All at sea: Can private yacht travel become greener?

A decade ago the green agenda was much maligned within the Superyacht industry. There was a feeling that it came into direct conflict with yachting’s raison d’être.

Today, things look rather different, as we see increasing recognition of the moral and commercial imperatives for offering a new generation of clients a more environmentally conscious proposition.

With a fleet of fewer than 6,000 vessels, of which only around 20% will be active at any one time, the industry’s footprint is deceptively small – even once you factor in the manufacturing process.

The challenge is one of perception. While the actual footprint may pale when compared with other industries, the conspicuous nature of the yachts themselves makes them easy targets.

So what does a more eco-friendly yacht industry look like in practice? In fact, environmentalism and yachting aren’t such unlikely partners as they might first appear. Superyacht building represents the vanguard of maritime technology so, rather than compromising performance, “sustainable” yachting actually translates to greater efficiency and performance optimisation, leading to savings across the vessel – and the client’s bottom line.

There is a wholesale move at every level of the manufacturing supply chain towards solutions that optimise both performance and operation. Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), niche businesses that produce very specific technologies, are seeking ways to lower both energy usage and wastage.

From a personal point of view, this is most welcome, not just ethically but reputationally. Marketing yachting’s wares based on the concept of conspicuous consumption is an increasingly outdated notion, and the industry must continue to take proactive steps to strengthen its position for a new cohort of socially conscious clients.

As in many industries, there has been a rush of opportunists seeking to tap into the potential of this emerging market. And, like many industries, we do face a problem with “greenwashing”. But there is plenty of good work being done by both non-profit organisations and commercial enterprises, now that it is more widely accepted that profitability and responsibility need not be mutually exclusive.

At the forefront of these developments are power generation solutions that are moving yachts away from total reliance on diesel propulsion. The industry has embraced hybrid technology and other alternative solutions, and is to be commended for this. Nevertheless, debate remains around the true footprint of energy sources such as lithium batteries further down the supply chain. Still, the fact that such issues are being discussed points to a willingness to comply.

Ultimately, despite the misconceptions promulgated by the mainstream media, the footprint of the vessels themselves is negligible when considered within the wider global context. In fact, they are catalysts for both technological advancement and employment within the manufacturing sectors.

Where the real challenge now lies for the industry is in the management of material wastage. As it currently stands, there are still too many raw materials being cast aside throughout the lifecycle of a yacht. The superyacht industry’s next market opportunity is to explore ways of reusing and repurposing these valuable commodities.

Knight Frank

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Environmental innovations and greener yachting