Sustainable shipyards in focus

Written by Georgia Tindale

If there is any topic within the yachting industry that is bound to get tongues wagging, it is that of sustainability. A thorny subject, it has come into greater focus as a result of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic which has raised questions about the necessity of international travel for yacht shows. More generally, it has prompted many to reflect upon humans’ impact on the environment and the fragility of our planet’s oceans and ecosystems. With the best intentions in the world, the construction and operation of any sizable vessel such as a superyacht will inevitably have an impact on the environment through fuel emissions, the transportation of components for the build and so on. Bearing this in mind, how can this be minimised? To tackle this, it is best to start at the heart, by speaking to some of the shipyards who have sustainability firmly on the agenda.Oceanco facilitiesMeasuring up 

For Oceanco, headquartered in Alblasserdam, the Netherlands, achieving a measure of sustainability when building superyachts is about precisely that: measuring the results. As Paris Baloumis, Group Marketing Director explains: “Rather than talking in general terms about being ‘responsible’ or ‘environmentally friendly’, we have a dedicated set of specific sustainability goals and KPIs relating to people, population, premises, process and produce.”

This commitment to moving towards tangible results is shared by fellow Dutch shipyard Damen Yachting. As Managing Director Rose Damen highlights: “We need to be able to measure it – preferably in a transparent and endorsed method. Within Damen Yachting we have an active sustainability team to make sure all our activities are generating real emissions reductions and not just headlines.”Black Pearl sailing yacht by OceancoPhoto: Tom van OossanenIndeed, both Oceanco and Damen Yachting are anchor partners with the Water Revolution Foundation, whose aims include "neutralising the superyacht industry’s ecological footprint" through the use of scientifically developed and life-cycle based tools such as its Yacht Environmental Transparency Index and Yacht Assessment Tool. 

As Damen explains, these tools also have a broader beneficial impact in aiding clients to make well-informed investments: “These developments will not only help us to design and build more sustainable yachts but also lead to a more transparent market – providing clients and financial institutions with information they can trust about the emissions and sustainable impact of our yachts.”

Putting it into practice 

But what does this determination look like in practice? Oceanco’s ‘all-embracing approach’ to sustainability encompasses their shipyard facilities, which feature geothermal heat recovery installations, electrical-driven heat pumps to reduce gas consumption by 50%, as well as rooftop solar panels covering up to 10% of the yearly energy consumption.Oceanco facility In addition, as Baloumis explains: “Per the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, we aim to have all Oceanco’s energy supplied by renewable sources by 2030. We also intend to be 100% waste-free or circular across the entire supply chain, through the conscious selection or creation of new materials to be used on board.”

Operation, operation 

When it comes to reducing the environmental impact at both a build and design level, it is vital to consider how the yacht will be used at an operational level. Robert van Tol, Executive Director at Water Revolution Foundation explains further: “We have looked at how often yachts are sailing at their top speeds which they are designed and contracted for, and it comes as no surprise that this is not often. As a result, we'd much rather focus the design on cruising speed and optimise for that.” 

He continues: “We see that, on average, a yacht is using its main engines to go sailing 10% per year. Another 30% of time is spent on anchor, so yachts are spending more than 50% of their time in the marina. If this is the average reality, we need to design, engineer and equip for this when building new. If we can better match the design to the actual use, we can significantly reduce the environmental impact of the entire fleet.”

A lifetime journey

As Van Tol sees it, shipyards should take on board the entire life cycle of a yacht and its components as part of a life cycle assessment approach to achieving sustainability throughout the build and beyond. Black Pearl sailing yacht by OceancoPhoto: Tom van OossanenWhen choosing solutions and suppliers, yacht builders should ask key questions, including: ‘How has the solution been developed?’, ‘What materials are being used?’, ‘What is the lifetime of this component’ and ‘What happens to this part at the end of its life?’ And the shipyards are taking note, including Oceanco, through its Life Cycle Support offering, which provides high levels of care and maintenance to its superyachts throughout their entire lifespans. 

Retrofitting and maintaining 

With this mindset too, both shipyards and owners are thinking ahead about how to ‘future proof’ their vessels most effectively. As Baloumis puts it: “The most sustainable approach is to create something which people can admire for a lifetime.”Bravo Eugenia yacht in shipyard He continues: “With ever faster-developing technologies, we have started to focus more on future-proof designs. Yachts which are not just easy to maintain, but fully upgradeable (and even replaceable) systems, from pre-fitted cables to swapping entire generator sets.”

Similarly, as Damen explains: “There is also a lot that owners can do to retrofit more efficient technology on board. Regular and high-quality maintenance is also important to extend the life of materials – that’s something where we see a lot of excellent work being done by the crews on our yachts.”

The future of yachting 

With numerous eco-conscious vessels already cruising on the water, such as Oceanco’s Black Pearl – capable of achieving a fully-zero-emissions transatlantic crossing with both hotel and propulsion services powered by wind alone – it is evident that many of the yachts of the future will continue to be built with sustainability as a key consideration, adapting alongside rapidly changing technologies.

Finally, it is worth noting that, for Damen Yachting, much of the inspiration for their eco-solutions can be found outside of yachting, as Rose Damen highlights: “Commercial shipbuilding is quite a bit ahead of yachting when it comes to technical innovations, fully electric and hydrogen-powered Damen ferries, workboats and inland shipping for example. We’re lucky that we can share that expertise with our clients.”

This article was originally published in the Fall 2021 issue of the SuperYacht Times newspaper. To receive all future issues straight to your door, subscribe to the newspaper here.

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