Ecoports: The EU port's environmental initiative turns 20

Isabelle Ryckbost Isabelle Ryckbost

2017 marks the 20th anniversary of the Ecoports network. What started in 1997 as a separate initiative of a number of ports proactive in the field of environment evolved over the years towards a solid network of around 100 European ports within ESPO, writes Isabelle Ryckbost, Secretary General of the European Sea Ports Organisation (ESPO).

In 2011, the Ecoports network was fully integrated into ESPO and this meant a lot. It made clear that environmental management and excellence was no longer a concern of an environmental port elite but has become a concern of all European ports and was integrated in the overall policy of the European Sea Ports Organisation.

With its twenty years of experience, Ecoports has become the main environmental initiative of the European port sector. It provides a system developed by ports, for ports, specifically designed to put ESPO’s policies into practice by encouraging the free exchange of knowledge and experience on environmental issues between its members. The aim is to increase awareness about environmental challenges, deliver compliance with legislation and to demonstrate a high standard of environmental management based on the principle of voluntary self-regulation. Even if the Ecoports members must be seen as the driving force of the Network, it is clear that the added value of the Network reaches out further than the 100 ports.

But we won’t be celebrating this 20th anniversary by just looking at achievements. 2017 must be a new milestone in the development of the Network. We want to grasp this anniversary to further expand the Network, refresh the communication and prepare the Network to face the environmental challenges of tomorrow.

Some preparatory work has already been done during the past years. Both the Self Diagnosis Method (SDM) and the Port Environmental Review system (PERS) were updated.

Completing the Self Diagnosis Method can be seen as the “passport” to the Ecoports network. Filling in a checklist of more than 250 questions allows an individual port to assess its environmental management programme in relation to both the sector and international standards. The merit of the tool is double. Each participating port can see its performance and assess improvement in a fully confidential way since individual data is not published.

At the same time, ESPO is able to provide aggregate data, an at-a-glance summary of the environmental management performance of its member ports. The SDM was updated and is now also including indicators on Shore Power Supply (OPS), LNG and Green Charging. On top of that,  this exercise is gaining  in importance and accuracy thanks to the FP7 funded Portopia project, which helps both in better defining the indicators and visualising the data and analysis of the individual ports and trends in environmental performance.

The Port Environmental Review System (PERS) has firmly established its reputation as the only port sector specific environmental management standard. Although there is plenty of guidance available on general environmental management, the often highly specialised nature of the environmental challenges in the port area that port authorities face, means that a "custom-made" approach is absolutely vital. While incorporating the main generic requirements of recognised environmental management standards, PERS, which is independently certified by Lloyd’s Register, is adapted to deliver effective port environmental management. PERS is really the flagship product of Ecoports. Today 25 ports are PERS certified. PERS has recently been updated in order to reflect the changes made to ISO 1400:2015.

The update of these two well established Ecoports tools is essential if the Ecoports network wants to continue to be the driver towards excellence in port environmental management and sustainability. It is with a certain pride that I tell you that both SDM and PERS are now being listed in a source of Good International Industry Practices of the World Bank and that also the EIB and the EBRD are considering these tools as a reference in their assessment of projects.

Moreover, by June, the Ecoports website will be given a complete new look and feel, will be made a lot more users friendly and will aim at giving its members more exposure.

To conclude, the Ecoports Network was constituted at the time of the Kyoto Protocol, the first global agreement setting targets to reduce CO2 emissions and mitigate Climate Change. 1997 was also the year the Amsterdam Treaty was signed, which installed the duty to integrate environmental protection into all EU sectorial policies with a view to promoting sustainable development. The Ecoports Network has certainly helped European ports in being at the frontline taking initiatives to comply with this policy changes. 

Twenty years later, we have a new chance to strengthen the network in view of assisting even more European ports in their engagement towards the new environmental challenges, after the entry into force of the Paris Agreement and the IMO decision on 2020 sulphur cap last year.


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