For a long time, little was heard from the Beneteau Group about new technologies, sustainable approaches and the use of new ecological materials. Finally, at the Cannes Yachting Festival 2022, Gianguido Girotti, Beneteau’s Deputy CEO and Chief Executive Officer of its Boat division, presented the new sustainability strategy of the world’s largest leisure boat builder.
With the comprehensive concept, the shipyard group aims to make the entire manufacturing process more sustainable over the next 10 years. Together with French resin manufacturer Arkema, Beneteau has developed a prototype First 44 that will be fully recyclable. This is the beginning of an extensive transition – internationally and in all segments. float spoke with Gianguido Girotti personally about the plans of the boat industry giant.
Gianguido Girotti, CEO of the Boat Development Division © Beneteau
float: Gianguido, you have developed a new recyclable material together with Arkema. What is it all about?
Guianguido Girotti: Our main focus is on the fiberglass composite. Until now, no composite material could be heated and both components (fibers and resin) separated again afterwards. We chose Elium from Arkema, a resin that allows us to be 100% recyclable.
How does Beneteau work with Arkema?
We have contracted to fit the new Elium resin into our manufacturing processes. Each partner has their expertise. Not every resin behaves the same in processing. So we have to adjust series production accordingly. That’s not an easy task.
Is bio-based material also used?
We only use biofibers in some small, non-load-bearing parts, for cabinets, for example. Here we use bio-based resins with hemp fibers. These fibers have the advantage of growing quickly and locally. From a global sustainability point of view, this is very interesting.
In recent years Beneteau co-funded the Arkema trimaran. This involved design and materials research findings for the processing of the Elium resin in series production, right?
Yes. With the trimaran (which very successfully takes part in the current Route du Rhum race) we wanted to know how to develop a process that we could scale up to the whole system. We don’t just want to build a single boat sustainably. We want to make the entire production chain sustainable. Our main goal is to industrialize the new process and find the right ways in industrial adaptation.
How does the manufacturing process with Elium resin differ from the known process?
You can’t simply replace conventional resin with Elium resin. We have to integrate it exactly into the manufacturing process. The manufacturing process itself is based on our joint development with Arkema, and of course we don’t disclose that. At the Paris Boat Show 2022, we will have our own booth on sustainability at Beneteau Group and we will be able to say more.
The new Beneteau First 44 is now also available sustainably © Beneteau
The first boat made of fiberglass and Elium resin is the Beneteau First 44. The hull and deck are already finished, and the interior is currently being built. Will the boat be ready for the Paris Boat Show and presented there?
Yes, it will. We have managed to achieve the same weight as the conventional boat and the same mechanical properties. I am very happy about that. We will keep the First 44 in St. Gilles [in the Vendée; float] to show the press that the boat has the same performance and behavior as a „normal“ boat.
We will also see the first sustainable First 44 at boot Düsseldorf 2023?
Yes. The First 44 will be presented for the first time in Paris and then be on display at boot Düsseldorf.
What about the production facilities in Poland? Are you going to change the process there as well?
Yes. Among other things, we are building Delphia in Poland, which is a particularly sustainable electric boat. From 2024, it should be fully electric. We are also thinking about using Elium resin here. We’re tuning the whole process, but Delphia will be at the forefront – alongside the sailboats.
The Delphia 11 is designed as an electric boat © Delphia
How will that be received by customers?
I think we have to take responsibility as a shipyard. If you’re a leader, you have to live up to your responsibility. We are really serious about being sustainable.
There is a change in the mindset of boaters. There is now a much higher awareness of protecting the oceans and waters. Four years ago these would have been early adopters, but today this attitude is already normal.
That’s a very big transformation process …
Yes, it is a long process. It’s not just us who are involved here. We buy a lot of things: machines, technology, components. We therefore also want to know: What is the CO2 footprint of our suppliers? Where are the biggest CO2 burdens in the entire process?
Changing production sustainably is a lengthy process © Beneteau
In what time frame is Beneteau thinking?
It will take at least 10 years to convert the entire process. We have also been reviewing supplier production for some time. When it comes to wood, we don’t make any compromises that could have a bad impact on the forests. We only use material from suppliers who have an ecological approach, own the land themselves and reforest it so they don’t overuse the ecological cycle.
What about teak?
The situation in Burma is forcing us to find new solutions. We are switching to alternative solutions. We have invested 1.5 million Euros in a machine that produces synthetic teak. The next big step is recycling individual pieces. We are questioning all processes. It goes all the way into design.
How many employees are involved in this conversion process at Beneteau?
It’s an extensive development and innovation process. In design, marketing and production, we have around 350 people working on it. In different ways, everyone is involved at the end.
How big is the sustainability team?
The team that is intensively involved consists of about 50 people. These are experts from the various fields. We don’t build a single prototype, we rethink the entire design and manufacturing process! That’s why it is a big project and it is integrated more and more into the group process.