Yacht Carbon Offset is not a particularly sexy proposition but if there's substance to the hype, why aren't more yacht owners signing up? What are the barriers and what needs to change? We met with Mark Robinson to get his views and learn how carbon offsetting makes a real and tangible difference.
What does yacht carbon offsetting mean and how does it work in practice?
Carbon offsetting describes how greenhouse gas emissions from one activity are counteracted by emissions savings by another activity. Applying it to a yacht, the captain or manager specifies the amount of fuel consumed, which enables us to quantify the corresponding CO2 emissions and provide a Yacht Carbon Offset quotation.
If this is accepted, the money from the carbon offset payment is used to support a green energy project, saving an equivalent tonnage of CO2 emissions, usually by substituting the use of fossil fuel for power generation. Our system is fully documented and externally audited, and the client receives a personalized certificate showing exactly what has been included.
If carbon offsetting is not actually reducing yachting’s carbon foot print, is it more about conscience and positive PR?
If a yacht cruises alongside her sister ship that has opted for Yacht Carbon Offset, both vessels might emit the same amount of CO2, but the carbon offset yacht has done something positive to mitigate the impact. So the NET impact of the carbon offset yacht is lower. Surely that’s a good thing!
If a customer feels that their conscience is eased then that's fine by me; the decision to acknowledge and, crucially, to take action to mitigate one’s environmental impact should be applauded. Moreover, Yacht Carbon Offset is compatible with a captain’s efforts to operate a yacht more efficiently; consuming less fuel is also desirable in the context of minimizing impact.
M/Y Baton Rouge
Is yacht ownership a contradiction for anyone who says they care about the environment?
No! In practice, perceptions of the environment can change profoundly as a result of ownership. Expedition organizers such as EYOS have also reported a massive impact on peoples’ perceptions and desire to engage with the issues, which can only be a good thing.
Do you find that owners of sailing yachts are more motivated than owners of motor yachts to offset their carbon emissions?
Yes, probably. With sailing you’re perhaps more immersed in the environment so this may align with the owner’s wish to minimise impact. On the other hand, there are plenty of eco-aware owners that choose explorer yachts or whose cruising requirements lead them to choose a motor yacht.
How did you get involved with yacht carbon offsetting and what led you to start your own company?
As a financial analyst, I evaluated several low-carbon power generation projects where the contribution of carbon funding to the investment case was absolutely critical. Clearly many projects, and the greenhouse gas savings they achieved, would never have happened without the incentives available through the carbon market. Put simply, I could see directly how carbon funding made a real difference on the ground.
At the same time, as an observer of the superyacht market, it was apparent that for a certain type of yacht owner, the opportunity to mitigate the environmental impact of their vessel would be welcomed. A tangible proposition would be essential and I was keen to give it a try!
Solar power project in Maurtius
What sorts of projects are currently in progress?
We have some great new projects in our 2016 portfolio: renewable energy projects such as hydro-electric in Indonesia, biomass in Russia, wind power in Turkey and Aruba, geothermal in Turkey and a solar power project in Mauritius. We are always looking for interesting options for our clients, all of which are subject to stringent audit and review.
What proportion of the money raised goes directly to the chosen projects?
This will vary from project to project depending on factors such as how many steps there are between us and the project developer, somewhat like asking how much of the price of a litre of fuel at the pump goes to the owner of the oil well.
We prefer to focus on two measures. Firstly the market; we aim to price our service competitively compared to alternative providers, noting the unique features of our superyacht-focused service. Secondly, the fundamental measure is the carbon saving itself: we emphasise that the verification standards we apply enable us to very clearly demonstrate that the carbon funding is essential to the existence of the project, so we can track how the money has made a measurable difference.
Which project has been the most interesting or the most successful to date?
In New Caledonia, there is a rather special project where the wind turbines can be lowered in advance of tropical storms. The operational team was very helpful when I made arrangements for a yacht owner to visit the site during a cruise to these beautiful islands.
In yachting, if the decision to offset carbon rests with the owner, who are the greatest influencers – the crew or yacht management?
The greatest influencers are those who truly know the owner or charterer and understand their environmental priorities and those who take the time to make the individual, family or private office aware that the option to offset carbon exists. I believe it should be part of normal ‘due diligence’, alongside other preferences offered to owners and charter guests.
If cost is not the issue, what is the most common objection or misconception that you face?
It is quite right that people should question how a service such as carbon offsetting makes a real, tangible impact. When we explain how we track the financial contribution of a client to a specific project that would not have existed without their support, we can usually satisfy these concerns. And compared to eight years ago, fewer people reject the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Do you think there should be more support at industry level?
Yes, although I acknowledge the support of MYBA and certain yacht brokers and managers who already spread the word. But we need to broaden the proposition beyond Yacht Carbon Offset – there is a greater general need to make greener choices.
In a world that demands perfection there is no place for pollution, and it’s my belief that today’s superyachts should adopt the highest environmental standards as a matter of course. The default position must be to take all possible steps to minimise environmental impact, and the cost is minimal. “I can’t afford it” is the wrong answer!
You suggested that you’d like to see the option of yacht carbon offsetting included on preference sheets for owners and charterers – are you making headway with this?
Yes, but not enough. We’ve seen a lot of support from some of the brokers but it’s still not universal. Personally I believe it’s part of the day job of crew, just as much as understanding any other preference – you wouldn’t dream of not asking if anyone is vegetarian.
Many owners and guests would wish or expect their yacht to operate to the highest environmental standards, but to be able to offer yacht carbon offsetting, the captain, broker or management first need to know the owner’s position on environmental performance. Someone therefore needs to ask the question, and there’s always a crowded agenda for the owner. Our job is to make it as easy as possible for that person to relay the message and offer the owner this environmental upgrade.
Many owners and guests would automatically expect their yacht to operate to the highest environmental standards, but usually the captain, broker or management feel that they first need to know the principal’s position on environmental performance. So to get round this, someone needs to actually ask the question,
On a positive note, there is growing support within the industry and Yacht Carbon Offset recently agreed an initiative with Superyacht Tenders & Toys who will now offer carbon offsetting to clients purchasing tenders and toys with engines above 75hp.
With many more vessels afloat than superyachts, do cruise lines offset their carbon emissions?
Yes. Very large operators have their own carbon teams at a corporate level. Of course it’s more difficult for a private individual, in terms of know-how and what’s involved, and this is where Yacht Carbon Offset can help.
Beyond leisure, with 90% of worldwide trade being transported by the shipping industry, are there any voluntary initiatives in that sector?
Yes. A few initiatives are driven by association with the brand of a particular customer. As well as doing something concrete it can also be positive PR, for example in the automotive industry.
What has most surprised you?
I respect the decision of any participating yachts to keep their carbon offset programme confidential but I’m surprised just how many prefer not to go public. But that’s fine, the key thing is that they have taken action and done something positive.
Who do you most admire in the world of business/yachting, who has inspired or influenced you?
I was saddened by the passing of Ed Dubois earlier this year, who had been kind enough to encourage me on several occasions as I established Yacht Carbon Offset. His tremendous skill as a designer is evident in the aesthetics of Twizzle and Como (now Lady May) to pick just two, and I will also remember his friendliness and social responsibility.
What does the future of yachting look like from an environmental perspective?
We’re already seeing that environmental priorities have steadily climbed the ladder – yacht owners are increasingly aware of the environment and there’s also more awareness among regulatory bodies, locally and globally.
We have a younger generation of yacht owners coming through, and their brands and their companies are driven by different environmental priorities. Change is also driven by design and environmental performance is continually improving.
In view of the wider public, superyachts are an easy target for all the reasons we know, and the per capita impact is also high compared to passenger vessels. Superyachts are also getting bigger, so it’s important that people take these extra steps wherever possible to maintain a better overall balance.
Which is your favourite yacht and why?
Velsheda, because I used to play on her as a small boy when she was in a mud-berth in the Hamble River. It’s great to see the renaissance of the J class fleet.
Which is your favourite destination?
I always look forward to visiting Antigua for the charter show, and keep promising myself that I will explore the island more fully, hopefully by sail! I’d also love to visit the Maldives, New Caledonia and the Galapagos Islands.
What is your motto?
When you step off your $$yacht, someone will be there to offer you a glass of champagne, a cup of tea, some iced water; an unexpressed need. Superyachting is all about meeting peoples’ unexpressed needs as well as doing what is expressly asked for; this is the art of delivering superlative service. Just as a good captain knows his boss - know your client.
Superyacht Tenders & Toys Offers Yacht Carbon Offset