With increasing stakeholder expectations and regulations, the maritime industry finds itself at a pivotal point in the debate around sustainability, writes Richard Hepworth, president,Trelleborg Marine and Infrastructure

Impending regulations such as the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Greenhouse Gas Strategy 2050 continues to grow the conversation both in volume and reach, so do initiatives, such as the World Ports Sustainability Program and the Environmental Ship Index.

As the events of 2020 took hold, the shipping and maritime industries faced a shift in focus to short-term viability, before bouncing back from Q4 onwards. With that, came a boom in shipping, resulting in more ships, more delays and more congestion. Nonetheless sustainability goals continue to be placed under the spotlight to ensure they stay on track amidst the fluctuation. New research, carried out by Trelleborg’s marine and infrastructure operation, mid-pandemic, reveals how the maritime sector is responding and provides insights and analysis into the way ahead.

The value of sustainability

It has become apparent that sustainability remains a key consideration for businesses. 82% of organisations surveyed in Trelleborg marine and infrastructure operation’s recent ‘Serious About Sustainability’ Report, ranked sustainability as ‘very important’ to their business. When it came to setting performance targets, 37% of respondents cited using the United Nations Social Development Goals (UN SDG) to guide them. These focus on building resilient infrastructure, promoting sustainable industrialisation and fostering innovation.

Overall, there is a positive mindset within the industry and a recognition that sustainability is an opportunity. In fact, 76% of respondents have introduced new sustainability initiatives in the last three years, from developing sustainable products, to appointing a dedicated sustainability practice lead, for example. This marks a major industry shift and highlights a link between sustainability, operational efficiency and business success.

However, there is still progress to be made. The 24% of respondents who claimed not to have adopted any new sustainable approaches could find themselves at a disadvantage commercially if they fail to adapt. The calls for environmental and sustainability criteria to be incorporated into procurement and commercial processes are increasingly important and necessary, as evidenced by both the industry’s actions and customers’ expectations. According to the ESPO Environmental Report for 2020, seven out of ten European ports take climate change into account when developing new infrastructure projects. Through the development of durable infrastructure, sustainability goals can be supported more practically and fundamentally.

Trelleborg’s report found that sustainability is considered key to long-term value creation and reputation, as opposed to regulation, appears to be the major driving force for change. Of those surveyed, 81% prioritised sustainability as integral to the strategic approach of their business and 56% emphasized long-term value creation over short-term performance. This signifies that putting sustainability at the heart of operations is key to the success of those businesses. As a result, these corporations can more readily meet global challenges head-on and embrace opportunities for growth. Encouragingly, despite experiencing any of the global effects of COVID-19, 45% of respondents say they will press ahead and increase their focus on sustainability.

A collaborative approach

While legislation has driven much of the change, larger forces are at play. The desire to pull ahead of the sustainability curve has revealed itself, as the reputation of a business emerged as the number one key sustainability driver. Following that, organisations felt that it was simply ‘the right thing to do’. However, these initiatives must deliver long-term benefits and economic opportunities. This new sustainability momentum is propelled by many things, one of which is its collaborative nature.

Collaboration with stakeholders and suppliers was considered a critical path to success by 62% of respondents when it came to achieving sustainability goals. By emphasizing more efficient supply chain management, the industry looks to their suppliers for support and to provide solutions to sustainability issues that enable them to meet their environmental goals. Suppliers should see this kind of action as a genuine call for positive change, propelled additionally by customers continuing to drive sustainability up the value chain.

Higher quality products and services also aid in unlocking immediate sustainability efforts through multiple channels. By demonstrating sustainability from the outset, it will become the norm for more key players within the industry to follow suit and develop environmental initiatives. Additionally, extending a product’s longevity has a direct impact on sustainability; a durable product offers a longer lifespan with increased efficiencies and reduced replacement and recycling requirements.

Promoting sustainable infrastructure – both within the port environment and on-vessel – provides a number of benefits, such as increased port uptime. This leads to reduced idling, optimized fuel consumption, reduced emissions, and better air quality.

The way ahead

The findings from Trelleborg marine and infrastructure operation’s report are encouraging and highlight a commitment to sustainability. There is now real momentum across the industry, with a long-term strategic approach to sustainability, balanced with a clear way ahead to address the challenges still faced in the immediate term.

Organisations are making sustainability a requirement in bid evaluations; more resilient products are being designed and innovations in technology are driving change. At an industry level, green shipping incentives, sustainability programs, financing and renewable infrastructure are providing the opportunity, means and support to help the sector become more sustainable. Together these reflect a wider understanding that, while sustainability is about doing the right thing, it is also about being competitive and commercially successful.

The drivers for change, reputation and regulation, are a complex mix and a possible legacy of the sector’s perceived slow start in this area. However, today the industry is bolder, more confident and more aware and this seems to be translating into an open mind set to go beyond regulatory requirements.

It perhaps isn’t surprising that taking a collaborative approach and working with suppliers were seen as critical to success. Collaboration and strategic partnerships have long been a strength in the maritime industry and this alignment stands it in good stead as we work together to meet our sustainability goals.

Trelleborg marine and infrastructure

Trelleborg’s emphasis on engineering application, design expertise and materials combine to deliver high-quality products with a longer lifetime. This aligns with UN SDG 9 on industry, innovation and infrastructure, through the creation of more resilient infrastructure. At a group level the organisation is also challenging itself with a target of a 50% reduction in direct and indirect CO2 emissions related to sales by 2025 and a longer-term vision of being carbon neutral by 2035.

Trelleborg’s marine and infrastructure operation is a world leader in the design and manufacture of innovative, highly-engineered polymer solutions that advance operational performance in marine, port and built infrastructure.

SmartPort by Trelleborg powers the critical interface between ship and port, on land and at sea and integrates key assets including fenders, automated mooring systems, docking aid systems, navigational systems, ship performance monitoring and environmental monitoring systems. SmartPort is all underpinned by cloud technologies and is designed to connect port operations, allowing users to analyse performance and use data to improve decision making for a safer, more efficient and sustainable port.