For the past four years, Yacht Carbon Offset has provided environmentally minded megayacht owners and crews the ability to balance greenhouse gas emissions by contributing to eco-focused projects around the world. Mark Robinson, the founder of Yacht Carbon Offset, as well as independent firms verify the operations do indeed focus on preserving the environment. These are among the reasons why Yacht Carbon Offset received the International Superyacht Society’s new Fabien Cousteau Blue Award last month.
In this Megayacht News Leadership Series interview, Robinson explains why he founded the organization, plus how it operates. Equally important, he explains how megayacht managers, owners, crew, and charterers alike can feel confident that carbon offsetting through Yacht Carbon Offset is a benefit.
Q: What inspired you to create Yacht Carbon Offset?
A: Carbon offsetting—balancing your greenhouse gas emissions with equivalent emissions reductions from approved projects—is an established environmental strategy in many sectors, from transport to hotels and leisure to financial services. Sometimes it is adopted as a matter of principle or part of a corporate social responsibility program, sometimes as part of a customer proposition. But in 2007 it was rare in yachting.
Working as a financial analyst in the utilities and energy industry, I was familiar with the impact carbon funding has on renewable power projects, and with carbon offsetting as a source of this funding. A family member has been a professional in the yachting industry for over 20 years, so I had followed the evolution of superyachts as an interested observer. The inspiration for Yacht Carbon Offset was simply a conversation combining these two—questioning what a superyacht owner would require to begin a carbon-offset policy. I realized that the requirements of this rather special group of clients were not fully met by “mainstream” carbon offset providers, and that this represented a new business opportunity.
It has been, and still is, a fascinating journey, and I’ve met many friends. The fact that so many yachts have chosen to participate in this entirely discretionary service despite very tough economic conditions proves that many owners and charterers do wish to balance their carbon footprint.
Q: How do you choose the projects you support?
A: We begin from our clients’ requirement for the highest levels of quality. Specifically, we need to be sure about three aspects of each project before we select it. Firstly, the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions must be properly quantified using an approved methodology. Secondly, the project must have clearly demonstrated “additionality”—that it could only proceed as a direct result of the carbon funding. Finally, the emissions reductions over the project’s operating period must be properly monitored and audited so that the correct number of carbon credits are issued to an approved registry.
In addition to these fundamentals, I personally evaluate the documentation for each project so that I am satisfied that our quality requirements are met, and I also take into consideration a mix of green-energy technologies and geographic location.
We do rely on third parties to audit the projects themselves. This is a key part of the independent verification process that enables high-quality carbon credits to be sold by the project owner. For example, our recent projects have been approved by Det Norske Veritas, SGS, and First Environment. The approved audit organizations in each country have local experts that visit each plant. They review the output data, the monitoring equipment, and documentary records to validate the carbon savings that have been achieved. In our judgment, this is the correct approach. We could not carry out this task ourselves with the same degree of rigor or local knowledge.
Q: A few programs offer carbon credits, but some consumers remain skeptical about where the money goes. Can you give two or three examples of specific projects Yacht Carbon Offset supports?
A: It is important to be discerning when selecting a carbon-offset provider. We follow three principles. First, we list all the projects supported by the offset program on our website—for example, a wastewater treatment and biogas recovery plant in Thailand, a small run-of-river hydro-electric power station in Brazil, and a geothermal electricity generation plant in Guatemala. Secondly, we have an external audit across our entire service-delivery process in order to maintain our Lloyds Register Quality Assurance Certification—and captains and yacht managers will know that this is a serious undertaking. Thirdly, we identify which fuel or energy quantities been offset as part of a yacht’s environmental-management procedures, so that the scope of the owner’s action is clear.
Q: How does Yacht Carbon Offset work with yachts to determine their carbon emissions? Related to this, how does your company determine an equivalent offset?
A: Yachts need a flexible approach. Sometimes a charter broker needs to offset the fuel requirement for a fortnight’s cruise by a celebrity or eco-conscious family. Other times, a captain or yacht manager will want to present a carbon-offset program for the year during the budget discussions. Some of our clients administer their offset program in parallel with each fuel delivery.
We keep it simple. The process starts by the customer telling us how much fuel is to be included in their offset. We respond with a quotation for approval. The beauty of basing our methodology on the quantity and type of marine fuel is that we can respond to this with a pay-as-you-go service, offsetting any amount of fuel, large or small, for any type of yacht, commercial or private. This also helps when a rapid turn-around is required (e.g. for a charter), since there is no need to visit the yacht. I’m keen to beat our current record of 40 minutes to complete a carbon offset following first contact from the captain—and that includes waiting for payment!
The calculation of the greenhouse gas emissions (in tons of carbon dioxide equivalent) follows a detailed procedure based on the fuel properties and emission factors. Where the yacht wishes to include the emissions related to shore-power supplies, then we also need to know where the power was taken, since the generation mix in each country is different. Then, to achieve the offset, we balance the yacht’s emissions ton for ton, with emissions savings achieved by the carbon-saving projects. We do this by buying and retiring the required number of carbon credits from our selected projects. These retirements are recorded through the international carbon-trading registries and are regularly reviewed as part of our Lloyds Register Quality Assurance audits.
Q: Do you provide any type of certification or other documentation to the yachts—or even documents that charter clients of participating yachts can review?
A: Yacht Carbon Offset issues a unique, auditable certificate for each transaction, detailing the fuel or other energy that has been included in the offset, and identifying the vessel, including the IMO number if available. The certificate can then be further customized with a caption and supporting comment. In other words, the certificate can be made out to the vessel itself, or to a named charter client for their holiday in St Barth’s, or it can be presented as a gift from the captain to a favored guest; the customer is free to choose. We are always happy to provide any additional documentation required by the yacht—for example, details of individual projects, brochures in various languages, or briefing notes to help explain the service to those onboard.
Looking ahead, as more and more destinations become sensitive to environmental performance of visiting yachts, proper evidence of operational practices will become ever more important. In the meantime, it is also helpful to have an external signal of environmental leadership, which is why we invite our customers to fly a flag (pictured above), which has been seen from Fort Lauderdale to the Maldives, from Newport to the UAE.