When Mark Robinson set up Yacht Carbon Offset eight years ago, the phrase 'going green' was more likely to indicate a bold change of colour scheme than ecological awareness within the luxury superyacht industry.
Following a year on year growth of an astonishing 40% this summer, however, the evidence points to the fact that having a conscience, treading more lightly on the planet and putting something back are now important considerations amongst the most discerning superyacht owners.
So what exactly is carbon offsetting? It works by equating the greenhouse gas emissions from the engines tonne for tonne with equivalent emission reductions from verified green energy projects.
Mark found time on a recent visit to Antibes to explain his vision to OnboardOnline. ‘If you design a boat with the correct size engine and a slippery hull which isn’t going to use as much fuel, you can minimise the production of greenhouse gases. Then, for any yacht, the captain can be mindful of operating the engines more economically when possible, which also saves fuel.
‘But once you have done these things, it’s difficult to further minimise the greenhouse gas impact of the boat. You need to intervene elsewhere and that is where we come in. Onshore, you can provide support to a renewable power project which is then displacing coal fired power generation or a diesel generator, thereby reducing greenhouse gases onshore and offsetting your impact on the environment.’
A Simple Equation
Environmental performance is affected by everything from paint systems to cleaning products and chemicals, but often the greenhouse gas impact is the first thing that people think about. Fortunately, minimising this impact has never been easier or more cost effective, according to Mark. ‘A yacht captain can tell us how much fuel was used and we then calculate how many tonnes of greenhouse gas have been released and balance this with greenhouse gas reductions from renewable power projects. It’s quick to do - in fact, my record is 27 minutes!
‘If you bunker 100,000 litres of fuel, today’s carbon offset cost is €1,800 - €1,900. I respect the fact that it’s the boss’s money and should only be spent if it fits their philosophy but at this level cost is usually not the issue. And for charter yachts, there’s a marketing benefit in demonstrating that you have gone that extra mile. What is seven star service if it’s not remembering those additional thoughtful touches before your client needs to ask?
‘Carbon offsetting is discretionary, there is no legislation to force it, so it’s about leadership and whether you take an extra step beyond what you are obliged to do by law and be a little greener and more eco-responsible than other yachts. An exhilarating trip on a 30-knot superyacht is never going to be an eco-holiday but by carbon offsetting it, you are behaving in a more responsible way towards the environment. It’s a big step in the right direction and it’s not hard to do.’
After gaining his MBA at INSEAD, Mark worked in a strategy team for a UK utility that was extending itself overseas. ‘I then went into the City as an equity analyst looking at utility stocks,’ he explains. ‘Following that, I set up as an advisor doing valuations for energy projects and it so happened that most of those were renewables or low carbon projects. I had been following the yachting industry as an interested observer for many years and wondered why no one was carbon offsetting.’
He established Yacht Carbon Offset in 2007, just as the recession was starting to bite. ‘At the beginning, people would question whether anyone was interested,’ he admits. ‘The market was in a dip and the recession focused people’s minds on discretionary spending. Now it’s different, and sustainability is high on the agenda across the superyacht community. We’ve seen that directly; for the last couple of years we have consistently shown double-digit year on year volume growth – topping 40% this summer – so the appetite is clearly there.’
From the outset, Yacht Carbon Offset was set up to provide a bespoke and highly personalised service. ‘In the superyacht community it’s essential for the client and captain to know that carbon saving really has taken place and has been correctly allocated to their boat. Maintaining a fully documented system and always stating clearly what is included in the carbon offset helps enormously with this.
Action on the Ground
‘Equally important, and a distinction we have over mass market companies, was our decision to engage Lloyds Register Quality Assurance as external auditors of our system and procedures. We are committed to this tough, independent scrutiny that helps us ensure that our service is robust and that each of our certificates can be traced to real action on the ground.
The whole system is fully secure. Yacht Carbon Offset sources suitable carbon credits through the international carbon trading market, with each credit issued by an emission reduction project such as renewable power. These projects are independently audited and verified before they can issue carbon credits to the market. Mark explains: ‘It’s critical that the action in carbon saving is quantified and would not have taken place without carbon finance, because you shouldn’t get carbon credits for a project that is already going to take place.’
The rigorous standards used by the registries administering the credits enable the client to be sure that each credit has been assigned only once, and that the carbon saving hasn’t already been counted against somebody else’s carbon footprint.
Mark researches onshore renewable projects all over the world, choosing only those that meet his exacting standards, and clients can get involved with the selection too if they wish. ‘Twizzle has been a client for some years and the owner is committed to environmental performance,’ he reveals. ‘She sailed around the world and we chose the projects to provide the offset for each stage of her journey; a wind turbine project in Turkey, a hydro plant in Indonesia and a wind turbine project in New Caledonia. Each one was meaningful to the client.’
By its very nature, the process funds projects worldwide that would otherwise not be financially viable. ‘Say there is a river in Indonesia and a developer wants to build a run-of-river hydroelectric station to provide power in this area,’ Mark explains. ‘They may not have the funding and although they can sell the electricity, they won’t make enough. However, if it is audited and verified as a carbon project, they can sell carbon credits as well as the electricity, and achieve a combined revenue sufficient to attract funds. In this way, your carbon offset contributes to a project that otherwise would not exist, which really excites me.
A Question of Leadership
‘It’s great for yachts to provide support in this way, in proportion to their use of energy. If you think of your yacht as excellent in every respect, why not apply that to environmental performance too? We operate on a case by case basis. There is no ongoing contract that you are locked into. Some charters will say yes, others will say no and some owners will continue once they have started. It’s a leadership button that we push: if you are a leading superyacht, why wouldn’t you want to apply the best environmental procedure?’
With a wide variety of clients globally – over 150 vessels have participated – and yachts ranging from successful charter yachts, explorer yachts, sailing yachts to the biggest vessel, just signed, a 120+m motor yacht, there is no “typical client” for this service. Mark counts Baton Rouge, Meamina, Global and Mirage among his client base and for a vessel like Hanse Explorer, which offers expeditions to some of the most remote locations on the planet, the policy sits perfectly with their client base.
Monaco based superyacht Lionheart was an early adopter of the process and Lionheart Captain Tom Jones says: ‘We began our offset policy in 2008 and so far we’ve been very happy and actually proud to be one of the first yachts to do so.’
Patience is key to the sign up process. ‘One captain told me he needed to speak to the owner and it might take a little time….it actually took four years!’ Mark recalls. ‘What owners lack is time to have a conversation. My job is to enthuse the yacht manager or captain so that they really get it because until they are confident of the procedure, they will not have that conversation with the boss.
It's Easy, it's not Expensive and it Makes Sense
‘I would love to see carbon offsetting as a regular tick box preference for charters, in the same way you ask if any guests are vegetarian. The main obstacle is a lack of awareness, a lot of people are surprised the option exists or it simply doesn’t occur to them to ask. There are a number of luxurious vessels out there, with the toys, satcom, all the bells and whistles. The difference is the spirit on board, the charisma of the captain & crew members, their thoughtfulness and all the preparation and organisation beforehand. This service ethic matters just as much as the nuts and bolts. I like to think of carbon offsetting in the same way.’
There is a serious side too. ‘It’s a reputational risk in this day and age to be seen not to be caring about the environment. For high profile people who have a certain lifestyle, it’s no longer a question of whether you choose to spend time on a superyacht, it’s about carbon offsetting to make a positive response that otherwise wouldn’t happen. It would be helpful for the industry as a whole if a system of better environmental behaviour was promoted.’
* For further information, contact Mark Robinson.