- Opinion - Is there still too much waste at boat shows?

By SuperyachtNews

Is there still too much waste at boat shows?

There have been some impressive green initiatives at boat shows this season, but there is still a long way to go…

The organisers of international boat shows have made some important strides when it comes to making their events more sustainable. From my perspective, this is by far the greenest show season that I’ve ever attended. However, while I do believe that the organisers deserve recognition for their efforts, I think there is still a very long way to go. 

Over the last month or so there has been a lot of encouraging news from businesses in yachting with ambitious promises of becoming more environmentally friendly. The industry events have served their purpose so far by championing sustainable initiatives and acting as a platform for an array of interesting debates and discussions. Although, to this point, I would argue that simply talking about sustainability is cheap and insufficient if it's done in a marina full of mostly unsustainable superyachts and floating plastic.

For the purpose of this article, I will exclude factoring in the carbon footprint of 35,000+ people travelling to various locations and staying in hotels as that warrants its own separate debate and conversation. For now, I would like to simply focus on plastic waste. It is striking, and depressing, to walk out of a press conference about sustainability and see so many overflowing bins and plastics floating in the water. Unfortunately, a lot of this waste is coming from the packaging used to deliver items to stands and the free branded tote bags full of relatively useless merchandise. There are also many B2B visitors that enter the show with flyers and brochures that mostly end up in the bins, this of course isn't the best form of marketing.

The Sea Bin project would be an immediate solution, albeit one reminiscent of leaving the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. If we are looking at the issue of plastic in the water, we should look at where it is coming from, firstly to assess whether or not it is biodegradable, and then to at least question who the potential culprits could be. 

In Monaco, SuperyachtNews spoke to Robert Van Tol, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Water Revolution Foundation about what could be improved. Van Tol explained, “First of all the show can do a better job of informing people about all the things they already do. I know they are doing several things such as the recycled carpet and the water stations but it would be good if there was a bit more communication about that. There are ways to improve though, there is still a lot of trash, a lot of giveaways, and a lot of plastic bottles, so I would like to do more work together with the show on the sustainability policy for exhibitors. That is not necessarily to be a burden but it would be more about inspiring people about the ways to come across as a more responsible company toward customers.”

Van Tol continues, “I still see a lot of plastic water bottles and coffee cups and those little things ruin the overall message of sustainability at the shows. It is the small things, but they are very symbolically important and they have a direct impact on the show...

"It would be good if they (the organisers) could take a clearer stand on it because I know for a fact that they are all looking into it.”

The sustainability hub at Monaco Yacht Show was a fantastic initial display of championing companies that provide innovative or tried-and-true eco-friendly solutions. The organisers of the show worked together with the Water Revolution Foundation to make sure that the companies involved met a set of very specific criteria that would allow them to exhibit in the area.

Initiatives like this do make a lot of difference, but not every boat show event is taking this on board. Over the course of the pandemic we didn’t have any boat shows, and financially speaking the industry had a record-breaking year. The superyacht industry has now returned to a full calendar year of events all over the world, and all of them are claiming to be bigger and more popular than ever before. I would argue that the industry would do well to rethink the traditional boat show circuit, it’s not enough to try and justify such a huge negative environmental impact by pointing toward a positive economic impact. 

Van Tol revealed the challenges that come with calculating the true impact of boat shows, “That depends on the scope. So, if you look at the event itself then obviously that has a huge footprint because so many people are travelling from all over the world, but that is also a negative impact that you can actually calculate...

"It's far more difficult to calculate the positive impact that showcasing new innovations and solutions is having.”

Van Tol explained further, “It is really important to highlight these positive innovations and inspire people that are looking for solutions. Hopefully, a lot of people will come away much more educated and they will go home and make changes to their daily work and life. If we can inspire and educate in a big way then it is justifying the impact of the physical show. It's not a goal in itself to have a sustainability area and showcase the products. It's about inspiring people to reduce waste and justify their visit, and if that translates into real solutions being implemented in their products, in their processes, that could justify the trade show and its impact, but it's really important to measure that and to report on it.” 

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Water Revolution Foundation

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