Saving our seas; an industry on a mission
The superyachting world is embracing sustainability and driving real change.
Ten years ago, a search for the word ‘sustainability’ across the superyachting press would likely have picked up very few results. Today, thankfully, it would be a very different story. More than a mere buzzword, sustainability has become a hot topic, prompting real change and uniting an industry that has long been obsessed with the oceans. From brokers and shipyards to designers and owners, the superyachting world has evolved.
At the top of the chain sits the recently-formed Water Revolution Foundation, a non-profit body created by a cross-section of leaders from right across the superyachting landscape. Its mission is simple; to drive sustainability even further throughout the industry via collaboration and innovation.
“Sustainability in yachting is more than just adding some green features to a yacht,” says Robert van Tol, executive director. “Sustainability is not a competitive advantage; it is a responsibility, a minimum standard that we need to continuously improve upon collectively. It is about future-proofing the entire sector. This requires everyone’s involvement and cannot be delegated to others in the supply chain.”
The foundation’s activities are pleasingly solid and reassuringly transparent. They include an educational programme aiming to bring the industry up to speed, as well as a revolutionary yacht assessment tool, helping decision-makers to make more sustainable choices. There is far more besides, including a special index developed to compare the environmental credentials of superyachts – and a code of conduct, already signed by 45 companies, committed to driving change.
“Sustainability has definitely arrived in yachting, however, the real concept of it is not always fully understood,” adds van Tol. “The crucial starting point is developing a common language and recognising that sustainability is its own science,”
Of course, there were stirrings of activity long before the establishment of the Water Revolution Foundation. Back in 2015, Dutch shipyard Feadship built Savannah, billed as the first hybrid superyacht, with a single engine, three generators and a combined total of approximately one megawatt-worth of batteries. A few years later came Black Pearl, a game-changing superyacht built by an owner determined to do things differently. Brought to life by Oceanco, the yacht uses special shaft generators that create free electricity by allowing the propellers to turn when under sail.
Many more have since followed in their wake and German yard Lurssen is currently building its first yacht with fuel cell technology, making it possible to anchor emission-free for 15 days or cruise 1000 miles at slow speed. “My grandfather built the world’s first motorboat in 1886, my dream is to be the first to build a yacht without a combustion engine,” says Peter Lurssen, CEO.
Beyond the boats themselves, there is much going on in the world of ocean conservation – with many major players in the industry offering financial support to Blue Marine Foundation, an NGO on a mission to put 30% of the world’s oceans under protection by 2030. “It’s always been my vision that the people that profit and associate with the sea should come together to save it,” says George Duffield, Blue Marine’s founder.
The foundation also runs the Ocean Awards alongside Boat International magazine, celebrating those who are going the extra mile. Among the winners this year was Beluga, a superyacht which recently took part in the conservation efforts of the Great Reef Census and had previously been involved in missions for a turtle sanctuary in Papua New Guinea and in Take 3 for the Sea, a plastic pollution initiative. “The Great Reef Census is a world-first, encouraging yachting for purpose and making a contribution to the ecosystem,” says Joachim Howard, MD of Ocean Alliance, a brokerage which is encouraging charter guests to get involved in such projects as part of their holidays.
In recent years, countless other initiatives have sprung up, including the Clear Ocean Pact, founded by Richard Orme, an industry veteran who wanted to reduce the dependency of single-use plastics on yachts. The pact consists of five common goals, including the avoidance of plastic bottled water on board, and responsible disposal and filtering of washing machine microplastics. Over 130 yachts have signed up so far.
Marinas are also playing their part. Many of them are involved with the Seabin Project, a kind of rubbish bin on the water, designed to reduce plastic waste in the ocean. 860 bins have been installed worldwide now, capturing almost 4000kgs of plastic every day. “Partnering with Seabin Project allows us to not only improve our waterborne refuse collection methods, but to also become part of a bigger initiative by way of educating the next generation in the importance of environmental awareness,” says Tony Browne, marina director at Porto Montenegro.
All of these multifaceted efforts are starting to gain real momentum and for such a small industry, the wave of change is having knock-on effects far and wide. As Richard Orme points out, “we are small but one yacht can ignite a reaction that extends to suppliers, crew, shore-based personnel, manufacturers and beyond.” There is, of course, a long way to go, but the industry looks to be heading in the right direction.