Dame Ellen MacArthur is one of the most amazing women on the planet – someone whose achievements as a sailor are so completely mindboggling that even Jeremy Clarkson was reduced to a state of fawning admiration when she appeared on Top Gear a couple of years ago (an appearance, incidentally, where she showed her incredible competitive spirit by promptly setting the fastest lap time for the “Star in a reasonably-priced car” challenge!).
It’s worth taking a second to list some of those achievements:
- 2000 – she sails from Plymouth to Rhode Island in under 15 days, setting a world record for a single-handed monohull east-west passage, and the record for a single-handed crossing by a woman in any vessel
- 2000-2001 – she places second in the Vendee Globe race with a time of 94 days, 4 hours and 25 minutes – the world record for a single-handed, non-stop, monohull circumnavigation by a woman
- 2004 – she sails from New York Bay to Cornwall in just over 7 days, not only setting a new world record for a transatlantic crossing by a woman, but beating the previous crewed record as well as the single-handed version
- 2005 – she beats the world record for a single-handed, non-stop circumnavigation, sailing over 50,000km in under 72 days. She sleeps no more than 20 minutes at a time, as she has to be on constant lookout day and night
So, when Ellen MacArthur launches an educational foundation to promote sustainability – and says that it’s more important to her now than sailing – people should sit up and take notice. If she brings only but a fraction of her guts and determination as a sailor to this new mission, this is fantastic news.
And, listening to her interview on BBC Radio 4 the other day, this is clearly someone who knows her stuff too (nothing like sailing non-stop around the world to teach you the concept of living within finite resources!). She’s spent the last 4 years talking with governments and business and, in the course of the interview, spoke very eloquently about the sustainability challenge:
The culmination of the last 4 years was the realisation that the way we do things now – the way we make things, the way we travel, the way we get our energy – is not sustainable, because we’re taking something [i.e. natural resources] that we have just once.
So we need to make things differently. And the voice from business – the voice from people I was talking to – was saying that we need skills that are different in the future, and that’s what the Foundation’s doing.
It’s getting the best case studies from industry, from experts around the world, and feeding those to young people, so they can see there’s actually something to aim for and that their future’s not about using a bit less, travelling a bit less and doing a bit less. It’s actually about redesigning the future.
As you can probably imagine, words that were music to my ears!
Likewise checking out the Foundation’s site and finding that, top-right on the homepage under Latest News, was a link to a video case study of Ellen visiting my sustainability heroes at Interface Inc. Check it out…