Are sustainable development goals relevant for sea ports?

13 Sep 2017
Aqaba is ahead of the game with regards to sustainability, with an emphasis on materiality assessment Photo: Xavi Talleda/Wikimendia CC BY 2.0

Aqaba is ahead of the game with regards to sustainability, with an emphasis on materiality assessment Photo: Xavi Talleda/Wikimendia CC BY 2.0

In 2015, 193 UN member countries adopted a 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as part of a new sustainable development agenda, but are they relevant for sea ports? asks Claire Bryant, director, Future Proof Solutions and Jason Sprott, director, Sprott Planning & Environment Pty Ltd.

Whilst it’s not an entirely new concept (the SDGs build on the now expired ‘Millennium Development Goals’), the refreshed commitment of the SDGs, combined with increasing global attention on the issues they address, has brought a hive of activity in both the private and public sectors to understand, align and attempt to contribute to these global goals.

Successful advancement of the agenda however, will rely on partnerships and strong determination by both the private and public sectors.

'Business is a vital partner in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Companies can contribute through their core activities, and we ask companies everywhere to assess their impact, set ambitious goals and communicate transparently about the results.’

Ban Ki-Moon

United Nations Secretary-General

What does this mean?

Although the port sector is not represented by a standalone SDG, it is ‘socialised’ across several SDGs and targets.  With a timeframe to 2030 and 169 associated targets, ports will have many ways in which they will be able to contribute. We see ports having at least a three-fold role:

  1. Ports are inherently well positioned to contribute to societal development through job and wealth creation associated with facilitating trade and infrastructure investment
  2. As an integral part of many cities or towns and often located in ecologically valuable areas, ports have a responsibility to run their business with no harm to (and preferably enhancement of) the local community and the environment and
  3. Increasing supply chain sustainability requirements driven by consumers, means ports will increasingly be expected to contribute so the sustainable development agenda.

In short, ports should do something, but deciphering what to do and which goals and targets to align with is no easy task. This is not only because of the large number of issues within the SDGs to choose from, but also due to the vast array of already existing sustainability standards and frameworks that can create a confusing landscape.

The determination of relevant SDGs is variable and specific to each business model and it is useful to prioritise the SDGs in accordance with relevance to the port in general terms. Sprott Planning & Environment Pty Ltdhas developed a ‘Port Sector / UN SDG Framework’ to assist ports understand the SDGs and the relevance to their business and corporate strategy.

Clearly, not all SDGS will be materially significant to every business – and businesses are clearly not expected to address all 17 goals and 169 targets. Each port business should undertake an assessment to determine the material relevance to their business based on a wide range of factors such as the economic, spatial and environmental setting, the operational nature of the port business and the ownership structure.

The concepts presented here will be further explored at an interactive session on sustainability at the Greenport Congress in Amsterdam in October 2017. We will facilitate a workshop with Dickon Howell (Howell Marine Consulting) and Erik de Deckere (Port of Antwerp) to further industry learning around port sustainability issues: Materiality assessments, sustainability reporting and the relevance of the SDGs to the port sector.

Put simply – helping ports ‘act locally to contribute globally’.