Greenlight on Green Metrics

Ports use environmental data as an outreach tool with community groups, stakeholders

By Meredith Martino

Port projects and port operations are the subject of a variety of environmental regulations – caps on air emissions from mobile sources, requirements for habitat mitigation, mandates for sediment monitoring and limits on water pollutants. To demonstrate compliance with these regulations, ports and their industry partners often collect and provide regulators with reams of data. Large port expansion projects can end up with thousands of pages of environmental review documents and appendices, full of dense tables, charts and maps.

An interested community stakeholder could certainly access these huge troves of information. But wading through them to make sense often requires time, context and training – assets that may not be available to every interested member of a nearby port neighborhood.

Ports recognize that being a good neighbor means more than just doing good works and complying with environmental laws. It means transparency regarding inventories, metrics, reviews and scans. And – increasingly – it means presenting sophisticated information about environmental performance in an easy-to-digest way. The information is not just being made available online for the self-motivated information seeker either; it’s packaged and taken out into the community at meetings, hearings and port-sponsored events. Using environmental data as part of outreach and storytelling is one way many ports are building trust with port communities and outside stakeholders.

What to Measure

“Environmental” is a broad term that encompasses many aspects of a port. Different ports focus on different pieces of the puzzle and measure different things. These decisions are usually made based on local priorities and challenges as well as directions from port commissions and input from port stakeholders.

On the West Coast, air emissions are certainly king. The Port of Los Angeles conducts annual emissions inventories, which result in significant publications. The port measures and tracks progress on criteria pollutants like diesel particulate matter, but it also shows the port’s accomplishments related to the Clean Air Action Plan it developed with the Port of Long Beach to reduce emissions within the San Pedro Bay port complex.

A little further north, Port Metro Vancouver (PMV) acts similarly. PMV’s Director of Environmental Programs Carrie Brown said, “A lot of [the port’s]programs focus on air, of course.” Using emissions inventories, the port measures its progress against the Northwest Ports Clean Air Strategy, which it developed jointly with the Port of Seattle and the Port of Tacoma to address emissions in the Puget Sound.

But air emissions, while very popular among North American ports, are not the only focus of environmental data. Both the Port of Los Angeles and PMV have metrics in place regarding water and habitat. PMV tracks its habitat creation and usage, and it also has developed indicators for water quality and sediment. The Port of Los Angeles jointly conducts a baseline assessment with the Port of Long Beach every five years regarding water quality, but the studies generally don’t get as much attention in local press as the air inventories.

At the Maryland Port Administration (MPA), which also does periodic emissions inventories, the Port of Baltimore collects a lot of data regarding dredged material containment facilities. On the edge of the Chesapeake Bay, it’s no surprise that water- and sediment-related measures are a high priority for the port. The port monitors its progress on discharges, mitigation and habitat.

Port Corpus Christi in Texas keeps track of spills, electric and water consumption as well as other air and water measures.

Assessing and Addressing Expectations

Collecting information is first, but turning that information into something meaningful for port communities is a long process. Finding out what community stakeholders know and what they wish they knew is a step many ports are taking before they try to develop elaborate tools or messages based on their environmental data.

PMV conducted a recent community awareness survey that asked the public what they know about the port and what they would like to know about the port. The results were encouraging in that many respondents had favorable impressions of PMV, but the survey also demonstrated where the port could make inroads in a positive way.

“In general, the public has a great understanding about the port’s role in trade and the economy but not as much about our environmental programs,” said John Parker-Jervis, media and government affairs adviser at PMV. “So our environmental programs will be a big focus of our community outreach this year.”

The community near PMV has a strong interest in the port’s environmental initiatives and especially in knowing how they can access that information. Data sharing about environmental performance will be key to meeting stakeholder expectations.

Port Corpus Christi is trying to stay ahead of community needs and figure out what information will be most meaningful as it communicates with its neighbors.

Sarah Garza, environmental compliance manager at Port Corpus Christi, said the port interacts regularly with the public at meetings and events, often providing briefings about the environmental improvement efforts the port is making.

“We get good feedback from the community, and they say, ‘You should tell this story to more people,’” said Garza. “The community generally knows [what we do]but would like to have the data to support it.”

For the past five years, PMV has published an annual sustainability report, and they seek community input on what should be included in the report each year.

“We go out to the community and seek input from stakeholders about what they would like to understand better,” said PMV’s Brown. While the port’s three sustainability pillars are fixed – economic prosperity through trade, healthy environment and thriving communities – the individual measures highlighted in the annual report reflect feedback from community stakeholders.

In Baltimore, MPA uses advisory committees for its dredged material containment facilities that include citizen leaders. The port takes data to these groups annually on the specific sites they oversee, and the port has found the community leaders serve as an important link between the general public and the port processes.

MPA works with outside groups like the Waterkeeper Alliance and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to solicit input as well.

“They are the watchdog groups for the Maryland Department of Ecology,” said Dave Blazer, deputy director of harbor development at MPA. “They want to look at the data and analyze it, and we want to be as transparent as we can.”

Sharing Methodology to Build Credibility

The Port of Los Angeles publishes annual emissions inventories, and the port’s stakeholders have become familiar with consuming this data and understand when the port talks about its inventories and the data trends from year to year. The port is not only transparent about its numbers but also its methodology, which faced scrutiny from outside groups in early years.

Lisa Ochsner, marine environmental manager at the Port of Los Angeles, said, “Everyone likes having this information published because the methodology is vetted by South Coast Air Quality Management District, California Air Resources Board and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” the regulatory agencies that oversee port emissions in southern California, the state and the United States, respectively.

The third-party endorsements of the port’s emissions inventories from governmental entities lend credibility to the methodology the port might never be able to achieve on its own, no matter how sound the work.

Port Corpus Christi recently completed its first port-wide emissions inventory since 2008. But in reviewing the methodology of the earlier inventory, the port did not feel that the earlier approach was as complete as it should be. So the 2013 inventory, which will be released soon, will become the baseline inventory in terms of numbers and methodology for the port going forward. The port plans to measure its progress every other year or every two years.

In sharing the new inventory with the public, Garza said the port plans to emphasize its improved methodology – “how complete and thorough it is.”

In Baltimore, MPA conducts emissions inventories every three to four years to measure emissions from cargo handling equipment. The port works with tenants to collect information, and the results of the inventories are shared with communities and also provided to the state of Maryland for inclusion in its State Implementation Plan to meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

PMV conducts emissions inventories every five years and works closely with Environment Canada and the local provincial government to evaluate landside and marine sources.

By working with credible outside partners and openly discussing methodology, ports let outside stakeholders know that the process – and the data it generates – can be trusted and relied upon for future decision-making and benchmarking.

Transparency as a Gateway to Trust

Sharing not only the methodology but also the results of emissions inventories and other efforts to measure port environmental performance is critical – no matter how much information or what it shows.

Carrie Brown, director of environmental programs at PMV said, “We believe it’s important for the public to have access to all of the information so they can draw their own conclusions.”

For an expansion project at the port’s Deltaport site, the port produced or collected approximately 7,000 pages of related environmental documentation. All of it is available to the public, though the port did create an executive summary of approximately 100 pages to try and distill the information down to something easier to consume.

MPA’s Blazer talked about how making information accessible establishes credibility and creates trust with the community. For one dredged material site, Hart-Miller Island, the port has been measuring the water and sediment in the area for 34 years and can show no port impact on the environment during that time.

“The data reflects that,” said Blazer.

But at another site, Masonville, the port found new contaminants in the sediment as part of its testing. The port, however, did not receive negative feedback about the discovery even as it announced the finding.

“The community knows we will fix the problem,” Blazer said.

While the Port of Los Angeles takes steps to make its emissions inventory data digestible at a high level, it also makes all the data available online.

“If someone wanted to get into the specifics, they could do it in our emissions inventories,” said Ochsner.

Messaging the Data

There’s not much thought or sophistication required in simply making data available to anyone interested, though it is no small undertaking. Some ports are resource challenged to post everything they collect on their website.

Port Corpus Christi has always shared data openly with the community and stakeholders but is seeking to create a more formal and regular mechanism for that process, such as creating a standing environmental document that is updated regularly.

Public law often requires that environmental documentation be publicly available, and ports are obviously subject to vigorous “sunshine laws” as public entities. Governmental agencies often conduct and release reviews and studies related to government-managed projects, such as federal navigation channel deepening projects in the United States.

But getting environmental data to tell a story – and figuring out how and when to tell it – is a challenge that ports are rising to. With the trust they have developed through transparent information and methodology and using the lens of perceived stakeholder expectations, they can often present complicated data in a meaningful way that resonates with the intended audiences.

At PMV, many departments– environmental programs, community, and aboriginal affairs and public affairs – work closely together on a number of environmental outreach projects. The port’s sustainability report is an example of this close coordination. The 2014 report is a 50-page document full of infographics, pictures, maps, graphs, charts and text that takes a great deal of information about a variety of port-related topics and makes it easy for the layman to understand.

The report does not seek to provide readers with every piece of data the port collected during the year. Rather, it calls out key accomplishments by the port and its industry partners and provides digestible bites of important information. In a six-page executive summary for 2014, PMV highlighted air emissions as a notable achievement: “Connecting 76 cruise ships with shore power, resulting in a reduction of 2,656 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions.” It’s a simple, yet powerful piece of information, distilled down from a lot of complex work and data.

The Port of Baltimore (MPA) produces an annual environmental review similar to PMV’s sustainability report in that it highlights the port’s impacts on local economy, environment and community. In a one-page summary on each topic highlighting projects, programs and achievements from the previous year, MPA presents a document that makes environmental data accessible.

Because of the community focus on air emissions, the Port of Los Angeles finds a way to showcase and simplify its elaborate annual emissions inventories. Each year, the port produces a one-page report card that lists overall emissions reductions and also how six pollutants (DPM, NOx, SOx, PM2.5, PM10 and CO2) fare across five different sources (oceangoing vessels, harbor craft, rail, trucking and cargo handling equipment). The report card also reiterates the emissions goals in the Clean Air Action Plan. It’s a highly visual document that contains a lot of very technical information presented in a simple form showing reductions in both percentages and real numbers compared to 2005, when the port began its current air emissions reduction efforts.

Finding the Best Channels

Producing documents that tell the port’s environmental story is critical, but finding the best delivery methods is the final step in successfully sharing data. And there are really no right answers or best practices here, plus technology and social media are changing the playing field on an ongoing basis.

All ports take their environmental data out into the community at meetings and events, and these events are well received. MPA has open houses at their facilities, and water quality is a big theme as these events, which generally attract 80-100 people each time. The port also works with local environmental and community groups to conduct tours and give presentations.

At PMV, the port is using new media channels to carry its environmental messages. On its PortTV channel on YouTube, PMV staff frequently discuss environmental issues and performance. An episode this summer focused on energy conservation and discussed the port’s Energy Action Initiative, highlighting efforts at Deltaport to install more energy-efficient lighting.

The Port of Los Angeles partners with the Los Angeles Mayor’s office (the port is part of the city government) to provide air-related data that is part of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s efforts to increase the sharing and availability of citywide data. The city’s responsive design website takes advantage of web technology that enables visitors to view the site perfectly on any platform, including tablets and mobile phones.