More with Less

The boating industry’s sustainability efforts are paying big dividends for its larger companies
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Boating companies are using technology to advance their sustainability initiatives. Mercury’s efforts  have resulted in significant reductions of water and waste. 

Boating companies are using technology to advance their sustainability initiatives. Mercury’s efforts  have resulted in significant reductions of water and waste. 

Corporate sustainability has become a popular buzz term in the past decade. The idea is that companies are creating value for stakeholders, using strategies that focus on environmental, cultural and ethical ways of doing business. The strategies are designed for longevity, transparency and employee development.

Some of America’s best-known companies are running hard with the concept. Lyft announced an ambitious goal of becoming carbon-neutral. Google is looking into carbon sequestration (capturing carbon dioxide to mitigate global warming). Best Buy is working with manufacturers, vendors and merchants to help consumers purchase the most energy-efficient electronics and appliances. Apple, Facebook and Microsoft have committed to 100 percent renewable energy.

Sustainability also has become more common across the boating industry, with larger boat, engine and equipment manufacturers leading the way with major programs. Lippert Components, with a presence in marine and recreational vehicles, says it eliminates nearly 400 tons of volatile organic compounds each year by powder-coating its products instead of using coatings made of solvents. It also grinds more than 900 tons of scrap plastic from two of its thermoforming plants and returns the material to suppliers for recycling. Solar operations at four of its facilities produce the equivalent of 222,000 gallons of gasoline each year; put another way, they do the work of 50,000 trees in terms of carbon-dioxide offset.

Electronics manufacturer Garmin has ethical and sustainable environmental practices in numerous areas, including product design and packaging. Cardboard boxes are composed of at least 80 percent recycled materials, and 25 percent of clamshell plastics are recycled. The company’s zero-landfill initiative at its headquarters in Olathe, Kan., includes 75 percent recycling of garbage, with other trash being converted to energy and recycled paper.


Kevin Grodzki, vice president of communications and public affairs at Brunswick Corp., had a strong hand in creating Mercury Marine’s sustainability program in 2010, when he was president of global sales and marketing there. He is now working with the Brunswick Boat Group on a new initiative.

“I spent the first 22 years of my career at DuPont and helped put in place their corporate sustainability program,” Grodzki says. “When I joined the marine industry, it struck me that sustainability wasn’t in the forefront as much as it should be. After all, no other business relies on clean water and clean air as much as boating. It’s just a natural for the marine market to associate itself with those.”

Mercury began its sustainability initiative in 2010 and has since set ambitious goals. They include reducing energy consumption by 45 percent and water usage by 30 percent from 2005 levels. “Even with production levels at all-time highs, Mercury has significantly reduced both of those,” says Mercury president Chris Drees.

The company reduced water usage to 193 million gallons in 2018, compared with 295 million gallons in 2005. It decreased hazardous waste by 54 percent during the same period. Energy consumption fell 42 percent, from 1,743 billion British thermal units in 2005 to 1,013 billion Btu last year.

Smart Goals

“We always had smart goals,” says Scott Louks, Mercury’s manager of sustainability and facilities project management. “We needed them to be specific, measurable and time-bound.”

The engine builder calls its initiative EEPP, for Environment, Energy, Product and People — a sweeping acronym that not only includes environmental programs such as LED lighting, solar power and hybrid cars, but also covers wellness programs for employees. Goals this year include getting more than 80 percent of Mercury workers to do one activity in its “Be Your Best” program, and 70 percent to take on 20 hours of community-involved activities.

Mercury’s new noise, vibration and harshness center is part of its sustainability initiative. 

Mercury’s new noise, vibration and harshness center is part of its sustainability initiative. 

Mercury also has spent millions investing in a heat reclamation system that takes energy from manufacturing and redirects it back into those facilities. That process not only limits exhaust emissions, but also saves significant amounts of energy. The recycled heat is used in smelters where aluminum scraps are recycled. Mercury recycles all aluminum from engine manufacturing and uses aluminum scrap from Brunswick’s boatbuilding companies.

“We made sure these sustainability programs were integrated into our growth strategy, so it enhances the business and adds to the bottom line,” Louks says. “We want to do the right thing for our people and the planet, but also know that profits are there.”

As an engine builder, Mercury considers emissions reductions one of its largest accomplishments. The company says it has reduced hydrocarbon and nitrous oxide emissions from its outboards by 76 percent since 2005. Sterndrive emissions have been reduced by 69 percent.

Its sustainability efforts started in Wisconsin and extended to Mercury facilities around the world. “Once we got all the best practices in place in Fond du Lac, we took it globally across all our facilities,” Louks says. “It’s been successful companywide.”

BRP’s Evinrude division also sees its low-emission, direct-injection engines as integral to its sustainability program. “We were the first outboard manufacturer to receive the EPA Clean Air Excellence Award,” says Jeff Wasil, Evinrude’s engineering manager for emissions testing, certification and regulatory development. “It’s not an award they’d give lightly to any engine manufacturer. Our E-TEC outboards achieved a 90 percent reduction in exhaust emissions compared to conventional 2-strokes. Our E-TECs also produce fewer emissions than other clean-technology outboards.”

Wasil’s team at Evinrude has also pioneered the development of biofuels such as biobutanol for marine use. “We’re seeing it come to markets in Texas and California,” he says. “We worked alongside the Department of Energy to get approval. It was very humbling, how you can work together to give the consumer a choice.”

Outboards Heating the Factory

The engine builder also designed a system that captures energy from outboards while they run in an indoor endurance test center. That captured energy heats the building. The center’s water recycling system has saved more than 22 million gallons, according to Wasil. The company received a Business Friend of the Environment Award for the energy recovery system, and an Earth Day Sustainable Business Award for closed-loop water systems.

BRP’s water-recycling facility lets it test outboards in a 600,000-gallon closed-loop system.  

BRP’s water-recycling facility lets it test outboards in a 600,000-gallon closed-loop system.  

Yamaha Motor Corp. also has received accolades for its sustainability efforts, most recently being named to the SNAM Sustainability Index for public companies in Japan and the S&P Japan 500 ESG Index. The manufacturer of outboards, motorcycles and other products has reduced its carbon dioxide emissions since 2012 by 67 percent per unit of sales, while working with suppliers to limit their emissions, too. The Tokyo company says it also reduced waste volume by 25.4 percent compared with 2005 levels.

“We have a parallel but joint effort in the U.S.,” says Martin Peters, Yamaha’s senior manager of marine communications and government relations. “There are conservation efforts that go back years. That is part of the DNA of the marine group in the U.S.”

The company’s new Rightwaters program includes activism. Yamaha executives and sportfishing personnel travel to state capitols and the U.S. Congress to lobby on such issues as invasive species and habitat restoration. The company organized a coastal Georgia cleanup on World Oceans Day in June and partnered with Clearwater Mills to design and build a machine to grab trash and plastics from a river that flows into the ocean in Georgia.

Cleaner Water Everywhere

“Georgia is home to 1,800 Yamaha employees, and that’s why we started there,” Peters says. “If the pilot project goes well, we’ll work toward finding ways to install similar devices nationally. For us, the endgame is cleaner water everywhere.”

Peters says there was an internal struggle at Yamaha for years about whether to broadcast its conservation efforts. “We’ve been thinking about Rightwaters for some time, but there was always a sense of not wanting to publicize the results of what we’ve done,” he says. “We came to realize it’s not about pounding your own chest but seeing that people might benefit from knowing what we do.”

In France, Groupe Beneteau recently launched a sustainability program with its SPBI boatbuilding facilities in the Vendée region. The program is designed to reduce emissions, cut waste and lessen the use of raw materials such as resin, gelcoat and acetone.

The French parent of Beneteau, Jeanneau and a dozen other boat brands also plans to cut emissions of volatile organic compounds by 10 percent by using injection and infusion techniques in boatbuilding. Since 2015, according to Groupe Beneteau, its “energy performance” has increased by 28 percent.

Mercury’s solar-panel field powers its EMEA headquarters.

Mercury’s solar-panel field powers its EMEA headquarters.

The company also reports that the recycling of non-hazardous materials at the facilities stands at 74 percent and continues to improve. The group is also part of a nationwide fiberglass boat-recycling program organized by APER, a division of France’s national marine trades association. APER plans to recycle about 25,000 old boats in the next four years.

Brunswick’s individual boat plants all have some sustainability initiatives in place, and Grodzki says the entire boat group will soon have a companywide plan, similar to Mercury’s. “We’re in the process right now of assessing our current position by measuring energy consumption, waste generation, safety records, use of raw materials and the amount of time each facility devotes to community efforts,” Grodzki says. “Once we have those metrics, we can determine a three- to five-year plan. At that point, we’ll announce our goals to employees in a sustainability plan.” 

This article originally appeared in the August 2019 issue.


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