Giving the Green Light to Sustainability Goals

Effective Port Infrastructure Projects Often Spring from Strategic Planning Efforts that Emphasize Sustainability
giving the green light

As sustainability assumes a more prominent place in just about every port’s vision of its future, master planning and other strategic planning efforts increasingly are ensuring infrastructure proposals are closely aligned with ports’ sustainability needs. In this way, ports are prioritizing sustainability with new rigor when weighing their future infrastructure projects.

Jeff Pollack, chief strategy and sustainability officer for the Port of Corpus Christi, said the maritime industry has received heavy scrutiny for its role in global emissions, creating pressure to pursue projects that help them improve in that area. More recently, the supply chain challenges of the pandemic have highlighted inefficiencies in the ports and the dangers of “growth by default instead of by design,” Pollack said.

The result is a strengthened focus on sustainable infrastructure projects that support necessary growth while meeting community needs in terms of clean air, green space, recreation and ecosystems. Ports that fail to prioritize sustainability in infrastructure planning risk falling behind those ports that place a greater emphasis on forward thinking. Growing “by design” in today’s landscape means growing sustainably.

“If you’re not looking to be sustainable, you’re not going to be able to take advantage of opportunities that come your way and you’re not going to be in any position to expand on those opportunities and grow,” said Walker Smith, director of the Port of Harlingen. “We become stagnant if we don’t pay attention to sustainability.”

Infrastructure Planning that Prioritizes Sustainability

Pollack said the Port of Corpus Christi’s commissioners first codified an environmental policy five years ago, and the port is currently updating it. The policy includes measurable performance targets in six precept areas.

“For us, this notion of sustainability is fundamental to all of our decision-making because environmental policy is one of our foundational litmus tests for our decisions, whether those are project specific or big-picture growth questions,” Pollack said.

Similarly, Port of San Diego commissioners adopted a policy document called the Maritime Clean Air Strategy that guides the port to identify future projects and initiatives that lead to cleaner air while also supporting efficient and modern maritime operations. Some of the infrastructure-related goals from the document include transitioning 100% of cargo handling equipment to zero emissions by 2030 and transitioning 100% of cargo trucks calling on port marine terminals to zero emissions by 2030, with an interim goal of 40% by 2026, according to Jason Giffen, vice president of planning and environment.

The Port of San Diego’s master planning efforts include the Port Master Plan Update, which features various uses and numerous policies related to environmental protection and conservation and elevates “sustainability in our master planning to a new level,” Giffen said.

Pollack said the more data-driven that decision-making is, the more that planning around sustainability can be “truly strategic.” That means planning with the result in mind and a well-defined vision of what success and efficiency will look like, assessing the gap between a port’s current situation and where it hopes to be, and envisioning a path to get there with milestones that mark the way, he said.

The use of data in weighing the environmental implications of infrastructure projects and growth can help sharpen the clarity of a port’s vision in planning. Pollack said when the Port of Corpus Christi plans for growth, it makes decisions about “what kinds of projects should go where” using data-based tools that consider nearby land uses and habitats and the environmental implications of a project.

“When you undertake true strategic planning in that way, it is inherently an act of sustainability,” Pollack said. “The more that planning process is built around data [and]around the best available information by practitioners – in our case, we focus a lot on practitioners in the natural sciences, in the coastal sciences, focus on what we know about the marine environment in which we operate – the tighter the nexus between planning and sustainability becomes.”

Set Your Priorities for Infrastructure Modernization

Strategic sustainability planning may lead to more innovative projects with comprehensive solutions that address multiple needs and, also, may provide the framework to organize intricately complex infrastructure modernization projects. This type of planning also helps with the decision-making process for prioritizing projects, such as ones with the greatest environmental impact and which might be eligible for funding.

For instance, terminal electrification efforts are central to the Port of San Diego’s sustainability-tied infrastructure projects. The port is in the process of acquiring two all-electric, mobile harbor cranes for use at its Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal. They will replace a diesel crane – which is the port’s most polluting piece of cargo-handling equipment – with the first all-electric, battery-supported mobile harbor cranes in use in the United States, according to the port. In addition, the port eventually will be served by the first all-electric tugboat in the United States. Crowley is building the boat, which is expected to be in service beginning in 2026, according to Michael LaFleur, vice president of maritime for the port.

Giffen said that strategic planning documents that detail sustainability goals play a crucial role in attracting local, state and federal funding help for the port’s ambitious projects. For instance, Giffen said the Port of San Diego’s MCAS positions the port “to attract millions in grants and investments.”

“In fact, we recently received $61.4 million in federal stimulus funding, $23.8 million of which we are directing to electrification,” Giffen said. “The MCAS was a big factor in helping us to secure that funding.”

Electrification infrastructure projects increasingly are becoming widespread in the ports, said Duncan Kopp, ports and maritime regional solutions lead, US North and Canada, for Jacobs Engineering Group. Jacobs has supported infrastructure projects of that kind at several ports, including recent projects at the Port of Wilmington, Delaware, where the firm worked on the adoption of fully electric rubber-tired gantry cranes (eRTG), and at PortMiami, where Jacobs completed infrastructure design for eRTGs at the South Florida Container Terminal.

Kopp noted that ship-to-shore cranes have been electrified “for a while,” so key to the current trend is implementing similar technology into other parts of terminal operations.

“We’re seeing more and more focus on it for a variety of reasons,” Kopp said.

“There’s obviously the environmental and sustainability component to it. There are some reliability and operational cost reasons to do it. And then at certain facilities, particularly on the West Coast, there are government or port authority mandates and requirements to go electric or zero emission.”

process is built around

Establish Sustainability as a Common Goal

For complex infrastructure projects, particularly those with sustainability in the foreground, Milind Desai, ports and maritime regional solutions lead, US West, and project manager for Jacobs, said it is essential to involve as many stakeholders as possible, bringing everyone into the discussion to understand the totality of a project – from construction and engineering to maintenance and daily operation. Environmental-focused projects often require “green” housekeeping, meaning their success depends on what happens after their completion.

As an example, Desai pointed to a Jacobs project, the Port of Long Beach’s Fireboat Station No. 15, a state-of-the-art facility that opened in 2021. Key features include a 7,770-square-foot fire station building and an 11,000-square-foot boat house to house a new fireboat.

Desai said the Port of Long Beach emphasizes the importance of certification by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Program for each new building. For unique industrial buildings, such as the fire station, Desai said a creative, collaborative approach was necessary to integrate that level of sustainability into the facility’s design. The fire station achieved LEED Gold certification through the use of water-saving technology, green power generation, energy-efficient appliances, natural ventilation and other environmentally sustainable features.

Port infrastructure projects often offer formidable sustainability challenges that can make LEED certification much more difficult than for an office facility or other more standard building project, Desai said.

For instance, creating natural ventilation for the fireboat’s exhaust was a challenge that was solved in part with the use of Computational Fluid Dynamics to simulate the fireboat’s exhaust and wind scenarios and ensure natural ventilation would work, Desai said. Fortunately, buy-in for the sustainability component was not difficult to secure among port stakeholders.

“On this particular project, we had the Long Beach Fire Department in from day one and we had the port’s Maintenance Division, Construction Division, Engineering Division and Program Management. One clear thing that came up was that everybody was taking sustainability as a really important element of this,” Desai said. “Everybody had that goal.”

Opt for a Broad, Holistic Approach

For infrastructure modernization projects, strategic planning can ensure sustainability considerations are part of a broad, holistic approach rather than broken into isolated instances. Ports do not operate in a vacuum and must consider sustainability alongside a range of partners and impacts. For instance, Maki Onodera, global technology lead for maritime resilience for Jacobs, pointed out that port infrastructure must be diligent in keeping up with changes in the vessels that visit them. In particular, as more vessels look to run on alternative fuels, “you have to have the infrastructure on shore to support that kind of transition,” he said.

Pollack said comprehensively considering sustainability in planning goes beyond “the environmental dimension.”

“Sustainability is also about preserving quality of life and quality of place in our community,” Pollack said. “It’s about more than just the natural environment. So for us, the act of planning, and in particular land use planning, is about holistic consideration of all of those factors, which in aggregate, to me, define sustainability.

If you are trying to minimize impacts across the spectrum, social and environmental, with your planning decisions, then you are inherently operationalizing sustainability.”

Efficiency also should play an integral part in sustainability planning, though it can get overlooked.

“Efficiency is inherently part and parcel with sustainability,” Pollack said. “Any time you’re increasing efficiency, you’re increasing the bang that you’re getting for the buck in terms of resource consumption.”

In that vein, the Port of Harlingen has developed a master plan that emphasizes sustainability and efficiency in its infrastructure modernization projects, which include roadways and docks. Smith said the Port of Harlingen’s master planning process was driven by a need to identify its infrastructure needs more clearly and to better understand what had to be done for facilities “to be sustainable” for the future.

Smith said it was clear that securing state and federal funding for Port of Harlingen infrastructure projects would depend on demonstrating the importance of sustainability in the port’s planning efforts.

“You have to have a plan in place, and you have to be able to show that you’re looking to the future and you’re looking to be sustainable,” Smith said. “You have to be able to show that the dollars that they’re going to provide you are going toward something that’s going to be sustainable, because they don’t want to give you money for a project that three years down the road may be gone.”