Superyacht Sustainability

Furthering sustainability in the superyacht industry

Peter Franklin
Thursday, 9 December 2021

During the last year we have reviewed the sustainability action plans of major recreational boat builders such as Beneteau and the US based Brunswick Corporation. We also looked at how Superyacht builders such as Feadship and Heesen are working with the Water Revolution Foundation’s ‘Yacht Environmental Transparency Index’ (YETI) and their Yacht Assessment Tool (YAT,) in order to build ever more sustainable vessels.

YETI versus YAT

YETI is a joint industry project to develop a robust classification system that measures the environmental impact of yachts.The objective is to define a general profile of a superyacht, allowing both yachts and concepts to be benchmarked based on their environmental footprint.

YAT is a software tool which allows the superyacht industry to empower decision-makers with the information needed to make sustainable choices. The continuously developing data base can measure a superyacht’s environmental impact over its entire life cycle, from the building process, through to the vessel’s operational years of service, including raw materials, energy consumption, emissions and various other impacts upon the health of the oceans.

Panel discussion on the sustainable superyacht industry

Now MB92, the world’s largest superyacht refit group has added its significant voice to the discussion having produced a detailed report entitled ‘The Future of the Oceans - Navigating towards a sustainable superyacht industry.’The report findings are based on input from an expert panel discussion which was organised in order to lay out the sustainability objectives for the sector, and to identify the obstacles to achieving them, along with possible solutions. On the panel were some names that have featured in our sustainability forums at METSTRADE over the past years. Albert Willemsen, who has had a long career as Environmental Consultant for ICOMIA, Vienna Eleuteri co-founder of Water Revolution Foundation, and Adrian Gahan from Blue Marine Foundation, another well-established supporter of our show.

Discussing the pathway to a lower carbon footprint for superyachts, there was a consensus view amongst the panel, that this can only be achieved via a holistic and collaborative approach, considering the entire lifecycle of a yacht. This will entail all disciplines such as designers, builders, owners, managers, and refit yards, having access to material data and design criteria which is specified to have the lowest carbon footprint during a boat’s lifelong existence.

Avoiding and managing waste, a top priority

Overseeing the panel discussion, and the publishing of the report was Pepe García-Aubert, President & CEO of the MB92 Group. In his introduction he stated that in his opinion the world of superyachts is no different to other sectors such as mobility and transport; “it must become fully sustainable or eventually disappear.” With its high-net-worth clientele it must lead by example, or the results of inaction will be severely felt by future generations.

Earlier this year MB92 launched a five-year plan with an objective to become a truly sustainable shipyard. Pepe admits that some of these new practices will not be easy to implement, but they are designed to reduce damage to the environment and must therefore become part of the operational routines of a refit yard.

Waste reduction

As we all know in our daily lives, the world is struggling with ever increasing amounts of waste. Plastic pollution in the oceans, and on land is one of the most high-profile examples these days. The MB92 report states that dealing with all types of waste within their operations is the most urgent task in meeting their Sustainability plan objectives.

I will quote the exact words used by Pepe to emphasise this point, as I also believe that this is vital for everyone involved in recreational boating to understand: “We must stop waste going into the ocean. All of a ship’s waste, during construction, during a refit and during consumption by the ship itself; it must be controlled. We don’t want plastic in the water, we don’t want metallic particles in the sea, we don’t want petrol or diesel in the water, and we must stop wastewater being thrown into the ocean from boats. Wastewater that in the past was released into the sea from boats, will have to be taken to be treated in future.”

A growing sector must help to address a growing crisis

The well documented growth in recreational boating (and therefore boat sales) during the last two years has also been reflected in the superyacht sector. The MB92 report references current data from publications such as Superyacht News, Boat International and SuperYacht times. They all confirm an unprecedented increase in both new orders, and sales of pre-owned superyachts over 24 metres.

Year-on-year brokerage sales rose 46% in the first quarter of the year, and the superyacht fleet grew to 5,718 boats by the end of 2020. Forecasted expectations are predicting close to 6500 SY’s by the year 2025. The report points out that the superyacht sector has enjoyed 20 years of steady growth, meaning that the maintenance and refit demands of owners seeking to modernise their vessels are increasing, and at the same time many of them are looking to reduce their impact on the environment.

However, the reality of the state of the oceans must be faced and addressed. The very environment for which these yachts are built to navigate, and for their owners to explore and enjoy is fast approaching a critical tipping point! This creates an existential threat for the sector, and its very survival would be in serious doubt if ocean pollution and loss of marine biodiversity were to continue on a downward spiral.

Vienna Eleuteri of Water Revolution Foundation put this all into perspective with her comments: “The superyacht industry has a unique position within the maritime cluster because it is reliant on the state of the ocean. Who wants to go on board a superyacht if they’re not going to have beautiful experiences in nature?”

Vienna emphasised her point: “The next decade is a crucial one, it will affect the next 10,000 years”.

Adopting a holistic / life cycle assessment approach

Another panelist was Svein Stolpestad, vice president for strategy and sustainability at major marine coatings producer Jotun, a company that produces around 25% of the paints used in the maritime sector. He emphasised the importance of interactive collaboration across the whole supply chain and various stakeholders, because working in isolation can sometimes result in counterproductive outcomes.

One example of this, is the subject of marine biofouling which we have discussed in our Sustainability sessions at METSTRADE for three years now. Biofouling, or the build-up of plant and animal life on ships hulls, is one of the greatest threats to ocean biodiversity since it brings invasive species that can rapidly unbalance the ecosystem of the oceans. But using too much biocide to kill them pollutes the water, and also threatens the equilibrium of the marine environment.Here we have a situation where chemical legislation, (designed to protect oceans from toxic substances), can conflict with environmental legislation, which is also aimed at keeping the oceans and waterways healthy. Stolpestad points out that only a holistic approach which involves all the stakeholders, and balances all the relevant criteria, can achieve the most effective result. Not one that solves a problem… only to create another equally damaging one!

A look at the lifecycle

The Jotun manager also spoke about how the paint industry has reduced VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds) in solvents by 75% over the last 15 years. He said, “it doesn’t really help the planet if we replace the solvent with something which is worse as a raw material. So, we must look at the totality, we must look at the lifecycle, and our approach going forward will be based much more on lifecycle analysis - the so-called footprint.”

From a yacht design and construction perspective it is only in the last few years that lifecycle analysis (LCA) tools have started to be developed, but Vienna Eleuteri says, “in the future these will become an essential data reference for designers, builders and refitters to really take into account every life stage of a yacht.” Having been the creator of the Water Revolution’s Yacht Assessment Tool, Vienna worked with the University of Bologna to develop a computational yacht building program. This constantly updates and processes data while considering regulations to calculate a yacht’s sustainability, and how it can be improved from ‘cradle to cradle.’

Hope and optimism for the future

For sure the superyacht industry and yachting in general is already rising to some of these challenges. One area where this is very evident is in propulsion systems. Here we see designers and builders taking examples from the automotive and transport sectors, and utilising zero emission concepts such as hybrid, electrification, and hydrogen fuel cell systems. The MB92 report mentions a pioneering project by German superyacht builder Lürssen, where they are currently working on a one megawatt, fuel cell-powered boat fed by methanol that’s converted into hydrogen. The technology will give the boat access to emission-free energy for two weeks when at anchor, or for it to cruise at low speed for 1,000 nautical miles.

Adrian Gahan from Blue Marine Foundation mentioned what he called the ‘missing link,’ where sustainability goals can be difficult to enforce unless they are reflected in national laws and policies. So, this is another area where there are some encouraging signs. For instance, the European Union is working on a directive which will oblige companies with turnovers of more than 50 million euros, to carry out due diligence on their supply chain to ensure they meet social, environmental and governance standards. This means that very soon, more companies will have to take responsibility not only for their own sustainable practices, but also those of their material providers.

At METSTRADE we will continue to monitor all these sustainability developments, during the show’s TV program each year, and via our year-round online content.

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