Whereas the previous decade was characterised by a gradual shift away from conspicuous consumption and into the realms of more moral consumption, it is looking increasingly likely that the next decade will be defined by woke consumption. It is now considered fashionable, and even cool, to be socially and environmentally conscious and engaged. However, this movement towards environmentalism, social equality and animal rights seems to have created the illusion that people are no longer egotistical and competitive.
People have not changed so fundamentally in the last 10 years that they no longer like showing off; the only thing that may have changed is their values. Today, for certain UHNW circles, ego is no longer about who has the largest or fastest superyacht, it is about who has the smallest carbon footprint, uses the least plastic and avoids animal products – and their numbers are growing.
In the film 21 Jump Street (2014), the protagonists Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) return to high school as undercover officers trying to infiltrate and dismantle a drug-dealing operation. On arrival at the school, Jenko parks their large muscle car that does seven miles to the gallon in the disabled spot because Schmidt thinks it would make them look cool – only to discover that the most popular person at school drives a car that runs on biodiesel (when he isn’t able to ride his bike). Trivial as this example may seem, it highlights how the concept of sustainability and sensibility being desirable has moved far beyond society’s periphery.
In recent years, Giorgio Armani and Versace have stopped working with a number of controversial materials, including fur; Burberry has promised that it would stop incinerating unsold stock as a means of maintaining product value and, in 2019, LVMH, the owner of both Feadship and Princess Yachts, bought a stake in Stella McCartney’s fashion label, which is renowned for its use of sustainable materials. Indeed, in 2019 Feadship announced that it would be manufacturing superyachts that are carbon emissions-free by 2025.
Over the last five years in particular, we have seen the superyacht industry adapt to the idea that marketing should focus on the experiential elements of luxury. Enjoying a superyacht is no longer about speed, length and cost, it is about what you can do with the vessel, who you are choosing to do it with and what unique memories you are going to be able to create. Perhaps then, the next evolution of the superyacht marketing machine will focus on how environmentally significant a trip can be? How many sharks were tagged? How many beaches were cleaned? How little fuel was used? Which local populations received aid?
Society’s ego has not evaporated; it has just shifted focus and, fortunately, the superyacht market is shifting with it. More so than ever before, superyachts are incorporated into philanthropic endeavours. Whether it is the development and implementation of green technologies for new build or refit projects, or the idea that an owner or group of charter guests can contribute positively to the environment or local communities, more needs to be done to overtly explore these options with clients. As a market we need to work towards satisfying the environmental ego of the next generation of superyacht owners.
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