Sustainability & Conservation in Yachting » Sustainability » Are Yacht Shows Letting the Side Down on Sustainability?

Are Yacht Shows Letting the Side Down on Sustainability?

Within the yachting industry, sustainability talk in the media focuses to a large extent on those who design, build or own superyachts. Feadship announced their aim to go emissions-free by 2025, Lürssen and Benetti pledged commitment to ocean conservation by supporting the Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE), the Water Revolution Foundation released a Yacht Assessment Tool to measure the environmental impact of a superyacht and hybrid propulsion pops up in every third press newsletter that lands in my inbox.

I've seen advertisements for environmentally-friendly cleaning products in the marine industry, eco-conscious packaging for yacht provisioning and read a hundred articles about sustainable energy, but where are the articles reporting on the ground about yachting events?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Yachting Trade Shows & Events: How Sustainable Are We? 

According to a 2019 United Nations report, global investment in renewable energy capacity in 2018 was $272.9 billion, the fifth successive year in which it has exceeded $250 billion. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has set a target of cutting emissions by at least 50% by 2050 for the world's fleet, though the strategies are strongly focused on shipping rather than the superyacht sector.

Searching through pages and pages of sustainability articles and reports, I found a huge gap.

Yachting trade shows and events are the elephant in the room - the hidden enabler where we do business to talk about whether we can influence or ignore sustainability, as we see fit.

Last year, two naval architects contacted me directly. They were attending seminars at an event hosted by a well-known yachting brand; the seminars covered 'sustainability' and 'ecological awareness' among other topics. At the social gatherings and nightly meet-ups they were shocked by the blatant use of single-use plastic straws, cups and other disposable items. They told me they felt disjointed, because there was a disconnection between what was discussed and what was reality. The event organiser blamed the venue for their oversight.

Sustainability, ecological awareness and a green agenda should not be buzzwords. Making sustainability truly authentic and meaningful goes far beyond cutting down on plastic, sending out a press release, hosting an annual charity fundraising event or making sure you have reusable company branded water bottles.

Death to the Lanyard

I've attended many yachting and luxury events in the past 12 months, as you can see by the photo below. I put my hand up - every one of these belongs to me. At each event, I receive a lanyard with my event badge which is often laminated or a plasticised badge of some type (even card badges had a plasticised coating). It has been this way for eons, where I receive an individual ID badge and lanyard, regardless if the event is a half-day event or a full week. Some events have hundreds of delegates; other events have tens of thousands of attendees. And every person is given their own event badge.

I estimate that just for the events I've attended in the past year, over a quarter of a million lanyards and plastic (or plasticised) badges hung around the necks of attendees.

So why do we even need event badges and lanyards?

  • Security:Badges are used to restrict or grant access to certain areas.

  • Identification: Wearing a visible badge is a quick way to identify people and their roles.

  • Sponsorship:Many lanyards are sponsored, therefore a specific company will have their brand on the lanyard to gain visibility with attendees.

Lanyards - Rebecca Whitlocke - 600x400I'd estimate only 5% of the yachting and luxury events I go to have a recycling system, whereby after the event you return your badge. The rest travel home with me and my sons think they're pretty cool and play with them for five minutes - before they are thrown into a box. I reuse lanyards, but overall, it's a waste of materials and resources.

Lanyard/badge solutions

It takes time to change habits and find alternatives. I've received various suggestions about using hemp lanyards, bamboo lanyards or lanyards made out of recycled PET bottles. For ID badges, some options include paper badges, oak name badges or badges made from FSC® certified paper (leftover of pulpwood) instead of plastic/laminate. Some events use plastic ID envelopes so you can insert a name badge, however it then creates another issue getting attendees to hand these back at the end.

For registrations, online and code scan registration is more popular. At two yachting events last year, when I registered online I was emailed a QR code for entry, which seemed promising until they printed a single-use badge for me at the entrance...sigh!

Amanda Flanders, CEO at Evexio Ltd shares some of the solutions she recommends for large events: "When lanyards and badges have to be used, we tend to buy bamboo lanyards which are recyclable, plus we have badges pre-printed on paper from sustainable sources with vegetable dyes. We work hard to collect back the lanyards at the end of the event for reuse & recycling. These days there are quite a few alternatives to badges and paperless registration - we work with some great tech companies such as Eventscase or Evessio who provide us with these services."

As my collection of lanyards increases, I'm becoming more convinced we need to actively find a better solution for yacht shows and for the greater events industry overall. Currently, churning out articles about green agendas will not change it.

The Social Taboo of Sustainability: Thinking Beyond Plastic

We're in communication with many of the world’s largest yachting companies regarding operational processes, technical innovation and market progress daily. We've become accustomed to hearing about superyacht trends before the world knows they're trends. We've become hungry for finding the golden industry egg; that magical concept, product or service that will surprise, thrill or change the superyacht sector before our competitors find it.

The IFBSO (International Federation of Boat Show Organisers) has been actively promoting global yacht shows get involved in the #ReThinkPlastic campaign to encourage environmental awareness and highlight the impact of plastic pollution on our seas, rivers and lakes.

Boat shows have been told to embrace the principles of corporate responsibility and Codes of Excellence, whereby they should aim to reduce or eliminate single-use plastics at their shows wherever possible. This includes food packaging and serving ware, bags and promotional items - it's encouraging to see positive changes.

I've also discussed with yachting acquaintances a recently released industry-wide Code of Conduct. Some of the feedback I was given (identities have been protected by their request):

  • "It's half vague and lacks specifics."

  • "It's clear the superyacht sector needs financing to support sustainable development, but this Code has no impact measurements that are sure to attract long-term investors or project sponsors. Regardless, it's great to see movement in the right direction."

  • "The veracity of the problem is evident right here, because this is a controlled attempt to greenwash. It's patronising to me as a successful business owner to read this and profess that I need to show commitment to respect the oceans as they are a stakeholder of our industry. Really? If I wasn't already doing that my companies would be bankrupt.

Cannes Yachting Festival 2 - Rebecca Whitlocke - 600x400Face-to-face, I've had some enlightening conversations about the status of sustainability in yachting. Digging deeper, we easily fill media columns about energy-efficient design, ocean preservation and boat construction, but turn a blind eye to the reality of waste at our international conferences, forums and boat shows. Along the way, somewhere amidst all these brilliant ideas, we have forgotten to look beyond plastic.

To date, I have not read one article scrutinising the overall wasteful practices and resource drain happening at our cornerstone yachting events - the very places which turn the cogs for all key players to network, challenge the status quo and grand ideas come to fruition.

Many people haven't accepted that eradicating plastic is just the tip of the iceberg at yacht shows - as yet, we're not yet leading the pack with stringent regulations regarding exhibition stand materials and recycling, carpets, tiles and wall coverings. Don't even get me started on the use of cable ties in the event exhibition industry!

What are the solutions?

With all of these solutions in this article, I'm yet to see a mass adoption at major yacht shows from event registration to the scrutiny of exhibition stands through build and breakdown. I've been moved to write this article because there is empirical evidence that attitudes are changing and the maritime industry is responding.

Business credo's have never been more critical than they are today - socially, ethically and environmentally our yachting events could and should do better.

Exhibition stands

Most exhibition stands are bespoke; built to design specifications, branding and budget. We all know the expense the largest yachting companies inject into exhibition stands at major yacht shows. If anyone ever doubted the superyacht sector's ability to showcase premium exhibition stands complete with all the bells and whistles available, then visit any major yacht show and you'll see firm evidence.

Lighting, flooring (carpets, tiles), wall coverings, screws, MDF painted panels are all often used. It's a wonderful consideration using energy-efficient fixtures and lighting, yet seems a social taboo to build exhibition stands sustainably at scale to promote our top yachting brands.

MYS 2019 - Rebecca Whitlocke - 600x400Hospitality, aviation, sports and retail are actively using machine learning and data to evolve alongside their client's habits and preferences. How is it that we can input technical statistics and harness computational data for carbon emissions, energy efficiency and pollutants when constructing superyachts, yet we can't yet deliver yachting events that give end-of-life solutions for stand construction??

As an industry, we have to change our habitual practices regarding the life cycle of exhibition stands at yacht shows. We need to push back on our supply chain to provide materials that discourage mass waste, alongside alternatives for current construction (recycled or reused materials) and implementation of smart designs for disassembly. Reusability doesn't mean limiting our creativity!

"Phormular is one company helping to connect brands and organisations with their audience whilst minimising environmental impact,” explains Amanda. “They deliver bespoke and engaging environments with their 'custom modular' solutions that can be reused for any type of floorspace configuration and all types of venue."

Specifically, I would like to see more boat shows develop initiatives such as carpet recycling seen at METSTRADE and the Biograd Boat Show, or start discussions about sustainable stand options, disassembly and recycling processes.


Furniture is a special exception, because much of what you see at yacht shows and forums is placed in storage and reused for future events. However, we must still consider the purchasing of furniture, its immediate use and post-event use, or look into hiring options.

You may have seen some head-turning projects at yachting events such as furniture and booths made from recycled ocean plastic. Nick Marks, founder of Ecobooth, creates sustainable event activations for major brands: "At Monaco Yacht Show 2019, Ecobooth's project for Burgess Yachts involved cleaning, shredding and transforming ocean plastic into sheet material, where it was crafted into seating, bars and branded walls. The project was disassembled and is being repurposed for 2020."

Ultimately, I'd like to see projects such as this extend beyond just a pop-up hospitality zone. How far are we willing to go to truly shift behaviour?

Water bottles - Rebecca Whitlocke - 600x400Water

The presence of plastic water bottles in the marine industry has gone through a remarkable shift. Solutions for yachts include Water Without Waste and HEM (Hydro Electrique Marine) units. It's fantastic to see water refilling stations at yacht shows and regattas – one I have seen was Cleanwave, Bluewater, and at Monaco Yacht Show 2019 we could get a reusable water bottle and fill it with pure ionic water, courtesy of WET Global.

Other initiatives include Refill My Bottle, an app that marks locations where people can fill up their bottle with clean drinkable water for free or a minimum fee.

Promotional items

Everyone loves a goody bag at yachting events! It's been encouraging to see a transition over the years from disposable items to more practical items. Are goody bags (especially at yacht shows) the brand enabler they were previously? Are yachting companies feeling obligated to continue Keeping Up With The Joneses by gifting merchandise to people? And the more freebies the better....

For the time and effort spent organising promotional items, perhaps we need more shared planning where organisers and exhibitors at yachting trade shows or conferences question their actions. "Is our company taking a step in the right direction towards our brand values by giving away sponsored items?", or: "Is this goody bag a crucial part of our strategy for building long-term client relationships?"

From 1st February 2020, I will be refusing goody bags at yachting events. Will I remember your company if I'm taking home a tote bag filled with a sales brochure, USB stick and branded merchandise? No, probably not. But, I will remember you if I come to your event and instead of shoving a goody bag in my hand when I leave, you ask me if you can make a small donation on my behalf to an ocean-related or seafarer charity - an initiative such as this is far more relevant and memorable to me.

Food & beverage

Currently, when we talk about sustainability at events in the yachting industry we focus on removing or reducing plastic use. Regarding food and beverage at events, the obvious solution is ditching plastic cups, cutlery and individually packaged serves. I don't need to highlight the option to provide reusable cutlery and crockery; many companies already put this in place.

Jean-Michel Calloud, CEO of Pitbull Events who regularly hosts VIP events in Monaco, Miami and Dubai, says his company invests in cleaning beaches and ports, and is continuing to search for alternatives to ban all plastics and to listen to any solution that will reduce the environmental impact of their activity. "It is up to us to limit the use of plastic - by using glass or compostable cardboard tableware, banning straws and balloons, offering reusable glasses at the bar. Even for Carbon Champagne at our clubbing parties, we have made reusable glasses that you can discover on our terrace and yacht during the Monaco Grand Prix,” he says. “We have also made our suppliers aware of our approach so that the products or materials delivered to us contain as little packaging as possible.”

The United Nations General Assembly set 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Target 12.3 highlights 'Responsible Consumption and Production' aiming to greatly reduce food waste at production, supply, retail and consumer levels. "Approximately one-third of the food produced for human consumption annually - roughly 1.3 billion tonnes - gets lost or wasted. In medium and high-income countries, food is wasted at a later stage in the supply chain, a clear indicator that the behaviour of retailers and consumers play a huge part," says the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

With a growing worldwide population and millions of people going hungry daily, food loss is a social, ethical, financial and environmental issue. Bespoke catering at yachting events is contributing to this huge global problem.

Dreamstime cuisine - Rebecca Whitlocke - 600x400Do I think we'll see yachting events switch to serving carafes of water and bowls of fresh fruit for waste-free snacks? Not any time soon. By nature, the industry is accustomed to economic affluence whereby convenience and demand can outweigh cost saving. We're used to delivering gratification for requests such as Champagne or shipping in premium produce for catering on board yachts - it's the norm, and to be honest there's an unspoken rule that it's more than acceptable to throw a good party without guilt.

How can we reduce the negative impact of food waste at yachting events?

One of the biggest challenges is that food waste at yachting events is not benchmarked, and often yachting companies use external catering so it's difficult to track everything along the supply chain from manufacture to how it's presented to us as a final product.

Small solutions need action, such as how catering is produced and distributed. When possible, try opting for seasonal menus and supporting local suppliers. At one yachting event in Monaco, I saw suppliers I know came down from the Netherlands to cater for parties - to change what's happening we must take responsibility for current behaviour. It doesn't start with the food we have remaining, but to consider the food we serve our guests in the first place. Let's start by cutting down on the carbon footprint with transportation, deliveries and supply networks. 

I have attended many events in the superyacht industry where the surplus of food is embarrassingly astronomical! In the throes of a luxury event, with plates of tantalisingly delicious canapés on offer, we're psychologically let off the hook because the cost of food waste isn't salient to us individually when someone else throws a party to impress clients.

As industry professionals, we need to help event organisers to properly manage food and beverage options for yachting conferences and shows, because we're fuelling food waste as part of our yachting lifestyle. A simple solution includes RSVP'ing whether you attend an event or not, so the event organiser can liaise with caterers and plan menus that are adequate for guest numbers. 

I would also like to see more yachting companies partner with charitable organisations that collect and safely redistribute food donations. We must continue to explore these options to donate food to businesses such as Les Yachts du Coeur and Yachting Gives Back so that unused edible products that meet health guidelines are given to those in need.


A September 2019 survey of more than 1,200 travellers found that 80 percent are very or somewhat concerned about the impact of business travel on the environment, and 61 percent thought it was important for their employer to offset their business travel. Respondents in Europe ranked minimising environmental impact as the single most important quality in a business travel booking service, even higher than lower prices and having a wide selection of travel options (stat: TripActions).

Airlines give options for carbon offsetting; a consideration when travelling to/from international yachting conferences and events. Encourage your employees, clients and guests to walk, cycle or carpool to events/venues where possible to reduce their carbon footprint.


Good communication connects everything to your employees or customers and can be highly effective regarding the growth and profitability of your yachting company.

Your communication efforts should be strategic, because people are bombarded with large amounts of information every day from different sources; as easily as they find you they can also find your competitors!

Hosting a superyacht conference or event is a strong factor in relationship-building and signing off business. However, gone are the days of mass printed invitations, flyers and posters. If you absolutely must print collateral to support your brand, then certifications are possible if you take sustainable measures regarding choosing resources, printing and manufacturing.

Leverage tech such as WhatsApp for all team communication, QR codes to direct customers to more information and event apps to communicate digital programmes with delegates.

Cannes Yachting Festival - Rebecca Whitlocke - 600x400Global Regulations

The superyacht sector is a complex industry. It presents challenges and opportunities, which makes policies necessary but many are not implemented. Maybe in the future, yacht shows will move towards event standards and guidelines such as ISO 20121.

Fiona Pelham, Chair of ISO 20121 event sustainability management system standard and director of the Global Sustainable Events Summit is considered a leading voice on sustainable events. "ISO 20121 gives organisers the opportunity to be creative and create a culture change which will future proof their event,” she says. “Many people get confused and think paying for the 3rd party certification visit is what the standard is about. They overlook the value of self certifying which ensures you use maximum budget and time on innovations your event will benefit from."  

How can journalists and media help?

I strongly believe for solutions to take force, all yachting media should be party to unrestricted media coverage of any events covering sustainable topics. Ultimately stirring my moral compass, I've had feedback from delegates that some yachting media are the only ones reporting on their event (or cause) due to multiple stakeholders and brand partners involved: "No external journalists allowed." This is counter-productive behaviour.

Within yachting media there can be a tendency to focus on new projects or well-known companies. However, we must continue sharing diverse opinions in yachting. For conversations to be productive, we need to get clarity around what is happening in the superyacht sector now, so we can shift where it's going if needed because it's a transformative process that won't happen overnight.

I hope that yachting media will be awakened and try to create a more inclusive culture for all writers, because we owe it to ourselves and to others to use our knowledge network to share this information and put it out there. Isn't it time that we collectively put our media egos aside and join together to report on goals, actions or initiatives that advance sustainability policies?

Final Thoughts

This article isn't a debate about what's already been published by journalists regarding composite recycling, clean energy or corporate social responsibility; I'm merely highlighting one part of our industry - events - that is currently overlooked as a whole. 

In conclusion, this article may have created more questions and opinions that inspire, excite, frustrate or motivate you! This 'out of sight, out of mind' mentality doesn't just go away because we work with high-net-worth customers who can financially insulate themselves from our current marine business practices or supply chain management. 

We seem hesitant to challenge parameters, acknowledge our shortcomings and be truthful about our industry. The event ecosystem exists because every one of us feeds it and therefore we must think outside the box to map a journey for change.

The next generation of yachting employees want to work for a company where employee behaviour has a meaningful impact for a business with purpose. The next generation of investors want to inject money into yachting companies who will be economically profitable, as well as demonstrate social good. The next generation of yacht owners want transparency, even in consideration of confidentiality and privacy. 

Yachting companies need to be their own sustainability advocates, from the top down. They need to show credibility with company-wide strategies outside of a well-oiled PR campaign leading up to an event. Their motivation must go past current trends, connecting long-term with customers and all areas of the superyacht sector.

We need to respect people as idea generators and change makers, not just pools of revenue lining up to hear sponsored partners during speaker sessions and putting bums on seats at yachting conferences!

We must write about what's raw in our industry, what's real and ultimately, what needs to change. After all, this isn't an exclusive new build announcement or a fresh design concept that is being unveiled - it is a greater outcome that affects those of us willing to write about it not for provocation but for care, the children who will follow in our footsteps long after we turn to dust and the fate of the planet we live on.

 Images: Dreamstime, Rebecca Whitlocke, Unsplash 

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