Jetty De Koster is the sales and marketing specialist for Genesis Technologies Marine, which designs custom superyacht audiovisual systems. Her company markets a product as saving space and reducing energy consumption by relying more on software than hardware.
When an HVAC consultant wanted to know exactly how much carbon dioxide the product saved, he crunched some numbers and found that it reduced genset carbon dioxide emissions by 77 percent, with diesel consumption dropping equally.
The analysis persuaded De Koster to learn more. She decided to take a sustainability course offered by the Water Revolution Foundation, a science-driven nonprofit helping the superyacht industry neutralize its ecological footprint and protect the oceans. She wanted to learn about ways to show her CEO additional measures the company could take. “It’s not enough to look at what you’re doing now,” she says. “You have to think of the future, too.”
De Koster anticipated learning about how Genesis and its manufacturing partners could improve production and packaging processes. That happened, but she also learned how sustainability has broader implications. De Koster showed the CEO how hiring an employee in The Netherlands, where the company has significant business, would increase efficiency by reducing travel for (and stress upon) other employees. She also showed the CEO how continuing to calculate real numbers would avoid “greenwashing,” which is providing ambiguous or deceptive information about a product or service.
De Koster is one of 55 superyacht professionals who have taken the course since the Water Revolution Foundation began offering it in 2019. Provided in partnership with a sustainability training institute, the two-day course sheds light on issues and opportunities tied to sustainable-development goals upheld by the United Nations. More specifically, the course reveals how sustainability can include workplace issues, marketplace issues and societal issues, beyond ecological concerns.
The training institute is the Centre for Sustainability and Excellence, which has trained more than 7,000 people from Fortune 500 companies and governmental organizations. Robert van Tol, executive director for the Water Revolution Foundation, was inspired to partner with CSE after taking a course it offered in 2016. “The content was so interesting that I thought, I need to bring this into the industry,” he says. “Everybody needs to learn in this way about the real concept of sustainability and, especially, how you can get started — as of tomorrow, basically.”
That “real concept,” according to CSE president Nikos Avlonas, is corporate social responsibility. “The major principles of a sustainable business are doing a great job and having a fantastic economic performance, respecting the employees and local communities and, of course, respecting the environment,” Avlonas says. “If you reduce your carbon footprint, it is important, but if you ignore the other aspects, you’re not going to make it.” Many other sectors, particularly the energy, telecom, finance, and food-and-beverage fields, have been balancing these areas “for at least 10 years now,” Avlonas says. “The superyacht industry needs to realize that reducing plastic is great, but it’s a really minor thing. They have so many more things to do in order to become sustainable.”
While that concept may seem overwhelming, the course helps enrollees pinpoint issues to tackle first. It also helps them hone their strategies, sometimes dumbfounding them in the process. One major surprise for many participants is greenwashing and how it’s far more common than they think. For instance, many yachting professionals misconstrue reducing environmental impact as a one-and-done action. “All of your actions need to be part of a bigger plan,” van Tol says. “When you communicate about something you do as a company or as an individual, recognize that this is on the path of further improving.”
Water Revolution Foundation is developing a life-cycle assessment tool to evaluate yachts and their environmental footprint, from the manufacturing side to the operational side, including the life span of the systems on board. “You’re not tackling the problem if you don’t take the entire life cycle into account,” van Tol says. “That could be perceived as greenwashing.”
Another surprise for course enrollees, van Tol says, is that sustainability involves societal impact. Every business operates within a community, he says, and while executives understand the economic benefits of employing locals, they often don’t reflect on how interacting with that community bears influence. Whether it’s participating in local events or donating materials to benefit less-privileged children, “sustainability is about being able to do something for the longer term without jeopardizing opportunities for future generations,” van Tol says.
Historically, the superyacht sector has focused on fulfilling the wishes of the client — taking, arguably, a passive role in sustainability. The industry should proactively drive sustainability, van Tol says. “There are companies outside our industry that are struggling to attract talent from universities because they don’t want to work for companies that are causing the problems,” he says. “They want to work for companies that are part of the solution.”
The bottom line for van Tol: “It’s not only a responsibility; it’s an opportunity.” He points to how Formula 1 has experimented with technology, leading to real-life improvements throughout the automotive industry. Likewise, he knows of a few yacht owners and yachting companies that have collaborated with sustainability-focused firms from other industries, resulting in new business for those firms. “The industry has the right ingredients, and we as a foundation support that,” van Tol says. “We create the right tools to guide the industry to do it in a scientifically sound way.”
This approach includes helping course enrollees to become certified sustainability practitioners. For this, Avlonas says, an individual outlines a holistic plan for his or her own company. An independent assessor then analyzes the plan according to multiple criteria. Typically, Avlonas says, about 70 to 75 percent of trainees become certified. Many of them, he says, attest to the lessons learned having made a big difference in their companies within several months to a year.
De Koster, who recently became certified, says she is looking forward to continuing to make a difference. “It’s something everyone in the world understands,” she says.
This article was originally published in the November 2020 issue.