Young people, with their preference for experience over product and their commitment to environmental responsibility, are a major force driving the greening of the boating world.

The marine industry is continuing its march toward sustainability in response to consumer demand, regulations and increased efficiencies, and also because the industry depends on protecting its water and air.

The greener focus extends to factories, dealerships, marinas and emissions, and despite the need for an initial investment — such as Massachusetts-based Imtra’s decision to install solar panels and convert all of its building lights to LED — in many cases it pays off; Imtra now has a “modest revenue stream” from solar over-generation, says CEO Eric Braitmayer.

“I think there’ve been such dramatic improvements made over the past couple of decades that our industry is very clean,” says National Marine Manufacturers Association president Thom Dammrich. “The air quality in our factories is much better. Emissions in our factories are much better.”

But as a new generation comes of boating age, companies continue to push the envelope, and many of them are sure to include those younger voices in the process. At BRP, the Canada-based maker of Evinrude engines, millennials inside and outside the company are helping to influence a concerted push toward green technology, says Olivier Pierini, director of global marketing and strategic planning.

“[Millennials] are vocal, they have buying power, they have knowledge, so it’s actually pretty challenging for companies, but it’s also good because this is what makes you better,” says Pierini. “I’m a proponent of transparency and hard work and honesty because it pays off, always. With the work and research we’re doing now on internally rebranding, we took millennials into account more than you know. When it comes to brand and education and investments, we took into account millennials first because they are our current and next generation of customers, and they know lots of things.”

Studies Show …

A 2015 global online Nielsen study of 30,000 consumers found that millennials were willing to pay more for products and services from companies committed to a positive social and environmental impact — up from 55 percent in 2014 to 72 percent in 2015. “Brands that establish a reputation for environmental stewardship among today’s youngest consumers have an opportunity to not only grow market share but build loyalty among the power-spending millennials of tomorrow, too,” Grace Farraj, senior vice president of public development and sustainability at Nielsen, said in the report.

“But younger generations aren’t the only ones who say they care, so don’t abandon baby boomers in the quest for millennials,” the study is quick to point out, echoing the sentiment expressed in the 10 interviews we conducted with representatives from various sectors of the marine industry. More than half, 51 percent, of boomers ages 50 to 64 were willing to pay more for sustainable products, 7 percent more in 2015 than in 2014.

Thirteen percent more respondents — again, from all age groups — said they’d spend more on products from companies they know to be environmentally friendly, from 45 percent in 2014 to 58 percent in 2015. “I think that’s the trend,” Dammrich said. “Whether you’re a millennial or not, that’s the direction society is moving. I think we’ll continue to move in that direction.”

The shift does seem to be widening its reach across the boating industry. The British team in the 2017 America’s Cup and its partners have lent their support to an effort to use a robot to capture invasive lionfish in Bermuda, where the competition is being held, The New York Times reports. Last year, the British team’s skipper helped persuade teams to sign a sustainability charter that committed them to eliminating single-use plastics, avoiding water pollution, reusing materials and protecting marine habitats.

But some think millennials might push the trend more quickly — the group comprises a quarter of the Earth’s population, making them “a growing consumer force that businesses must reckon with,” stated another 2015 Nielsen report.

Millennials comprise about a third of what Nielsen calls “opinion elites — an influential subset of the public who are highly informed, engaged and active when it comes to social and business issues.” All members of the group want to buy from companies they perceive as “doing good,” but younger members define that differently — for older members of the group, that translated to philanthropy; among younger members, it meant companies that protected the environment.