A matter of perspective?
With the homogenisation of sustainable practices being the goal, should we stop fixating on the rationale?
In recent years there has been a marked improvement in the ways that the superyacht community, owners, guests and businesses alike, engage with sustainability. However, there will always be those who choose to view acts of sustainability through the lens of cynicism. Should the why really matter though if it supports the more rapid homogenisation of sustainable technologies and practices?
I was speaking with an industry peer recently about the increasingly large number of owners and guests that are choosing to engage in sustainable initiatives on board, whether that is photographing wildlife and sharing the images with the scientific community, removing plastic bottles from on board the vessel or engaging with local charities. He agreed that these instances were indeed happening in increasingly large numbers, but he questioned why they were happening.
When people choose to be cynical about the good deeds of the rich, two counterarguments are levied with alarming regularity. Firstly, people like to point out that the wealthy are ‘obviously’ using the occasion to use sustainable developments or initiatives as a form of positive PR. Secondly, people like to claim that good deeds are done as a means of clearing the conscience or creating moral superiority over one's peers. But, have people become too concerned about the why rather than the what?
If an owner chooses to remove plastic bottles from their vessel because they think it will encourage charter guests to rent the vessel or because they think it will look good in the media, have at it. The more people that engage in sustainable initiatives, whether minor or major, the better. If allowing scientists on board to tag sharks makes someone feel better about their own impact on the environment, or it otherwise encourages them to talk to their other wealthy friends about it, crack on. Every sustainable act or initiative is a step in the right direction, regardless of its perspective.
During a research project that we conducted in 2020, we discovered that only 50 per cent of captains believed that the owners of the superyachts they worked on genuinely had an interest in making superyachts greener. However, we discovered that many more had an interest in silent, emission & vibration-free cruising. In essence, 50 per cent were not fans of sustainability, but more than 50 per cent were fans of sustainable technologies and the other benefits conferred therein. Does it matter why an owner would want to use hybrid propulsion? Not really. Should it matter why owners may choose to use sustainable propulsion systems in the future? I’d argue not. Every propulsion system that includes an element of sustainability is a step in the right direction.
When being cynical about the good deeds of the rich, whether they are owners or charter guests, it is always extremely tempting to tarnish all UHNWIs with the same brush. If the family patriarch made his billions from oil, then the children must be equally complicit and, therefore, they could not possibly have a genuine interest in the environment.
Truthfully, I think people like to imagine the ultra-wealthy as PR machines whose only interest is in accumulating wealth and their self-image because it makes them feel more justified in their jealousy. I wonder how many readers of this article have engaged in a charitable act as a means of clearing their own conscience or bolstering brand equity, but who will also quite happily fail to recycle food in their own home or who choose to use a taxi rather than using far more energy and cost-efficient public transport?
My argument is this. People need to stop being so cynical about the reasons behind sustainable deeds when every sustainable act is a step towards homogenisation of sustainable practices on board superyachts. The more common these acts become, the more deep routed they become in the industry, regardless of why they were done in the first place.
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