Tell the carbon tale

22 Aug 2017
Calculation: the amount of fuel used translates directly into CO2 emissions

Calculation: the amount of fuel used translates directly into CO2 emissions

Ports must not delay making carbon calculations, explains Stevie Knight

The ports industry needs to voluntarily show it can give credible figures and tell a convincing story about its carbon footprint - if it can't it might find that it's forced to.

UN targets aim to stop the growth in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and reduce them by 60% by 2050, compared with 2010.

Conor Feighan of Feport says that most of its members are taking a proactive position on carbon footprinting, but with trade growth and lengthening supply chains, carbon accruing to transport sector is still rising, not falling.

So industry inactivity on reducing carbon might well lead to “a top down approach from the legislator”, he says. “The fundamental thing you have to ask is, do you want to be a leader or follower? Personally, I’d want to create something I can live with rather than someone else deciding it.”

Despite this, the apparently small contribution from terminals might have made certain operations think they could safely ignore the issue. Admittedly, for a box of Nike trainers delivered from Shanghai to, say, Southampton, “the carbon from the terminals will fall somewhere between 1% and 1.5%”, says Charles Haine of WSP.

But put it together and it adds up: “One terminal might have dozens of straddle carriers burning hundreds of gallons of diesel, 364 days a year, which means carbon is starting to look like very big business.” So despite being invisible - unlike the plumes smoke associated with other air pollutants - it’s beginning to attract a lot of attention.

Mr Haine says he’s seeing investors now insisting on very detailed carbon studies before signing off on finance for both operation and now construction projects. This has been largely ignored until recently which has been “a missed trick”, he says. Further, carbon policies are increasingly being written into concession contracts.

Stakeholder demand

According to Alan Tinline of Associated British Ports: "The biggest driver for a business at the moment is stakeholder interest."

“Logistics service providers are starting to need these carbon and emissions figures to show to their board and customers, and they are beginning to ask the terminals what their contribution is,” adds Mr Feighan.

For example, as of May this year, Kuehne + Nagel is printing the total amount of CO2 emissions generated by each sea freight shipment on each invoice. The logistics operator says that this will “raise visibility and awareness of the environmental impact within the seafreight supply chain”.

But for some ports and terminals, gaining the required level of clarity on their own operations could prove troublesome.

On a practical level, in older ports the electrical supply – usually Tier 2 carbon as it’s purchased – can be on a single meter with an array of different users. “At the very least, this should be broken down into the main areas,” says Mr Haine – lighting, handling, administration. Smart meters are the way to go, he says, “otherwise you’d have to do a bottom up inventory”. ABP is doing just this.

While smart meters can be expensive and time-consuming to install, ultimately rolling them out might give the industry the real time data it needs.

Taking responsibility

There’s also a fundamental problem with deciding where the terminal’s responsibilities end.

Mr Feighan explains that chilled boxes highlight the issues: “Reefer consumption can be as much as 40% of the total carbon output of a terminal – but it usually hasn’t any direct control over how efficient these are.” So a year of plugging in older, less-than-green reefers can result in a problem for the carbon bottom line.

Given all this, there’s a distinct temptation to 'fudge' the figures, bundle a lot of factors together and hope no-one notices. At the recent TOC Europe decarbonisation debate, Mr Haine said that of the terminals he’d visited, “less than half” had convincing carbon reports in place.

Mr Feighan says the answer is to be more detailed rather than less, separating out each of the different areas including reefer consumption “so spikes in demand can be explained”. Without a basis for analysis, ports won’t get very far when it comes to a worthwhile intervention. Mr Haine says he’s seen operations invest in tackling elements which really don’t make sense in terms of the bigger carbon picture.

Without the detail, a port or terminal also won't be able to tell the story of their efforts, something Mr Haine is convinced will become more important as time goes on. “I’d say, don’t paint a rosy picture; show how you tackled it, so when the lines come to you – and eventually they will - you can say here’s the methodology, and here’s the audited data.”

He adds: “I know it doesn’t seem to be a priority – yet. But by the time you get caught out you are not going to have the lead time to get a data set that spans a couple of years.”

There’s another good reason to begin right now with a warts-and-all inventory. Given the end of diesel sometime in the next decade “a good, robust measurement while you are still polluting means that when you have to electrify, you’ll be able to tell that story too”, he says.

Don't guess

Guesses are a risky business, especially as the figures are being subject to increasing scrutiny.

As Mr Tinline says: “The court of public opinion is a much tougher place to be then standing in front of a regulator... so understanding where your emissions come from is critical: you need to be able to answer the questions."

Credibility is at stake, adds Mr Feighan: “In reality, you will want fundamental ownership of the information: otherwise you’ll be putting data into circulation that you don’t fully understand.”

Finally, regulation remains a looming spectre. Mr Tinline has direct experience of how difficult it can be: according to him the UK’s old mandatory carbon scheme “managed to be cumbersome, ineffective and very expensive”.

Mr Feighan adds: “The worst-case scenario is that that legislators try to put in a ‘one-size fits all’ approach that doesn’t understand the specific differences between, say, a container terminal and a bulk facility.”

For example, there has been a move to try to bring everything under a weight regime in order to merge the different requirements, but this is still fraught with problems. “For example, do you weigh the box, or just the contents?” he asks. If terminals align with the others in the logistics chain and do the latter, then what about moving the empties?

So the ports themselves have to demonstrate a reasoned and reasonable approach. The fight back, of course, has to be led by convincing figures.


Just how hard is it for a terminal to dig in and carry out credible carbon accounting?

ABP's Alan Tinline makes the point that any tracking of emissions needs to cover extremely diverse assets, some of them having a large impact: “In one of our ports we’ve got seven constantly moving tugs - they never stop,” he says. And then there’s the fluidity of the picture when it comes to bulk: “For example, we had a 38% reduction in coal throughput – but the way we handle the biomass taking its place, that’s completely different, needing completely different pieces of kit.”

However, Alan Lewis of GLEC points out that CO2 is actually much simpler to calculate than local NOx, SOx and particulates. The good thing about carbon is that it’s directly proportional to the amount of fuel used, so, he says, the answer “will lie in your fuel bill”.

And if you have the numbers it’s not as tricky as you’d think to find the carbon figure. "If you know your energy use, what you need to do with it is fairly trivial if you follow the guidance from the Greenhouse Gas Protocol.” He adds: “I’d guess the problem is a lot of people don’t feel confident. If you have the appropriate guidance, it’s really not that difficult.”

GLEC is willing to give businesses all along the supply chain that ‘appropriate guidance’ but Mr Lewis remains realistic: “What we are trying to do is take people who might not understand or be doing very much about their carbon footprint, to a level that is, I’d say, around two-thirds of the way to absolute best; you don’t want to set the bar so high that people don’t feel they can’t reach it.”

He points out the exercise yields practical benefits: as the relationship between carbon and energy consumption remains fairly consistent a terminal that engages in the process should reap enough in efficiency savings to make it all worthwhile.