Sustainability Superyacht

The impact of sustainability on yacht design

SuperYacht Times
Tuesday, 26 September 2023

Designers are tasked with sourcing eco-friendly materials for yacht interiors, a challenge given that the most luxurious often equates to rarity. We speak to top design studios and suppliers to explore how environmental concerns shape aesthetic decisions and inform strategies and processes for projects given the eco-conscious environment imbued within the industry today.

At what stage in the design process is sustainability considered?

Sustainability is morphing into initial design decisions more frequently than in previous years, with sustainable choices becoming a revolving topic during the “initial brief.”  With the “owner’s consciousness around their environmental impact” more prevalent than ever, which could be due to an organic want to be eco-conscious or as a consequence for “falling foul to regulatory pressure, or the financial benefit associated with hydrogen fuel power, a topic which cannot be ignored” mentions Winch Design.  For Italian-based studio Luxury Projects, “sustainability is the starting point of every project” with a focus on “available technologies” that allow “solutions that enable [designers] to be sustainable without suffering the loss in comfort, aesthetics or the quality of enjoyment onboard.”

Equally, Azure Yacht Design and Naval Architecture noted how “sustainable choices were previously discussed when talking through the yacht's propulsion,” whereas in recent projects, Azure there is a shift in clients' approach toward “focusing on sustainability as a theme for the entire project, which involves investigating solutions and cracking numbers to truly understand whether a solution is durable from sourcing, supply chain, availability and what that means for yachting operations.” Whether due to imminent regulations being actioned or as a conscientious design decision by the owner, sustainable practices are a request granted by designers from the project's inception as a general observation.

Who is the driving force behind sustainable yacht design?:

When working closely with owners, owner representatives, and the considerable personnel involved in a yacht's conception, it is hard to decipher where, when, and who should and does take responsibility when considering impactful, sustainable design decisions. Of course, as with all creative decisions surrounding Ultra High Net Worth Individuals, “what the client wants, the client gets”; however, the owner’s attitudes are generally changing. Azure takes a practical approach to sustainable design responsibility as a must to “future-proof a project.” The process from sketch to build takes several years. Now, regulations are “changing and getting stricter”. With this foresight knowledge, the owner gains long-term investment benefits by creating a more sustainable project. However, in the same token, Azure asserts that if “the clients make a choice, we make it happen,” with the designer seeing themselves “as the extension of the client so her or his vision will be made reality.”

Italian-based interior design firm Luxury Projects equally “cannot deny the request of an owner”; however, they take responsibility to a certain extent by “providing alternatives” with “sustainability becoming increasingly fashionable.” Winch Design attests how their “clients’ dreams are of paramount importance,” yet through research as a team, they are “entirely confident that sustainable alternatives will not limit [the clients] ambitions and requirements.” It is clear that the client's wishes are an attachment to the reputation of design services and that the owner, ultimately, can be guided. However, “what the owner wants, the owner gets” - with this, the responsibility to craft with care lies with the owner’s openness and flexible nature towards eco-friendly craftsmanship.

Interesting design trends as a result of sustainable changes:

Design trends often appear in the broader scope of Vogue, a more prominent beach club, gilded walls, and open cabinetry - the list is endless. Yet, sustainability trends in yachting and, more generally, have been unknown until now - with designers innovatively experimenting with maintaining luxury while embarking on a new journey to work with new textures, functionalities, and sourcing options across materials and configurations. For instance, Azure Yacht Design and Naval Architecture have mastered a signature style for creating expansive indoor-outdoor spaces, which have now become an asset for sustainable living onboard. Their blueprint designs often merge aft saloons with aft decks for an open-plan spacious feel, reducing reliance on air conditioning. Other exterior design elements adopted by Azure that function as sustainable choices include “light coloured hulls and superstructures to minimise heat and indoor AC needs.”

New and surprising materials have also paved the way for inspirational yacht designs. Winch has begun using “corals made from eggshell, marble made from offcut timber waste or pineapple leaves that line the walls of a space.” These recyclable materials are aesthetically pleasing and “have a story of innovation and regeneration to tell,” adding a layer of interest for guests and owners onboard.

Power in numbers, collaboration in design:

Winch Design  “collaborates with expert” artisans and specialists who can provide them with sustainable alternatives alongside their in-house sustainability specialist who manages the interiors library, which “involves ensuring sustainable materials are embedded into the main material library while managing a resource matrix that analyses and tracks the methods of sourcing, manufacturing, and application of each material to check it meets the correct criteria.” Additionally, Winch “always adheres to the UN Sustainability goals” and works closely with The Water Revolution Foundation to get materials and finishes certified through their extensive verification processes.”

Similarly, interior designers at Luxury Projects hold a unique advantage in staying on the cutting edge of research, thanks partly to the founder's Ph.D. in Engineering. This academic foundation allows them to remain updated on the latest scholarly findings and advancements in new materials. They draw significant inspiration from learnings from “the aerospace industry and maintain strong ties and partnerships with university research centres.”  The team at Luxury Projects is unified in this focus and has allocated a specific area within their workshop solely to study materials. They also collaborate actively with manufacturers and artisans to create and evaluate samples, a vital component of their ongoing research into sustainable materials.

Simple switch-ups for optimal impact:

Lateral Naval Architects find ‘significant easy wins’ regarding the practicalities of making a yacht's design more sustainable. Using the example of  “weight and length concerning speed and powering, " conceiving a large boat with a high GT on a short length will demand high propulsive power. Or specifying an HVAC system that has to operate at over specified environmental parametres for fresh air makeup, air recirculation which will significantly increase hotel load”.  Similarly, Azure Naval Architecture focuses on the “HVAC  [which] is mostly the largest consumption onboard” with the focus to reduce the “hotel load.” By utilising lots of  “isolated glass,” a “the accepted standard since this can save you up to 10% AC load”, carbon footprint is significantly reduced.  A practical example whereby Azure crafted with a sustainable approach was onboard superyacht Kenshō, in 2017 their team; “introduced the electrical pods driven by a diesel-electric system. This switch-up makes the onboard systems electrically driven, ultimately making the boat future-proof as there will be newly developed (cleaner) sources to generate electricity”.

Regarding the interiors of a yacht, the low-hanging fruit within the “eco-sensitive” design process “is in the use of renewable or carbon neutral materials,” according to Luxury Projects and Winch Design, where initiatives can be taken in-house. Winch Design has employed a “full-time sustainability specialist,” allowing their team of designers to utilise “expertise and contacts to ensure dedicated time to lacing sustainability into the DNA of everything [they] do.” This way, more sustainable choices for materials, sourcing, and supplies can be monitored as an efficient and effective way to offer owners simple switch-ups from the start of the design process.

Looking inward for an outward broader impact:

Design onboard yachts are as imperative as tackling sustainability within a company - with several companies in yachting adopting an altered mindset when it comes to eco-friendly environments. Simple fundamentals and changes in office habits can considerably impact the design's carbon footprint. Like most companies in yachting, they have become acquainted with and subsequently partnered with The Water Revolution Foundation, with both Winch Design and Luxury Projects working closely with the foundation to measure their metrics internally regarding sustainable choices.

Luxury Projects focus on local sourcing to reduce their footprint, pick suppliers and outsource materials only from within the “immediate region of their atelier not further than a 50 kilometre radius”. Winch Design echoes these incentives, Founder Andrew Winch has been consistently focused on reducing carbon emissions since the studio's opening. A 2019 plan, Life Worth Living, ensures the interior studio looks at sustainability as a circular economy, “allowing practices to trickle down to suppliers and partners.” This incentive has resulted in Winch Design winning the Planet Mark award five years running for its “commitment to reducing carbon emissions by 5% year-on-year”.

Other promising incentives by Winch Design have been anchored by their CEO, Aino Grapin, who chairs the Sustainable Design Taskforce, promoting sustainable yachting along with their support of The Blue Marine Foundation, which runs initiatives like the annual London to Monaco bike ride, which generates funds raised over £285,000 for ocean protection.

It can also be simplistic switch-ups in the workplace that can have a small yet long-term impact on a company's carbon footprint. Azure Yachts keeps daily rituals such as “minimising paper use or reducing energy as well as choosing to locate [their] office in an A++ building which has a large impact in the long term.”

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