Eighty delegates from paddling federations across the globe attended the ICFs Sustainability Forum at the 2023 Canoe Slalom World Championship at Lee Valley White Water Centre.

ICF Vice President Cecilia Farias and British Canoeing's Richard Stacy-Chapman kicked off the day with two keynote addresses, with the latter sharing insights on enhancing sustainability at the 2023 World Championships. Stacy-Chapman spoke of challenges, including unforeseen ones, emphasising that perfection isn't a prerequisite to embark on a sustainability journey for other federations.

Richard Pettit, ICF secretary general, joined a panel featuring Chantelle Grundy, British Canoeing's access and environmental lead, Olympic gold medallist Etienne Stott and Alexandra Rickham, World Sailing's head of sustainability. Together, they explored integrating sustainability into the essence of paddle sport.

“We recently launched a big paddle clean-up with thousands of paddlers going out on our waterways, removing junk and plastic pollution, so the paddling community is absolutely passionate [about sustainability],” said Grundy.

“We see first-hand the impact that climate change is having on the environment. So, in many ways, it wasn't a surprise to see the absolute passion of paddlers keen to take action and to do something to protect the places that are so precious to all of us.”

Stott said that athletes are key to building sustainability into paddle sports’ fabric because “athletes are experts at grappling with the elephant in the room” and “harnessing that mindset of rising to the challenge.”

In the morning’s third session, 2022 ICF Canoe Marathon C1 world champion Bethany Gill participated in a Q&A session to expand on athlete perspectives on sustainability, as well as sharing her thoughts on water quality and waste.

“We expect that when we train, we're probably going to get ill,” she said, referencing the water quality of the river where she trains.

“I’ve even seen things like a mattress going down the river. Imagine if you watched a football game and there were holes all over the pitch, or if wood was all over the place on a cycling track. We just wouldn't think that was acceptable, so why do we think it's acceptable to have our field of play in that state?”

During a second session, Earth’s managing director Matthew Campelli delivered an interactive workshop to national federation delegates on elevating sport through sustainability. The workshop helped delegates understand how to interpret climate risks and subsequent actions to deal with them.

Delegates were free to enjoy the second day of kayak slalom heats in the afternoon, before returning to a keynote from ICF secretary general Richard Pettit, calling on the canoe family to act on sustainability with Paris 2024 approaching on the horizon.

The forum ended with two interactive sessions. The first explored canoeing’s place in the sustainability landscape by engaging delegates in dialogue with each other. The second session explored where paddling sports’ sustainability journey leads from here, with a panel featuring UK Sport’s head of sustainability Sara Kassam, IUCN Sports for Nature programme officer Emmanuel Boscardin and Touchline Earth’s managing director Matthew Campelli.

These sessions will contribute to shaping the ICF's future sustainability strategy. Following the forum's conclusion, the ICF unveiled the Whitewater Venues: Driving Urban Sustainability report, underscoring the significant economic, social and environmental advantages these venues can bring to cities and urban areas.