Sustainability in business plans boat builders
Sustainability Construction and material

Sustainability: A development strategy for major boat builders

Peter Franklin
Monday, 17 May 2021

As I mentioned in my last blog, sustainability is a word that has become one of the most frequently used and passionately debated over the last decade. At the same time, industrial production across the board, from aircraft to automobiles, to household goods and domestic appliances have all come under the sustainability spotlight. And these days, manufacturers are highly aware that consumer choice is becoming increasingly influenced by a desire to be as environmentally friendly as possible in our everyday lives.

So, surely it follows, that the consumer who looks for sustainability credentials when he or she purchases a car, or a washing machine, will be looking for the same features when they buy a boat.

In terms of relative production volumes this is not without challenges for even the major international boat producers in the marine industry. For example, the annual global production of motor cars has sometimes reached close to 100 million in recent years, which obviously brings huge economies of scale, and provides strong impetus for research and development.  Whereas annual new boat sales are measured in hundreds of thousands even in the world’s largest economies like the USA, and yearly production output from some of the largest international boatbuilding groups is measured in tens of thousands. 

Nonetheless, as we have seen at METSTRADE over the last few years, the recreational boating industry is forging ahead with sustainability developments, sometimes adopting technologies from other industries, and clearly defined strategies with targeted objectives are being incorporated into the published business plans of some of the best-known brands in the marine industry. Here are some examples from two major boatbuilders who have been represented at the show.

The environmental strategy of Groupe Beneteau, France

Beneteau is a global market leader with the production responsibility for 8 international brands, and 128 recreational boat models. Apart from the well-established Beneteau and Jeanneau, Prestige and Lagoon ranges, they also have what they term as ‘high potential brands’ such as Four Winns, Delphia, Wellcraft and Excess. Therefore, you would expect them to have a comprehensive environmental /  ecological strategy incorporated into their business planning, and indeed they do.

Delivering the keynote address at the 2018 METSTRADE Breakfast Briefing, Hervé Gastinel, the Group’s CEO at the time, said, “I’d like to focus today on three main areas for innovation in product development: connectivity, easy boating and sustainable boating.”

Importance of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

As we have heard from several speakers over the past few years, Hervé stressed the importance of taking Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) into account, which means measuring the total end-to-end environmental impact of raw material sourcing, production, usage in operation, and eventual disposal of redundant boats. He also mentioned that Beneteau have actively supported the pioneering French boat disposal scheme.This has been in full operation since early 2019, and is the first government regulated, industry funded network of boat breakers / recyclers, which has the capacity to deal with 2500 end-of-life boats per year, without cost to the last owner.

'Let’s Go Beyond', Beneteau's objectives for sustainable boating

More recently, Beneteau’s current CEO has put his signature to the strategic plan entitled ‘Let’s Go Beyond’, which sets out the group’s overall business objectives for the five-year period from 2020 to 2025. To a large extent, the strategy builds upon their ‘Sustainability Peformance Report 2018 - 2019.’ This sets out in detail, the actions to be taken by Groupe Beneteau and its subsidiaries in the pursuit of targeted goals such as, reducing air emissions, cutting waste, and adopting an eco-design approach for the boats they produce. 

A pioneer for sustainable boating

The headline mission statement confirms that Groupe Beneteau intends to establish itself as a pioneer for sustainable boating. That commitment is underpinned by being a signatory to the United Nations Global Compact; a climate ambition accelerator aimed at achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. Also, 100% of the groups manufacturing sites are certified for ISO 9001 (quality), ISO 14001 (environmental management) and ISO 50001 (energy performance.)

Some details of key operational features in Beneteau’s Sustainability Performance planning are as follows:

  • Eco design - By applying Life Cycle Assessment to the average 40-year life span of a recreational boat, the objective is to reduce the total environmental impact of future models. Part of this will be continuing to develop and incorporate cleaner propulsion systems such as electric, hybrid and fuel cell technologies
  • Construction - Reduction of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s), adoption of bio resins, higher levels of waste recovery and recycling, lower energy consumption and C02 emissions across all sites.
  • Raw materials - Reduce resin and gelcoat use, obtain timber from environmentally managed forestry sources, optimise wood cutting and recover all timber waste. 
  • Use and maintenance conditions - Increase awareness of boat users, by incorporating best environmental maintenance practises into customer handbooks issued with new boats.
  • Responsible purchasing - A suppliers Code of Conduct aims to promote ethical, and environmentally responsible practices from all of the Group’s material suppliers and subcontractors. The code covers items such as sustainably sourced raw materials, lower emissions, and waste recovery/ recycling.

The sustainability program of Brunswick Corporation, USA

Another keynote speaker at a previous METSTRADE (30th edition) show back in 2017, was Mark D. Schwabero, CEO of Brunswick Corporation at that time. Mark mentioned how the company’s history had spanned three decades, since being started in 1845, by John Moses Brunswick, a Swiss immigrant woodworker, whose original mission was to build a better billiards table.

He also commented that continued innovation is a vital growth driver for our industry, and that the millennial generation were poised to support that future growth. Presumably with a strong focus on the sustainability credentials of the products that they buy.

Fast forward to 2020, and the Corporation turned over $4.3 billion with an organisational structure operating across four business units: Propulsion, Parts & Accessories, Boats, and Business Acceleration. The last one being focused on new business models and services aimed at expanding boating participation across a broader consumer base. For instance, fast developing boat sharing concepts such as the Freedom Boat Club.

The Corporation’s well-established brands include Mercury Marine outboard engines, Mercury and Quicksilver parts and oils, and boat models from the Bayliner, Boston Whaler, Sea Ray and Princecraft ranges, to name but a few.

Documented sustainability planning       

Last year, Brunswick published its ‘Sustainability Report 2020’, a comprehensive 82-page document setting out the latest sustainability goals and achievements of the Corporation, with a foreword by the current CEO David M. Foulkes. Here are just a few of the main points mentioned in the report.

The Brunswick Sustainability Program is based on four pillars: Energy, (responsible consumption) Environment (caring for the planet), Products (stewardship & quality), and People (quality of life for all stakeholders.) 

UN Sustainable Development Goals

The report undertakes to adhere as closely as possible to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, with specific reference to four of them which conform closely to the company’s operations: SDG 9 - Build resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialisation, and fostering innovation. SDG 12 - Ensure responsible production and consumption. SDG 13 - Act to combat climate change and its impacts, and SDG 14 - Conserve and sustainability use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development.

Environmental protection improvements

Preserving the environment for the future and ensuring clean and accessible waterways for their customers is mentioned as a critical aim in Brunswick’s strategic planning. To this end, the report highlights the following achievements during 2020, in terms of environmental protection improvements

  • Climate: 9% reduction in GHG emissions
  • Energy: 9% reduction in total electricity & fuel usage
  • Hazardous Waste: 13% reduction in absolute tons
  • Water: 13% reduction in total usage
  • VOC Emissions: 20% reduction due to more efficient product designs
  • Renewable energy consumed: 1.81 TJ (Terajoules Units)   

Pursuing circularity

On the subject of construction materials, Brunswick refer to the importance of pursuing circularity in their report, and the central elements of this approach are to reduce, reuse, recycle, and remanufacture in all processes. In one case study example, they refer to the conversion away from balsa wood, historically used as a structural core material in boat construction. They are replacing this with a Green PET recycled foam called Kerdyn, which is made from 100% recycled (post-consumer) plastic bottles.

This material transition is planned to be extended to all the company’s fibreglass boat building operations, and is said to absorb approximately 4.7 million recycled plastic bottles annually in its boat manufacturing process, thus preserving 7,000 balsa trees each year in endangered tropical rain forests.

Commitment to sustainable manufacturing in the marine industry

Unfortunately, this blog doesn’t allow space to cover all the highly detailed contents in these reports, nor does it allow for looking into the sustainability strategies of other boat builders in the marine industry, many of whom are already incorporating similar plans into their business models.  But hopefully it gives a flavour of the commitment and dedication to more sustainable manufacturing being rolled out across the marine industry.

I’m sure that much more will come up in discussion at future METSTRADE shows. So, once again, I’m looking forward to seeing lots of colleagues at Amsterdam RAI this November!

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