7 May 2018

Inside the industry: Sustainable ports – no longer a vision of the future

In today’s world, business is not just about earning money anymore. Companies have realised that their mission goes beyond their core business and rather includes taking responsibility for the social and environmental effects of their activities as well.


Sea port operators are a prime example for this development. Because they play an important role in local communities, they are turning more and more to the concept of operating as a “sustainable port”. This concept aims to reduce a port’s impact on the environment, operate sustainably and address impacts on society, whilst also emphasising the economic viability of port strategies.

As part of a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme, ports integrate a three-tier model comprising economic, environmental and societal considerations into their strategy definition, making for sustainable supply chain management, as Prof. Michele Acciaro, Associate Professor of Maritime Logistics at Kühne Logistics University illustrates in his paper “Corporate Responsibility in the Port Sector: The Institutional Theory Perspective” (available here).

One of the most visible part of this programme is the environmental aspect. The movement of cargo from A to B is attached to pollution from vessel and cargo handling and to congestion from the use of hinterland transport networks, which are often linked to negative impacts of infrastructure developments and operations in ports.



Focus on innovation

One way for ports to balance environmental challenges with economic performance, is to engage in innovation and research – and the development of power facilities, electric charging systems and bunkering facilities for alternative fuels are good examples, which also illustrate the close link between sustainable ship operations and activities inside the port.


High voltage shore connection unit on ULCV

High voltage shore connection unit on ULCV


When using onshore power supply (OPS) facilities in ports, which are also known as cold ironing or alternative marine power, ships can turn off their engines and connect to the electricity grid to power ships. Traditionally, this power has been provided by auxiliary engines that emit carbon dioxide (CO2) as well as air and noise pollutants. These emissions affect local air quality and the health of both port workers and residents close to the port.

As the International Transport Forum (ITF) describes in its report “Decarbonising Maritime Transport. Pathways to zero-carbon shipping by 2035” (available here), OPS facilities emit zero CO2 if the electricity is generated carbon-free. OPS is already mandatory in California, whilst EU core ports will need OPS or LNG bunkering facilities in place by 2025 and other countries are following the trend.

Regarding terminal operations, efficient business procedures obviously minimise environmental impacts. Other options to decrease emissions of terminal activities include wind-power as a source for gantry cranes, lightning, refrigerated container units and other needs. Retrofitting and converting Rubber-Tire Gantry Cranes (RTGs) with hybrid electrification of formerly diesel-powered fleets contributes to lowering CO2 emissions, too.


Hamburg port's wind turbines

Hamburg port's wind turbines


Reducing a ship's waiting time in the port or at anchorage before being handled contributes to reducing energy consumption and thus emissions inside the port as well, too. A smooth ship-port interface would require flexible planning, better collaboration and data exchange between all parties involved, including terminal operators, port authorities and port service providers such as pilotage and towage. Digitalisation of cargo and real-time schedules can enable such a smoothening of the ship-port interface and provides a positive impact on service provision.

The dialogue between a wide range of stakeholders is key when it comes to implementing this kind of technology cost-effectively, as it is linked to ordering new vessels and the planning of new quays, for example. Port expansion affect the local community, which is one of the reasons why they play such a crucial role in ports’ sustainability programmes.


Engaging the local community

Furthermore, local communities are increasingly asking to be informed about what kind of cargo passes through a respective port – and about possible environmental risks that might be associated with port operations.

Consequently, ports need to interact with the local communities and the public opinion, whilst catering to customers and port users at the same time. Bringing the local communities closer to the harbour is a popular way to engage the public, as demonstrated by the famous “Hafengeburtstag” (port birthday) in Hamburg, for example.

The Contship Italia Group’s Porto Lab is another good example of how important it is to engage a port’s local community (www.portolab.it). However, this is just one part of the company’s CSR activities, as Contship Italia is very much committed to operating in an environmentally sustainable way. Italy’s leading supply chain partner focuses on increasing energy efficiency, reducing noise impact and safeguarding air quality, as highlighted in its first CSR report. Contship, starting 2005, is a supporting partner of SOS LOGistica (www.sos-logistica-org), the Association for Sustainable Logistics, which recently launched the first trademark on Sustainable Supply Chain processes and organization, linked to a protocol elaborated in cooperation with Lloyd’s Register. More info are available here.


SOS Logistic Logo


There is still a lot to be done by ports around the world to act in a properly sustainable manner, but many players are increasing their efforts to comply. With national and international regulations becoming stricter, a sustainable port will be the preferred trade partner of the future.



This article is part of CS WINdow, Contship Italia Group's quarterly newsletter, featuring insights on the global supply chain, with a focus on European intermodal logistics. You can subscribe to learn more:

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