Allow me to translate that bland, press release-type language into what Sir Ben might have been thinking: Hmmm, with Ineos providing virtually all of my funding needs, I can focus on sailing pretty much 24-7. Land Rover and 11th Hour Racing won’t be able to cover our expenses by themselves so if I stayed with them, I would have had to spend valuable time selling more sponsors. And, if we end up needing additional funding, Mr. Ratcliffe can probably ring up his friends Charles and David Koch to sign on Koch Industries. OK let’s do this!

In the same story, somehow, the depth of climate change knowledge Sir Ben expressed in late 2016 eluded him in 2018: “Fracking is not a subject I’m an expert on, but I know, having worked with Ineos for this partnership, that they take their responsibilities with the environment extremely seriously.” Translation: Climate change? Sustainability? I want to talk about sailing! Of course if — strike that — when we bring the America’s Cup home to Britain, all of this will be forgotten by my fans, the media, everyone.

 

WILL FANS CARE?

Aside from some excited comments about the new partnership from sailing and technological perspectives, early reaction on Ineos Team GB’s Facebook account was largely negative. Many commenters were disgusted with Sir Ben’s turn towards Ineos and fracking and away from sustainability. Here’s a sampler:

$217 million buys your conscience and your morals? WOW! The seas are murderously loaded with plastics and your sponsor is a plastics manufacturer who intends to turn the UK into a toxic teabag for fracked gas. You are clearly seeing the dollars but ignoring the two most important issues of life, environment and health.

Please think about it. Ineos will pollute the ground. It’s not a safe bet for sponsorship.

Ineos is a fracking company which brings significant challenges for ongoing public support for the team.

But the sad truth is winning does cure pretty much everything, at least from a PR perspective. Many fans across all sports, from all corners of the world, excuse awful behavior from the favorite players, from domestic violence to tax fraud to PED# use, as long as they win. Sir Ben didn’t cheat. He didn’t beat anyone.

All Ainslie did was play the fans, sponsors and media — yours truly included — who bought into his “commitment to sustainability” spiel for fools.

All he did was make a mockery of his core values.

And all he did was show his now two year-old daughter that he values an America’s Cup on the mantel more than clean oceans and a hospitable climate.

Say in ain’t so, Ben.

 

^ Fracking (also known by its more technical name, hydraulic fracturing) is a process by which large amounts of water and sand, combined with often hazardous chemicals, are injected, at high rates of pressure, into rock formations to fracture surrounding material for the purpose of extracting oil and gas. Its negative environmental and health impacts are legion, many of which would’ve concerned pre-Ineos Sir Ben. These include contamination of groundwater, large volume water use in water-challenged regions, methane pollution which exacerbates climate change, exposure to toxic chemicals, and fracking-induced earthquakes.

 

 


 

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GSB News and Notes, UK Style: Arsenal Supporters Protest Owner Stan Kroenke’s Ownership of Hunting Channel; Oval Cricket Ground/SkyTV Tackle Plastic Ocean Waste; Forest Green Rovers League Two Debut Earns Big Media Coverage

With the 2017-18 Premier League (EPL) football/soccer season set to kickoff tomorrow/Friday, with Arsenal hosting Leicester City, and with a raft of interesting Green-Sports stories breaking out across England, now is a perfect time for a UK style GSB News & Notes. And, just like the EPL campaign, we start with Arsenal, as their supporters protest the club’s American owner Stan Kroenke and his ownership of a cable TV hunting channel. Then we move on to an initiative from London’s Oval Cricket Ground and SkyTV to build awareness of, and action on the plastic ocean waste issue. We end with GSB fave Forest Green Rovers (FGR). Their debut in the fourth tier of the English Football pyramid, League Two, after earning promotion from the fifth tier last spring, drew coverage from major media outlets the world over. Why? Because FGR is the Greenest Team in Sports.

 

 

ARSENAL SUPPORTERS PROTEST OWNERS OWNERSHIP OF CABLE TV HUNTING CHANNEL

Arsenal is one of the Premier League’s (EPL’s) most decorated clubs, with 13 league titles and a record 13 FA Cup trophies to its credit. It is also an EPL green leader: The club just extended its partnership with Octopus Energy to supply the Emirates Stadium with electricity generated solely from renewables. The stadium also puts its 100 percent of its food waste through an anaerobic digester, which then gets composted.

Gunners’ supporters seem to be supportive of the clubs greening initiatives but that hasn’t stopped them from criticizing the club’s American owner, Stan Kroenke, on another environmental issue — animal cruelty — specifically, his company’s ownership of My Outdoor TV (MOTV), a hunting-themed cable network. And they are, smartly it says here, pushing Arsenal’s main sponsors — Emirates, Puma and Vitality — to condemn Kroenke’s support for hunting.

According to Jack de Menezes of The INDEPENDENT of London, “a petition calling for [Emirates, Puma and Vitality] to call for Kroenke ‘to stand down’ has [as of August 3rd] nearly reached 50,000 signatures, as pressure continues to grow on the American billionaire following the launch of his hunting TV channel.”

Kroenke has faced searing criticism and outrage from Arsenal supporters after it was revealed on August 1 that MOTV is owned by his company, Kroenke Sports & Entertainment. Per de Menezes, the aforementioned petition calls for a “meeting between the Arsenal board, key sponsors, leading animal rights charities and most importantly, [representatives] of the international fan bases regarding this situation.” Tom Farmery of The Daily Mail reported that the dustup reached up to the highest levels of British politics as UK Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn joined the criticism of Kroenke’s MOTV app, which for £7.60 ($10.06) a month offers “the Netflix of the hunting world.”

But perhaps it was the BBC and its “Have I Got News For You” show that nailed the story with this tweet of a doctored jersey (“kit” in British English,) which Arsenal fans then picked up with a vengeance.

 

Arsenal Tweet

 

Can you see American sports fans protesting against a hunting channel? Or against fracking? While there certainly were marches against Mike Vick after he served his time for organizing dog fights, it’s hard for this reporter to imagine a movement against hunting in the US. And if that’s hard to imagine, it’s harder still to picture protests against, say, fossil fuel companies who sponsor sports events/teams. We certainly can learn some things from our British sports fan cousins.

 

LONDON’S OVAL CRICKET GROUND PARTNERS WITH SKY TV ON PLASTIC OCEAN WASTE CAMPAIGN

Sky TV, one of the UK’s two largest sports broadcasters (BT Sport being the other) is advancing Green-Sports in ways that its US counterparts ESPN, Fox Sports, NBC Sports, and CBS Sports, should emulate.

Kia Oval Stadium, the 24,000 seat South London home of the Surrey cricket club, partnered with Sky and its new Sky Sports Cricket channel to build awareness of the plastic ocean waste problem. The broadcaster, through its Ocean Rescue sustainability campaign, gave out refillable water bottles to fans who came to the stadium from July 27th-31st for the England-South Africa five day Test match. Thanks to a hat trick by star bowler Moeen Ali, the home side won by 239 runs. I have no idea what “England won by 239 runs” in cricket means…other than that England won.

 

England bowlers Moeen Ali and Stuart Broad are supporting the Sky Ocean Rescue initiative, which is encouraging consumers to reduce the use of single-use plastics

England bowlers Moeen Ali and Stuart Broad are supporting the Sky Ocean Rescue initiative, which is encouraging consumers to reduce the use of single-use plastics. (Photo credit: Sky Sports)

 

 

According to a story by Luke Nicholls in edie.net20,000 limited-edition re-usable bottles were given out at the London ground throughout the five-day Test affair, and “fans were encouraged to use 20 free water distribution points which were installed throughout the venue.” Giving out water bottles is hard to imagine at a stateside sporting event, or even at an English soccer/football match. But, perhaps the make up of the crowd at a five day Test match — where there are breaks for tea — gives the organizers confidence that the water bottles will be used in a proper, decorous fashion.

A Sky Ocean Rescue mobile studio was set up at the Oval, allowing fans to commit their own recorded pledge to become an #OceanHero. These were then shared via social media.

But it is on TV where Sky is really stepping up its Green-Sports game.

Sky News reports on the plastic ocean waste issue were played during breaks in the match and viewers were challenged to reduce use of single-use plastics in the home.

Sky Sports Cricket channel devoted parts of its Test match coverage to highlighting the impact plastic is having on the world’s oceans, using some cricket statistics that, per Nicholls’, are “shocking”: For example, “In the time it takes to bowl one over, the equivalent of four rubbish trucks’ worth of plastic will be dumped in the ocean.”

Now, I have no clue as to what “bowling one over” means or how long it takes, but I do know that if Sky Sports can broadcast environmental messaging during an important international cricket match, ESPN and Fox Sports can do the same during, say, an NBA playoff game or World Series games. Will they? Stay tuned.

To Sky CEO Jeremy Darroch, the Ocean Rescue campaign, which launched in January with a 45-minute documentary which aired across the company’s TV channels and has received almost 25,000 views on YouTube, is a no-brainer: “The dire health of our oceans is such an important issue, and one that needs to be urgently addressed. At Sky, we want to use our voice and the potential of our reach to inspire people to take action to protect our planet by bringing to life our amazing ocean for millions of people across Europe, and discussing the solutions.

England cricketer Stuart Broad, who is also supporting the initiative, noted that “by 2050, there’s a chance that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish, which is really scary for our world, isn’t it?”

 

 

 

FOREST GREEN ROVERS EARNS DRAW IN FIRST LEAGUE TWO MATCH, ATTENTION FROM ESPN AND THE GUARDIAN FOR ITS GREENNESS

Forest Green Rovers (FGR), the Greenest Team in Sports (GTIS), played its first match ever in League Two, the fourth tier of English football, on Saturday, earning a 2-2 draw vs. Barnet in front of a raucous home crowd at The New Lawn stadium.

[NOTE: If you are a loyal GreenSportsBlog reader and are thus very familiar with the Forest Green Rovers story, feel free to skip the next three paragraphs. For GSB rookies, keep reading.]

FGR embarked on its journey to earn its GTIS designation when Dale Vince, OBE^, who also owns British renewable energy company Ecotricity, bought the club in 2010 and became team chairman. Over the next several years, he installed an organic pitch at the New Lawn, has it mowed by a solar powered Mo-Bot, and converted all of the stadium concession stands to vegan-only food.

You read that right.

The club’s fortunes on the pitch also improved since Vince took over, with FGR finally earning promotion from the National Conference, the 5th tier of English football, to the 4th tier League Two. This might not sound like much — sort of like a minor league baseball club moving up from Rookie League to Class A, if American sports had promotion and relegation — but it really is. That’s because, League Two is the bottom rung of The Football League, with the English Premier League at the top of the pyramid#.

[Welcome back, GSB veteran readers!]

Being in The Football League for the first time in its 128 year existence means more exposure for FGR. But because of the club’s green ethos, that exposure is growing exponentially, far more than for the typical League Two promo-tee.

For example, a long form piece by Ian Chadband, ran on espnfc.comwhich draws 11.48 million monthly unique visitors, two days before the Barnet match. It characterized FGR as: “a little sports club with big dreams like no other…The fairy tale, as they like to call it, of a village team on the verge of bankruptcy, who have risen to become the club from the smallest community ever to host a team in England’s professional Football League…[And] there’s the uniquely green bit, the fact that vegan-embracing, eco-friendly Forest Green have a very different ethos from perhaps any other sports organization.”

Stuart James, writing on July 31st in The Guardian, with its 30 million+ monthly uniques, dug deep into the food aspect of the FGR story. Vegan cuisine is not only on offer for the the fans; players and coaches are on all-vegan diets. Good thing for them that Em Franklin, the club’s chef, is a foodie’s — vegan or otherwise — dream: “The Q-Pie is brilliant – people love it,” Franklin told James. “It’s a shortcrust pastry base, puff pastry lid and it’s Quorn with soya béchamel white sauce, with thyme and leeks. It’s full and it’s filling because my portions are hearty! We’re doing a pasty as well this year – that’s something new. Because we’re vegan doesn’t mean it’s all lettuce and lentils.”

 

Em Franklin

Em Franklin, the chef at Forest Green, where the food is vegan. (Photo credit: Martin Godwin for The Guardian)

 

Speaking Wednesday to Brian Oliver of The Star Online of Malaysia, Ryan Harmer, FGR’s club’s commercial director summed it up this way: “In the past week we’ve had reporters here from China, been on Al Jazeera and ESPN, on German radio stations. In League Two that’s probably unheard of.”

 

^ OBE = Order of the British Empire
# From top to bottom, the Football League consists of The Premier League, the Championship, League One and League Two

 


 

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