Environmental Certifications Offer Tangible Benefits for Ports

From left, Kurt Nagle, president and CEO of AAPA; Dr. Armando Duarte-Palaez, 2012-2013 AAPA Chairman of the Board; Dr. Herman Journee, chairman of ECOSLC; and Mauricio Suarez Ramirez, general manager of the Port of Santa Marta.

From left, Kurt Nagle, president and CEO of AAPA; Dr. Armando Duarte-Palaez, 2012-2013 AAPA Chairman of the Board; Dr. Herman Journee, chairman of ECOSLC; and Mauricio Suarez Ramirez, general manager of the Port of Santa Marta.

Three certifications – ISO 14001, EcoPorts and Green Marine – help provide a framework to build a port’s environmental efforts and standards by which to measure ongoing improvements

By Lori Musser

Complying with environmental regulations has long provided the primary impetus for advancements at ports. That is rapidly changing. Today, more and more ports have the right resources in place to maintain compliance with myriad regulations and, seeing the benefits, have gone on to develop well-rounded, strategic and sustainable environmental management systems.

Instead of being spurred by spills, environmental progress is being propelled by the availability of new technologies and solutions, competitor’s advancements, shipper and consumer demand, and prudent general management.

Once a port has rallied resources and developed an environmental management system (EMS), is the next step to certify success? Or, should ports work with a certification agency from the get-go to perfect their EMS? Do the costs associated with certification outweigh the benefits?

Available Environmental Certifications

There are numerous agencies that register a port’s environmental acumen. Three that may interest AAPA member ports are ISO 14001, the U.S.-Canada program Green Marine and Europe’s wide-reaching EcoPort initiative.

All of the programs aim to help ports become “greener.” Each is voluntary, but once committed, a port will have ongoing resource obligations. At the outset of the certification process, the costs are likely to be difficult to assess; there are fees for initial applications, audits and recertifications, and there will also be costs associated with improving the port’s management processes.

ISO 14001

The International Organization for Standardization, with a worldwide membership of national standards institutes, issues standards on items and services “required by the market.” It has promulgated the ISO 14001, an environmental management standard by which a port’s environmental efficacy can be measured and developed. It isn’t port-specific.

The standard helps organizations better manage the impact of their activities on the environment and demonstrate sound environmental management. It specifies EMS requirements, but allows a port to develop and implement its own policies and objectives. ISO 14001 does not state specific environmental performance criteria.

Heather Wood, vice president of government affairs at the Virginia Port Authority (VPA), said, after working through AAPA’s EMS assistance project to set up an EMS, the port refined each element, from prevention to compliance to continual improvement, until it was eventually ready for an ISO-certified audit. Wood said, “Going through the certification process brought structure and framework to the port’s environmental program. The process changed the culture of our operating company. If you ask our people how their jobs impact the environment, they know. They can tell you why it’s important to shut off a straddle carrier or a yard tractor that springs a leak.”


A second internationally recognized standard, the European Union’s Eco-Management and Audit Scheme, is a similar management tool for evaluating, reporting and improving environmental performance.

EcoPort status is awarded by Europe’s ECO Sustainable Logistics Chain (ECOSLC) Foundation, following a successful application, self-diagnosis and review. Lloyd’s Register then certifies results. With a premise of “ports helping ports,” information is shared to help level the playing field for port environmental management. It promotes continuous improvement of performance through self regulation.

EcoPort’s self-diagnosis method is a concise checklist that helps identify environmental risk and establish priorities for action and compliance. It can be used to compare performance against sector and international standards. It addresses environmental policy, personnel, training, communication, operations management, emergency planning, monitoring, auditing and review. The responses of port managers are entered into a database, contributing to the construction of the benchmark of performance, and eliciting confidential feedback and advice. There are provisions for consistent periodic progress reviews.

On completion of the checklist a port joins the EcoPort network and obtains access to other services including the Port Environmental Review System – an environmental management standard developed by ports for ports.

In 2011, the EcoPort tools were adopted by the European Sea Ports Organisation for members to use through an online platform. The AAPA has a Memoranda of Understanding with ESPO and ECOSLC to collaborate in providing access, training and organization of EcoPort tools to support the environmental objectives of AAPA.

The Port of Santa Marta in Colombia became the first port outside of Europe to gain an EcoPort certification. ECO SLC Chairman Herman Journee said, “Santa Marta port organisation has implemented every environmental management policy, performance indicators and evidence of[its]ability to deliver continuous improvements of environmental quality.” He said, “This award presented to Santa Marta is a benchmark event.”

Green Marine

Created in 2007, Green Marine is an environmental certification program for ports, terminals and shipyards. Participants undergo rigorous external audits every two years to validate and reinforce the credibility of environmental program results.

Green Marine’s five performance criteria relate to aquatic invasive species, greenhouse gases, water and land pollution prevention, community impacts and environmental leadership. Green Marine executive Director David Bolduc welcomes port authority members: “They encourage environmental stewardship by setting positive environmental performance examples for port users to follow.”

Saint John Port Authority President & CEO Jim Quinn views Green Marine membership as another step toward supporting the community through sustainable marine operations. “The Port of Saint John is committed to its community and respects the value of an inclusive, sustainable approach to operating,” he said.

The Halifax Port Authority was previously certified ISO 14001. Port Vice President of Business Development and Operations George Malec said that Green Marine certification was a logical next step. He said, “The transparency and rigor of Green Marine will allow us to show our performance both to the industry and the population and guide us towards improvement.’’

In April, the Port of Seattle became the first U.S. port participant outside of the Great Lakes. “Green Marine’s goal of continuous improvement is also at the core of our commitment towards sustainability,” said Port of Seattle CEO Tay Yoshitani.

Certification Affords Credibility and More

More than any other advantage, certification affords credibility to a port’s sustainability efforts.

The Port of Corpus Christi has been ISO 14001-certified since 2007. It continues to set goals for protecting natural resources that go beyond compliance, and it monitors progress against those goals. Executive Director John LaRue said that certification has brought somewhat unexpected, tangible benefits. “We are constantly under review for air and water quality,” for example, and now regulators look at the port differently. He added, “Even some shipping lines and agencies look at you more competitively.

We began the process to get a handle on environmental issues, but we are now saving on electricity consumption. There are fewer cleanups. There is greater safety awareness. There are back-door benefits.”

Certification brings with it the goal of continual process improvement. Each year, Corpus Christi broadens its environmental scope somewhat and targets additional issues. It has tackled storm water pollutants, air emissions, litter and recycling, among other issues, and has responded with enhanced testing, research, retrofitting, partnerships and expanded funding/grants

Time and money appear to be the main drawbacks to certification. The cost of certifying, maintaining eligibility and recertifying, as well as the personnel hours involved, are not well-documented or easy to assess. A single audit can run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Smaller ports may not have full-time environmental professionals to oversee certification. If a port certifies, and then is unable to maintain the certification, there is a chance of generating negative publicity and ill will. Larger ports with more staff, or ports with a particular need for enhanced environmental efforts, may be better candidates.

Proven Value

Ports understand the need for environmental management, socially responsible behavior, and sustainable growth and development. Proactive management of the environment helps control risk, enhances corporate governance, and contributes to sound operational and financial practices and performance.

For many ports, the various environmental certification programs have proven value, contributing to environmental sustainability and economic accomplishments. Each certification program is different, and ports are best advised to, in the words of the

VPA’s Heather Wood, “compare programs and look for the best fit with a port’s organization and structure. Each port must look for the program that best addresses local issues, concerns and goals. You can’t put all ports in one basket.”