Marina and Yard Sustainability

How can marinas bring more circularity to the boating world? 

Peter Franklin
Tuesday, 2 November 2021

Having been writing online blogs for METSTRADE for over five years now, it occurred to me that I have not focused so much on the subject of marinas. As a boat owner for most of my adult life, spending a large amount of my free time in and around them, I’m a little surprised that their influence on sustainability has not impacted more on my consciousness. Maybe that’s because I’m typical of the average boater - just seeing the marina as a place to park the boat. But of course, they can be so much more than that. In fact, when you think about it, they are the linkage point in that transition, when we shake off our shoreside personalities, and become more aware of our closeness to nature.

They can also be vibrant communities where people come together in a shared expectation of fun, relaxation, adventure, freedom, and dreams that the oceans and waterways offer us. Surely this situation engenders a mindset that is open to new ideas, innovative influences, and more sustainability focused actions.

So, can marinas play a more pro-active and practical role in moving the boating community towards enhanced care for the environment, and in further developing the circular economy? Kellie Covington certainly thinks so, and she presented some of her ideas about how this can be achieved at the recent ICOMIA World Marinas Conference in Dubai.

Kellie is a consultant who is focused on the circular and sustainable transition of the recreational marine industry, having worked with 11th Hour Racing, and the IMOCA Ocean Race teams on their sustainable development strategies.

The Cirular Economy, what is it all about?

Most people are aware of the principles of CE now, and in fact we featured it as part of our ‘Sustainability in the Marine Industry’ Conference at METSTRADE in 2016. However, in the years since then it has become ever more part of the mainstream conversation and has even been embodied into international conventions such as the EU Green Deal.

As Kellie pointed out in her presentation, one of the most striking and depressingly negative examples of what has been termed the ‘Linear Economy’ is the massive plastic pollution problem that is literally choking our oceans. Single use plastics and their end-of-life consequences are the most high-profile illustration of what happens when we take the planet’s resources - make products from them - and then just throw them away. That is what is meant by ‘Linear’, and its disastrous outcomes for the future of our planet have certainly helped to get the Circular Economy discussion firmly on the agenda.

Another thing that has affected us humans during the last two years, partly due to the influence of the Pandemic, is that most people have become more aware of the nature around us, and the importance of protecting it. In that respect Kellie explains, “a circular economy takes inspiration from nature so that nothing is ever wasted by design and that our actions don’t pollute our environment or ourselves.”

Achieving this depends on a few key principles: #1) Everything is cycled by becoming an input for something else. #2) During each cycle, life is regenerated more abundantly than before. #3) The economy must operate within the safe limits of our planet's ecological boundaries. #4) The social foundations that are critical for the human workforce must be strengthened.

In summary: We need to move from degradation to regeneration, and the goal is net-zero. That is; zero waste, zero pollution, zero unsustainable resource consumption.

Applying a circular lens to a marina business model.

As in any business planning scenario there has to be a value proposition, and Kellie points out, that increased efficiency and customer value must be on offer if circular business models are to be successfully implemented in marinas. It is also important to appeal to the younger generation; as market research has indicated that the ‘millennials’ will be looking for a completely different way of enjoying their free time in future.

So, following the principles of some established CE business models which have been designed to give customers more choice and flexibility, here are some ‘kick starter’ ideas which Kellie put forward at the Conference, for marina managers to consider in their future planning.

  • Sharing platforms - A fast developing concept which appeals to the desire for ‘access’, over ‘ownership.’ As already mentioned, this most definitely reaches out to the younger generation, who are looking to access their leisure pursuits without the hassle of ownership, and preferably via a click, in an app! Examples of this, such as Rent-my-Boat, and Click’n’Boat are already in operation, but further growth depends on building trust with the consumers. So, establishing them within a marina community could help to encourage more confidence in the concept.
  • Product as a service - There is also potential in this for sharing of water toys and tools etc, all things that are used infrequently, and are generally under utilised during their life cycle, before eventually adding to the waste stream. Kellie also suggests more use of the ‘internet of things’ by marinas. It's already possible to monitor your boat systems with apps like ‘sense4boat.’ This concept could be expanded so that marina clients can log into a shared platform giving real time updates on activities in the surrounding area, which might attract them to spend more time afloat, or to use shared facilities.
  • Product life extension - We all want our boats to last as long as possible, and most of us find the maintenance the least attractive part of the boating pastime. Setting up a Repair Cafe would be a great social community project, where those members with more skills and knowledge could help others with repairs and maintenance. There would also be a possibility to introduce economies of scale, by combining purchases of frequently replaced items (batteries, filters and lubricants for example) to get lower prices and save overall transport costs and emissions.
  • Resource recovery - The ongoing and growing problem of end-of-life boats (particularly GRP ones) really highlights the importance of this function. Marinas can undoubtably help with this by offering to help with disposal of redundant boats, instead of letting them deteriorate on the berth. As we have mentioned in previous articles this has been addressed in a successful trial in the US, where high volumes of GRP waste from old boats have been used in the cement production process. So, more solutions are becoming possible, and marinas can help boaters to access them. Also, certain items thrown away by boat owners can be of use to others. Marinas can set up an online portal for notifying ‘reuse items.’ I have personal experience of this: Having replaced my bimini and batteries onboard last spring, the old ones (which were still usable), were taken by a boat neighbour in our marina, who has happily used them ever since.
  • Circular suppliers - Most boaters want to be more sustainable, and marinas are the perfect hubs to help them do it. For example, cleaning products, coolants and lubricants are widely used by all boat owners. In a marina with hundreds of boats, who knows how many bottles and cans of these liquids are consumed, with all the associated transport costs, and the containers then dumped into waste. So, as Kellie suggests, it would be great if marinas were to set up liquid product refill stations, similar to what we see happening now in some supermarkets for domestic cleaning liquids, drinks and sauces etc.

A great place to discuss some of these ideas would be the Marina and Yard pavilion at this year’s METSTRADE show, maybe see you there!

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