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World Surf League heightens sustainability push

The World Surf League this week is rolling out a series of environmental initiatives to tie into the June 8 World Oceans Day, including a commitment to make its operations globally carbon neutral by the end of 2019.

The professional surfing property also is pledging to eliminate single-use plastics, including food service items such as straws and cups, from its WSL Championship Tour and Big Wave Tour events by the end of the year. It also plans reduce its event footprint on the beaches it uses and develop a financial grant program to commit funds to local efforts safeguarding coastal habitats.

The WSL already had been an environmentally sensitive operation, particularly through its non-profit arm WSL PURE, given the oceans are its playing surfaces. But WSL chief executive Sophie Goldschmidt said the latest steps mark a logical progression for the organisation.

“This is a natural next step for us, and we are now very focused on ocean conservation,” Goldschmidt said. “We believe it was appropriate to up our commitments in this area.”

The WSL did not detail a specific financial figure underscoring the heightened environmental efforts, but given it stages events in six continents likely will be significant. The property is working with Sustainable Tourism & Outdoors Kit for Evaluation (STOKE), a San Diego-based group that has developed certification standard built for surf and mountain tourism operators and events, on its carbon offset efforts.

In addition to investing in carbon offset projects, Goldschmidt said WSL will also look to pare down its staff travel and regionalise its operations where possible, and rely more on locally-based contractors to help stage its competitive events.

“It’s quite a complicated formula that goes into the offsets, but the travel is the biggest contributor to our carbon footprint and we’ll look to reduce that as we can,” she said. 

The sustainability efforts may also result in the WSL bringing in additional corporate sponsors to help underwrite the costs. But Goldschmidt said “we’re doing this regardless. We recognise that it’s really crisis time for our environment.”

In addition to realigning its own operations, part of the WSL’s heightened sustainability push is aimed at moving other sports operations in a similar direction.

“So stoked that the WSL is setting this amazing example, and I hope all other professional sports follow their lead – and soon,” said Dr. Ayana Johnson, a marine biologist and founder of Ocean Collectiv and Urban Ocean Lab. “Where governments fail to lead, business can and should step all the way up to address our intertwined climate and biodiversity crises.”