Sustainability can be defined as ‘the avoidance of the depeletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance’.

In a fast pace and continuously evolving industry like yachting, it is to no surprise that we are seeing more and more companies searching for, developing, selling and promoting ‘sustainable’ products. But, is the industry making headway in its efforts to make yachting a more sustainable sector or there still a long way to go with crucial mistakes still being made?

We recently spoke with Jeroen Wats, Founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Exo Technologies Limited, to find out more about the need for sustainable solutions within the yachting industry.

Leaving the corporate world, Jeroen decided to follow his dream of working in the yachting industry, where he quickly realised that there was a need for more efficient and sustainable solutions than ever before.

In August 2018 he co-founded ExoTechnologies, a company whose primary focus is to accelerate sustainability, pioneer resource efficiency and accelerate the green transition to a circular economy.

In an exclusive Q&A, Jeroen puts the ecological magnifying glass on the yachting industry, highlighting the current issues, possible solutions and why it is the ultimate race against time towards achieving a greener future.

Q: Sustainability – what does it mean and where does the concept currently sit within the yachting industry?

Sustainability is in fashion, which is great news! However, with this movement, a new threat pops up.

The word ‘Sustainability’ is often misused for sales and marketing purposes.

I have witnessed shipyards with electric propulsion vessels share videos every day on Linkedin, as well other social media platforms, calling them their ‘sustainable story’, yet each boat leaving their mold is an ecological time bomb.

We regularly see shipyards that just offer an electric propulsion, refer to it as a sustainable vessel. That is not sustainable; they are ‘zero-emission’ vessels. Yet as a result, we find people buying into a sustainable product, which in fact is not even close to being sustainable.

Despite the green image of yachting, the majority of the yachting industry is in a status-quo towards sustainability.

Q: Explain resource efficiency – why is it so important?

The insatiable global demand for natural resources is having a detrimental impact on our planet and exacerbating the prevailing global climate crisis. It has also stimulated significant investment in ‘resource efficiency’.

Resource efficiency means using the planet’s limited natural resources in a sustainable manner while minimising the impact on the environment. It allows humankind to create more with less and to deliver greater value with less input.

Europe 2020 Strategy, the EU’s growth strategy for a smart, inclusive and sustainable economy, supports the shift towards sustainable growth via a resource-efficient, low-carbon economy.

Q: What do you believe is stopping the industry from moving quicker towards the creation and implementation of more ecological end-products?

With a growing awareness for ecological threats, the world is definitely moving in a direction of renewable sources, sustainable solutions and zero-carbon policies – but there is still a long, long way left to go!

Since the industrial revolution, we have been stuck in a continuous cycle where we use whatever resource(s) we want from our planet, produce it into something, dispose of it at the end of its life and then repeat the same story over and over again; all whilst piling up landfills and plundering our world’s natural resources.

Did you know that in 10 years’ time, there will be no landfill space left? 10 years!

It is time to change course, bending from a linear to a circular economy. Using more sustainable materials with an end of life solution.

So why are Glass Reinforced Plastic (‘GRP’) producers still in a status-quo towards sustainability?

There are quite a number of small-scale sustainable projects popping-up, which I applaud however, the big players remain like ostriches, burying their head in the sand and hiding away from reality in many ways.

With current innovations, it is completely unnecessary to build products in GRP. However, if there is nobody rapping the knuckles of manufacturers, or no producers having to pay big fines or damages, is this going to change? To use a good cliché: “Comfort is the biggest enemy of progress”.

Q: What do you think needs to happen to encourage shipyards to incorporate more green solutions?

Every boat that comes out of a mould is a mix of toxic resins and pollutant fibres and there are little to no solutions for what to do with them at end of life.

I have been calling out to a few maritime organisations to ask for an independent platform that gives a green label to the shipyards who are investigating, investing, developing and making a transition in eco-composites, zero-reduced or zero-emission propulsion systems, energy used at the shipyard etc.

The marine industry has CE certification audits, ISO audits, so why not an independent Green Audit where meeting certain requirements gives a green label to a certain model / range / shipyard, which actually deserves it.

I believe the industry needs something like this and the clients buying boats needs to be correctly informed what they are buying into.

Q: When was it that you realised that you wanted to make a change in the industry?

Building yachts has always been a childhood dream of mine.

When I entered the yachting industry, I started to learn more and more about the environmental threats of yacht building and soon realised that I had become part of a polluting industry.

Crossing oceans and continents and witnessing the beauty of our planet, it became clear that the more boats we built in a traditional way, the more it would affect life on land and pile up landfills in unacceptable numbers.

I realised that although I was achieving my dream and doing something amazing, I was doing something bad at the same time. When awareness, consciousness and serious concerns about the environment became obvious, I did not want to be part of the pollution, but part of the solution.

It was then that I decided to take another course and convert my experiences from the past into a sustainable future for yachting.

I strongly believe in setting examples in creating a movement. You cannot tell your children to eat veggies while you take a bite of your Big Mac.

Q: So how is that you intend to make a difference in the yachting industry?

I have been active in the yachting industry for a long time now and have made it my mission to make a change towards a sustainable and circular way of working.

Why? Simply because we cannot continue the way we are.

Historically, we have been using polluting materials to build yachts with no solution for them at their end of life. Did you know?…

• 250,000 tons of fibreglass is disposed in landfill every year, just in the EU;

• Between 2003 and 2012 over 1.500.000 recreational boats were ‘retired’ in the US inevitably ending up in landfill; and

• Over the next 20 years, 720,000 tons of wind turbine blades will inevitably end up in landfill

… These are a few examples and frankly, they are just the tip of the iceberg.

In 2017, the Marine Industry, in conjunction with METS, estimated that worldwide, somewhere between 35 to 40 million boats are now approaching the end of their life. The challenge is that no one wants to touch them because there is no money to be made in scrapping old boats. Right now, the vast majority of old boats are simply cut up and buried in landfill. But with literally tens of millions of boats headed for the dump over the next several years, and each hull having the potential to leech a variety of toxic chemicals like formaldehyde into the ground water, end-of-life boats represent a growing problem.

With these figures in mind, we began researching sustainable, circular and affordable solutions.

For the last two years, I have put all my energy into two of my passions – Yachting and Nature – subsequently, spending a number of years breaking my head (and test panels) on ways in which we can stop making ecological time bombs without an end of life solution, and bend this linear economy into a circular one.

It was through this process, our team created our patented DANU™ composite.

Q: Tell us more about DANU™ composite?

There are many sustainable and circular solutions invented to keep materials in the economy and out of landfill. However, the biggest challenge to break through is making these sustainable products accessible and economically viable.

Currently, there are only a select group of people is a position to pay for these circular and sustainable products.

DANU™ Composite is made out sustainable and styrene free materials, which allows us to make it into something but at end of life, we can also down-cycle, recycle or up-cycle it into something inferior, equal or superior…and we can do that over, and over, and over again!

In other words, the materials stay in the economy and out of the landfill.

Carbon fiber has the technical property of being light and extremely rigid. Good elements for a racing vessel as the energy of hull flexibility is transformed into extra boat speed. However being so rigid, surfing over 25kts boat speed hanging on a foil, the effect of hitting a UFO (Unidentified Floating Object) results in catastrophic damage in a split second. Carbon fiber stays forever in landfill and there is no solution for these vessels at their end of life.

But what if you can make boats light, stiff and sustainable. DANU composite has a wide spectrum of mechanical properties, including many of those in carbon fibre territory but with more flexibility. It is therefore perfect for wind turbine blades, the answer for racing yachts up to 40’ and I believe the solution to the entire GRP world.

It is never too late to change but we have to change now – for ourselves, future generations and all living creatures on this planet.

The world is an amazing place but we need to treasure it, not trash it.

Are you ready to make sense of your future?

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