Sir Keith Mills: Successful Sponsorship is About Sustainability.

Yacht Racing was well represented at the European Sponsorship Association (ESA) ‘Future of Sponsorship’ conference and awards in London yesterday. Speakers included Karin B├Ącklund – Director, Global Sponsorship & Brand Partnership, Public Affairs, Volvo Car Corporation, Rod Carr OBE – Chief Executive, Royal Yachting Association and Sir Keith Mills, Team Principal of the British America’s Cup challenger TEAMORIGIN.

TeamOrigin’s Race for Change initiative has received a fair bit of scrutiny since it was announced. Despite the obvious ‘powered by the wind’ claims, the team has to reconcile extensive air travel and use of exotic materials including carbon fibre with their green message.

Sir Keith Mills speech to the Future Sponsorship Conference in London wasn’t just about TeamOrigin. Sir Keith, who also holds the posts of Deputy-Chairman of LOCOG and Non-Executive Director of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, set out several ways in which his current sporting projects are already making an impact on climate change and outlined his pattern for future sponsorship in a world of increasingly environmentally conscious business and marketing agendas.

With the world’s political leaders, NGOs and global companies set to focus on core sustainability issues in the run up to the Copenhagen Climate Conference in December, Sir Keith highlighted the fact that sport can be used to align companies with the CSR issues that resonate with consumers. Sir Keith stated:

“The current financial crisis I believe has fundamentally changed our values, both corporately and in terms of consumer behaviour, and this will inevitably impact on the sponsorship market…Future sponsorship needs to be relevant and it needs to be socially responsible.”

Sir Keith detailed how, during his time as LOCOG Deputy-Chairman, over half a billion pounds in corporate sponsorship has been raised for the London 2012 Games. He explained that companies such as BT, BP and EDF Energy have been attracted by the Games’ comprehensive sustainability agenda, which they see as strategically important for their businesses.

“Sponsorship is becoming more strategic and less tactical. Businesses are reengineering their operations to reduce their carbon footprint and demonstrate their commitment to sustainability.”

Central to Sir Keith’s message was the project that he has undertaken with the British America’s Cup sailing team, TEAMORIGIN. Under the banner Race for Change, TEAMORIGIN has signed an agreement with the government-backed Carbon-Trust in order to demonstrate how carbon efficiency need not impact on performance (whether in business or sport) and to attract commercial partners who wish demonstrate their commitment to a detailed sustainability agenda.

“The Carbon Trust’s mission is to show companies how they can reduce their carbon footprint and, at the same time, improve their financial performance. Our America’s Cup team and our Race for Change campaign are designed to underpin that message and corporate responses have so far been very positive.

While the partnership between TeamOrigin and the Carbon Trust might be strategic, it will need to show that it has real world impact and be activated by other companies that sign up in a visable way. Unfortunately, the Carbon Trust seems to be having a little trouble with its website today, so we can’t tell how they are positioning their involvement with the sailing team.