Robert van Tol on why sustainable assessment is imperative for yachting

This article was written by Robert van Tol, Executive Director of the Water Revolution Foundation, for the SuperYacht Times Newspaper, Issue 42.

“It’s an oxymoron” is the common reaction to the claims around combining sustainability and yachting. Well, what shall we say, it is until it is not? There are plenty of examples of client-driven projects, not only from recent years, that pushed boundaries, including on efficiency and reducing environmental impact.Robert van Tol Executive Director Water Revolution FoundationIt is true, however, that having a negative impact on what you want to explore – the ocean – makes no sense at all. If it is indeed the ocean that the yachting community wants to enjoy, it must be more than the owners alone who push the boundaries. We must push past this one-way relationship and take care of the ocean like no other, from every level of the industry. True stewardship!

But how? That is the most common question Water Revolution receives from the industry, and the goal to answer it is the reason the Foundation was initiated in 2018. By following a scientific approach, and successfully implementing it into the yachting sector, we can coordinate our efforts and work together in the same (and right!) direction. But this remains a challenge, several well-intentioned but insufficiently managed initiatives blur the direction that we need to go, scattering the sector, taking up resources and making false claims on what sustainability is and what initiatives are sufficient in order to claim it. Water Revolution Foundation marketing imageFalse insinuations also exist for companies that claim to have a product that is environmentally friendly. While the environmental focus in itself, and the various developments being made, are welcome, we need to make third-party verification for such claims common practice. Environmental credentials must be backed up with proof and data, preferably confirmed by an independent and recognised body. After all, such a confirmation helps both sides: the buyer is ensured that what the seller says is correct, and the seller is helped by the confirmation of his/her sales pitch. Only winners, including nature!

At this year’s Monaco Yacht Show, the new Sustainability Hub was introduced for the first time, the Hub exhibited companies that offer (more) sustainable solutions. In line with our work on a Database of Sustainable Solutions, Water Revolution Foundation became the leading yacht show’s strategic partner for vetting the applying companies eligibility to exhibit in this new show area. Part of what we offer are Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) that analyse a ‘sustainable’ solution’s entire life cycle to see if it is truly a better alternative. The LCA takes into consideration the manufacturing materials, processes and end of life of the product in addition to the operational phase which is mostly focused on and talked about.

 Water Revolution Foundation marketing imageOnly when taking these three stages into consideration can the product be sufficiently judged as a sustainable solution, and just shifting impact from one phase to the other be avoided. In fact, it needs to score better than 5 out of 9 environmental parameters and eco points compared to the standard product in its category. A lot of work? Yes, but yachting cannot afford to do it wrong. There is a lot to do! Elaborating on the quantitative criteria of the LCA based proof of solutions, we have also formulated some qualitative criteria to apply to companies. If they have no quantitative assessment available, but fulfil the qualitative criteria, they can still exhibit in this area based on their commitment to sustainability and open reporting about their progress.MYS Design & Innovation Hub 2022 Sustainability reporting is now becoming mandatory for medium-sized companies in the EU and this threshold is only likely to come down towards small enterprises as well. Meaning non-financial (read sustainability) reporting will become an obligation in the near future. But is this an administrative burden or an opportunity? This summer Water Revolution Foundation will share a guideline for sustainability reporting, starting internally, to understand which information and data is needed and to help companies begin to collect and develop it. This will help yachting companies to proactively prepare and perhaps even publish, before any rules come into force, which is a good example of the role the Foundation is envisioned to play in the sector.

Back to the solutions on display at the Sustainability Hub at MYS 2022 – we already approved a wide range of products from various companies, ranging from foiling, to environmentally friendlier underwater lights and a product that cleans engine oil to increase the lifetime of the engine. The goal of this area is to showcase technology that is able to reduce the environmental impact of yachts now or in the near future, and that of new builds and of the existing fleet. The Sustainability Hub at MYS this year showcased a good group of companies that lead the way and hopefully inspire many more to embrace this spirit.Water Revolution Foundation stock imageYachting is the only maritime sector that has doubled its fleet size since 2008 (40m+ range and sourced from SYT), this shows the responsibility we need to collectively take. Since the large yacht sector is relatively young, with 2/3 of the fleet built in the last 20 years, the majority of which are very well maintained and yachts are rarely being scrapped. This means that the fleet will only continue to grow, and therefore the total impact grows in tandem. It is imperative that we recognise this responsibility, alongside the targets from international legislation which are becoming increasingly stringent. We all know that the maritime sector is one of the slowest movers, but if yachting sees no urgency to significantly cut its environmental impact, which the ocean – the very element the industry lives off – is directly impacted by, which sector or community would? Water Revolution Foundation Ocean ConservationFrom all recent marketing outings, we can conclude that sustainability has made its permanent entry into the global yachting sector… I have good hopes it does not just stay a marketing thing. Yet the sustainable concept designs that are released on a daily basis and percentages and especially extrapolations of fuel savings are dazzling the readers. Water Revolution Foundation strongly invites all industry stakeholders to work with us to prove these promising claims. My humble advice? If you can’t frame it, don’t claim it!

This article was originally published in Issue 42 of the SuperYacht Times newspaper. To read more stories like this one and to never again miss another issue of the SuperYacht Times newspaper, subscribe here.

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