Vessel Environmental Footprint (VEF)
Author: Laura Ullius
Given that our current way of living is causing climate change, the loss of biodiversity and habitat for many species, pollution and ocean acidification, among other negative environmental impacts, it is becoming increasingly important to measure and reduce our environmental footprint.
An environmental footprint refers to “the effect that a person, company, activity, etc. has on the environment, for example the amount of natural resources that they use and the amount of harmful gasses that they produce” (Cambridge Dictionary).
Given their high environmental impact, the leisure nautical sector, including yacht and sailboat charter companies, should also calculate and reduce their environmental footprint. This will help the nautical industry transition towards a sustainable future and provide customers with a green travel option.
Some of the harmful substances yachts emit are carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, particulate matter (a mixture of airborne particles and liquid droplets made up of several hazardous materials), carbon monoxide, and non-methane volatile organic compounds. In addition to the emissions yachts and sailboats create, their environmental footprint can be further exacerbated by irresponsible black and greywater discharges, noise disturbances which affect marine wildlife, littering and not recycling waste, using toxic antifouling paints, and anchoring in sensitive ecosystems, like seagrass meadows.
Green Sail’s Vessel Environmental Footprint (VEF)
Green Sail has recently developed a way for yacht charter companies to measure their environmental footprint. This first-of-its-kind Vessel Environmental Footprint (VEF), which was verified by scientists from the Institute for Tourism in Croatia, helps vessels determine their footprint and also acts as a rating system, indicating the sustainability level of each vessel.
The VEF measures emissions and sustainability actions onboard a boat, resulting in a rating out of 5. This rating indicates the impact the vessel has on the environment, with 1 indicating a vessel that produces a significant environmental footprint, and 5 a sustainable vessel that actively mitigates its impact on the environment.
The system works to reduce the impact the yacht charter industry has on the environment, allowing customers to make informed decisions that support green initiatives.
How is the rating calculated?
In order to measure the overall environmental footprint of a vessel, Green Sail measures four key areas:
- Emissions produced onboard
- Power usage
- Water usage
- Waste produced onboard
Furthermore, Green Sail also takes into consideration elements that are able to offset or reduce the environmental impact, for example antifouling processes, whether there are renewable energy sources onboard (such as solar panels and water makers) and recycling facilities. The age of the vessel, how frequently it is used and how it is used (i.e. charter or leisure) are also considered in the VEF system.
Vessel Environmental System Rating - The Process
Yacht Charter companies can therefore use organizations like Green Sail for the VEF calculation. But what are the benefits of such an undertaking?
- Increased revenue
Many sustainable products and services are more expensive than conventional ones due to lower demand, the high cost of raw materials, higher wages for employees, and expensive certifications, among others. This means that sustainable companies can charge more for their products or services. At the same time, more and more consumers are willing to pay higher prices for sustainable products/services according to recent studies, resulting in increased revenue for companies investing in sustainability.
- Improved label reputation
Having a sustainable label will improve a company’s reputation, as customers will trust the company and their initiatives. Particularly environmentally-friendly customers will support a label that aligns with their own pro-environmental values.
- Improved brand credibility
Calculating a VEF will help businesses with their credibility, as merely marketing their sustainable initiatives without having the data to back them up can amount to little more than greenwashing (without evidence, customers have no way to know whether a company is greenwashing or not).
- Reduced operating costs
By using renewable energy like solar-, hydro- or wind power, companies can save money in the long run by not having to continuously pay for fossil fuels. While the installation of solar panels and other renewable energy sources might be more expensive at first, the savings will pay off long term. For example, the Icelandic whale-watching sailboat Ópal (the world’s first retrofitted plugin hybrid sailboat) saves 21.300 Euros every year in energy costs with an electric engine that can regenerate its battery while sailing.
Similarly, reusing products rather than buying them new will also save costs, for example by using recycled materials for furniture on board or by using second-hand engine parts that still work like new.
- Improved supply chain flow
By assessing one’s environmental impact, including those of the suppliers a company works with, companies can see where environmental impacts can be reduced. This will improve the sustainability of their supply chain.
- Improved product offering
VEF assessments can help customers ascertain the quality of the products and services that they are purchasing regarding environmental impacts. The rating system can serve as a testament to the high quality of the products and services in question when it comes to sustainability.
- Ensures consumer environmental demands are met
A continuously growing number of pro-environmental customers will be pleased to have their demands met by sustainable companies. For example, a 71% increase in Google searches worldwide since 2016 for sustainable products and services highlights that sustainability plays an increasingly important role for consumers.
- Improved company culture
Companies that voluntarily conduct a VEF assessment may find that their employees will be more motivated to work for a company that has strong environmental ideals. A recent study for example found that employees working for companies with strong corporate social responsibility practices (strong values regarding social and environmental sustainability) were more intrinsically motivated to work. Employees working for sustainable companies have also been found to be more productive in a recent study. Recent research in Canada has also shown that employees were happier when working for businesses that have environmental and social sustainability as a major part of their business strategy.
- Develop an understanding of your carbon footprint & how to offset it
VEF assessments allow companies to gain an understanding of where and how they emit greenhouse gases, and what can be done to reduce, eliminate or offset their emissions.
Carbon offset projects should always be thoroughly researched before supporting them, however, as many projects are not transparent and do not actually store or eliminate carbon. Offsetting should therefore come as a last resort for emissions that cannot be reduced or eliminated by other means.
- Improved transparency
Having a VEF assessment will improve a company’s transparency, as claims made about a company’s sustainability efforts will be backed by hard evidence from the assessment. This will consequently strengthen customers’ trust in the company.
- Stay ahead of environmental legislation
While many environmental impact assessments such as Green Sail’s VEF are currently done on a voluntary basis, this will likely change in the future, with governments requiring sustainable measures to be implemented by companies. Staying ahead of such legislation will give companies the time they need to adapt their businesses and will give them a competitive edge over businesses that have not adopted any sustainability measures so far.
- Be a part of the shift towards a sustainable nautical industry
The nautical leisure industry has many negative environmental impacts on the environment, particularly in the Mediterranean. Implementing a VEF assessment is the first step in shifting towards a sustainable nautical industry. Sharing one’s efforts within the community will inspire other companies to take initiative as well!
If you are interested in rating your vessel through Green Sail, get in touch with us here!