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Sea of green: boating’s eco-epiphany

It's the way of doing business - now and for the foreseeable future


In tough economic times, one might think the eco-friendly practices that have evolved during the last couple of decades would be abandoned by consumers and businesses struggling with tighter budgets and pressure to cut spending. But there is ample evidence that "green" has become firmly rooted both in society and the industry.

When green products began to emerge in the 1970s, they were considered more of a novelty for a niche market with a stronger environmental bent than the typical consumer. But today, green is everywhere. What used to be considered a personal virtue has become a way of doing business.

Energy-efficient lighting, environmentally friendly bottom paints, and fuel-efficient propulsion are some of the green initiatives on the consumer product side. On the industry side, more companies are trying to cut waste, conserve energy and reduce the use of toxic materials, as well as employing manufacturing methods that produce lighter and more efficient hulls that require less horsepower.

Helping drive the green movement is the positive effect these products and processes can have on the consumer's wallet - or a company's bottom line. While the initial cost or investment is likely more than traditional methods, some are finding that "going green" can actually save money in the long run - and if it's good for the environment, so much the better.

"I think, as a society, we are coming to realize that the throw-away consumerism we have embraced the last several decades is not only bad for the environment but bad for our personal balance sheets," says John Pierce, product manager for Safety Components, the Greenville, S.C.-based manufacturer of WeatherMax fabric.

"When times are tight, we move toward value. And to fully embrace value you have to take a long view," he adds. "How long will that product last? When will I have to replace it and at what cost? I have long held that the No. 1 element that makes something 'green' is the durability and life of a product, one that does not need to be replaced as often."

WeatherMax engineered polymer UV-resistant fabric - used for such products as dodgers, Bimini tops and mooring covers - is designed for long-term color retention, water and mold/mildew resistance. And it features a proprietary HydroMax finish that requires no extra chemical coatings for protection. What's more, because it is neither acrylic nor coated with polyester, the fabric is recyclable.

"The consumer response has been very positive," says Pierce.

Glen Raven Custom Fabrics, the manufacturer of Sunbrella, says it has incorporated environmentally conscious practices into its manufacturing for decades, meeting or exceeding environmental regulations. In addition, the company during the past year went landfill free at its 1-million-square-foot manufacturing center in Anderson, S.C., recycling all waste materials, from fibers to light bulbs. The company has also created two other recycling programs, one that incorporates waste fibers into yarns used for outdoor rugs and one that recycles used fabric returned to the company.

Globally, Glen Raven has built production facilities strategically close to the manufacturing plants of both suppliers and customers, resulting in savings in fuel costs. In fact, the company says its new facility in China, because of reduced transoceanic shipping, saved an estimated 40,000 gallons of diesel in the first year of operation.

"One of the most important aspects of our environmental approach is the sustainability of our Sunbrella fabrics," says Hal Hunnicutt, Glen Raven vice president of marketing. "We recently doubled the warranty period for Sunbrella awning and marine fabrics from five years to 10. A decade-long warranty is the ultimate in sustainability, which we believe is an essential element for green products."

Price points

Bill Arwood, vice president of sales and marketing for Centek, in Thomasville, Ga., says his company's new Bilge-Kleen and Gen-Kleen products are "getting a lot of traction" among consumers. Both use a patented Mycelx filter system that binds and traps hydrocarbons so they aren't discharged into the water, and Arwood says orders have been strong for these aftermarket products.

"As the demand for new boats slows, people are looking for ways to enhance their existing boats," he says. "It's a tangible way we can make boating more pleasurable and be good stewards."

And while there are similar products that are less expensive than Centek's, Arwood says his customers are looking for long-term value, even if it's more costly at first. "Consumers are doing their research and trying to spend their dollars more wisely, and that kind of works in our favor," says Arwood.

Alex Walsh, president and founder of ePaint Co. in East Falmouth, Mass., says his non-toxic bottom paints have been well-received from a performance standpoint. However, he acknowledges the price point - about $200 a gallon - has detracted some budget-conscious boaters.

All ePaint products are copper-free and are formulated with a combination of what the company calls naturally occurring photoactive materials and organic biocides. Walsh says sunlight causes the photoactive pigments to catalyze oxygen and water to produce hydrogen peroxide, which creates an antifouling barrier around the hull.

Bottom paints that leech antifouling agents into the water have long been an issue. Environmentally progressive states like California are at the forefront of the move to ban copper-based bottom paints, and Walsh says the Environmental Protection Agency is moving in that direction as well, which could be a boon to companies like his. "Legislation will move green products forward," he says.

In the meantime, ePaint is working on a line of eco-friendly bottom at lower price points, and Walsh says he hopes to launch the new line in October, in time for the International BoatBuilders' Exhibition and Conference.

Interlux, one of the industry's bottom paint leaders, chose California to introduce its biocide-free Intersleek 900 Foul Release system to the consumer market this spring. Intersleek uses a patented fluoropolymer coating the company says produces a significantly smoother and slicker surface than its silicone-based Intersleek 700.

Bob Donat, vice president of marketing, says the company's data from Intersleek 900's use in commercial shipping shows 6 percent better fuel efficiency over traditional antifouling paint, which should translate to reduced carbon and sulfur dioxide emissions.

The product also promises cost savings and environmental advantages in treating and disposing wash water because of the absence of copper, zinc and organic biocides.

Beyond the benefits, Donat says, customers asked for a product like this.

Bottom line: effectiveness

Star brite recently reintroduced its Sea Safe line of cleaning products, which includes boat wash, wash and wax, hull cleaner, bilge cleaner and non-skid cleaner. New technology enabled the company to improve both the formula as well as the plastic bottle in which the products are sold, says Bill Lindsey, vice president of marketing.

Biodegradable and phosphate-free, Sea Safe products are formulated using natural cleaning agents such as oxalic acid and are designed to produce fewer suds to conserve water. The bottles also are biodegradable and are engineered to begin decomposing in two years, compared to 80 years with other plastic bottles, according to the company.

Even more important than the environmental benefits, Lindsey says, is the fact that Sea Safe products work. It's not enough just to be green, he says. The No. 1 objective for the consumer is how well the product works.

Pierce, from Safety Components, agrees. "Greenness is not a stand-alone attribute that sells a product except in a very, very niche market," he says. "But if greenness can be an added feature to a good product and the consumer can see value in it, then it makes sense."

That's why when manufacturers market these products to consumers, the emphasis is more on how well the product performs. The eco-friendly attributes are often secondary. "I think consumers are overloaded [with green marketing]," says Centek's Arwood. "Green is an underlying thing - mostly we just promote what the product does."

Nevertheless, manufacturers say they continue to integrate the green theme in their marketing messages. And despite tight budgets, none of the manufacturers interviewed for this story plans to scale back on marketing. "We're definitely moving forward with our marketing efforts," says Walsh, from ePaint. "We're spending the same amount of money."

Lindsey says now is not the time to pull back on promoting products. "We just have to be more creative in how we spend the dollars," he says.

Green and lean

When it comes to budgeting, manufacturers say they're hard-pressed to define a dollar amount dedicated to green products, marketing and operational processes. Most say it's simply a part of their corporate culture. "It's not a line item in the budget; it's something we look at in every product we make," says Lindsey.

Pierce echoes that sentiment. "It is ingrained into our business practices and would be impossible to separate into a percentage," he says.

In fact, beyond their products, these companies also embrace environmental stewardship at their plants. All of them incorporate recycling and energy-conservation practices into their operations. For example, Safety Components uses solution-dyed yarns that eliminate tens of thousands of gallons of water that would otherwise be needed to dye the fabric. "This reduces our water/waste expense," says Pierce. "Anywhere you can reduce waste will make your company greener and reduce your costs."

Centek uses software that tracks product through the manufacturing process, from how much time employees spend on each product to the amount of raw materials used. "It improves efficiency and also reduces waste," says Arwood.

Other companies follow that same green mantra, even if they don't make "green" products per se, and some have gone above and beyond the environmental pack. In addition to recycling and conserving energy where possible, they have invested millions in processes that save money in the long run, in some cases earning awards for their efforts.

Bertram Yachts, for example, has taken steps to eliminate the use of acetone in its manufacturing process. The Miami-based boatbuilder earned the USF Sunshine State Safety Recognition Award for its commitment to health and safety practices. The alternative non-hazardous materials it now uses are more easily recycled, non-flammable and do not pose the same irritating qualities as acetone, according to Bertram president and COO Mike Myers.

"The alternative material has actually proven to be more cost-effective for the company, making it a win-win situation," he says.

Palmetto, Fla.-based Marlow Yachts won an Innovation Award at this year's Miami International Boat Show for its Full Stack Infusion laminating process. The proprietary process produces a stronger, lighter composite while minimizing excess resin, reducing material costs, according to company founder David Marlow. Furthermore, he adds, ozone-depleting chemical emissions are greatly reduced.

"Green environmental policies do not normally involve significant extra expense once implemented and actively overseen," says Marlow. "Initial costs are higher. However, in many cases a net savings is realized when all is calculated."

The yachts are built at the state-of-the-art Norsemen Shipbuilding Ltd. in Xiamen, China. Marlow Yachts is majority owner of the Norsemen yard in a partnership with Taiwanese businessmen. Marlow envisioned and developed the facility with a goal of building yachts in a "socially responsible and 'green' factory environment."

At the 30-acre facility, which won the Superyacht Society's 2006 World Superyachts Award for Environmental Policies, eco-friendly practices are incorporated into every aspect of the so-called campus. This includes a state-of-the-art filtration system that channels water runoff for recycling, boilers that use scrap wood to help heat water, and special sheds in which used chemicals are collected in containers and sent out for disposal or recycling.

"Ultimately the costs to install these systems are comparatively small when viewed in the context of worker's health, happiness, protection of investment, and a socially conscious company," says Marlow.

Customer satisfaction

Protecting its owners' investments is a key factor in the environmental policies at the co-operative Bayport (Minn.) Marina. The 231-slip, member-owned facility was recognized by ValvTect Petroleum as 2008 Marina of the Year for its customer service, boater education and environmental programs. The marina also received the North Central Marina Association's first Marina of the Year award and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's Green Star Award.

"Being a co-op, our customers are our owners, and our owners are our customers," says general manager Marshall Nowlin. "They have a vested interest in the slips. They're very engaged in [environmental policies] and will bring suggestions to us on how we can do things better. Their investment appreciates over time [both in] the physical amenities and the way of life." And customer satisfaction shows on the bottom line: Slips are full, and the service department is busy.

Bayport Marina started down the green path in 1990, when it began recycling shrink-wrap. Today, 9 tons of shrink-wrap a year is recycled, Nowlin says, saving the marina about $5,000 in dumping fees during the spring launch season. "It's fiscally responsible as well as environmentally responsible," Nowlin says.

Six years ago, Bayport Marina replaced its traditional furnaces with waste-oil furnaces to heat facilities. "It saves us a tremendous amount of money," says Nowlin. "We spend $360 a year to heat our [two-story , 50-by-75-foot] service building."

Following an energy audit conducted three years ago, the marina changed all of its incandescent light bulbs to low-watt fluorescents. The $9,800 installation cost was split with the local power company, and with the 30 percent savings on the monthly electric bill, the break-even point came in about 2-1/2 years. Plus, the more energy-efficient bulbs are designed to offer 170 percent more lighting. "With better lighting, our employees are able to work more efficiently," says Nowlin.

Public perception

Another side benefit to environmental practices is that being a good steward can improve a company's image and reputation among consumers, manufacturers say. That doesn't instantly lead to more sales, but it doesn't hurt. "I believe anything you do to [improve] how a company is perceived by its customers can ultimately drive more sales," says Bertram's Myers.

Says Pierce, from Safety Components: "People like to buy from people they like, and they like you better if you are a good steward."

Given all of the benefits, the companies dedicated to green products and practices in this story say they plan to stay the course, despite the economy. "We have only begun," says Marlow, noting the potential of solar energy, hydrogen-powered propulsion, hydrodynamics, and turning waste into energy or recycled material.

"Our focus on being environmentally responsible has improved, rather than declined," says Pierce. "We're working on a project now to reduce the chemicals that go into the product [WeatherMax]."

Nowlin says Bayport Marina is in the beginning stages of replacing the pressure-treated wood decking on its docks with a longer-lasting, maintenance-free material made from recycled material. Plans also include incorporating better systems for handling groundwater and bottom cleaning.

Those without specific plans on the table say they remain open to new ideas and technology to improve the performance and eco-friendly attributes of their products and operations.

"We hope to continue to promote a healthy and safe environment for all of our employees and hope that, with emerging research and technology, we can discover other opportunities to employ the most environmentally friendly procedures in every aspect of boatbuilding," says Myers.

This article originally appeared in the May 2009 issue.



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