In late August each year, more than 100 boat dealers gather in Kelowna, British Columbia, to test new models developed by Canada’s largest boat manufacturer, Campion Marine Inc. Before these dealers place orders, they place judgment: How will a fiberglass hull perform when it’s whipping across Lake Okanagan at 60 mph? How will panels hold up to the freezing winter?

These dealers are under the gun and under the microscope. Their customers crave “runalongs” that cut through the water, with laminates that won’t crack. So when Campion’s dealers come to Kelowna, they literally mean business – and there’s no shortage of testosterone. Which makes this interesting: Some of Campion’s hardest-won dealers love chatting about soybeans and corn.

In 2010, Campion introduced two ready-for-market powerboats made with resin formulated from soybean oil and corn-based ethanol, rather than from conventional petroleum. Campion’s leaders, renowned for their boatbuilding precision and innovation, expected to field questions from dealers about the decision to “go green.” Earlier, one Campion designer had joked that if the boats didn’t perform well during testing, at least the boats could be eaten.

But after two years of vigorous in-the-lab and on-the-water testing beginning in 2008, Campion’s leaders believed in the resin – Envirez 86300 T-25 from Columbus, Ohio-based Ashland Performance Materials.

To them, reducing a carbon footprint was nice – 38,000 pounds of the product would yield a reduction of 16,600 pounds of carbon release, and that same batch would require 1,815 fewer gallons of crude oil than petroleum-based resin. But ensuring excellent quality was necessary: Envirez exhibited the same hardness as Campion’s regular petro-based resin, stood up well to UV light, passed stringent water absorption tests and seemed less likely to fracture because hull panels were a bit more flexible.

Campion is now building all 37 of its boat models (ranging from 16 to 30 feet) with Envirez, says Brock Elliott, Campion’s general manager. Recently, the company received one of Boating magazine’s first Eco Awards, in part because of its commitment to using bio-based resin for all new boat construction.

Toward Sustainability and Transparency

More composites manufacturers are creating and marketing environmentally friendly products, as architects and building designers are incentivized to use sustainable materials and methods. Meanwhile, many organizations of all kinds are embracing the “triple bottom line” of sustainability – healthy communities, the natural environment and economic vitality (“people, planet and profits”). Bio-resins are on the periphery of that push, suggest the people who develop and market them.