5 examples of best practice to sustainably finance the port sector

5 August 2021

The blue (ocean) economy offers many opportunities for private finance to lend and invest in a sustainable and nature-positive way. Here we look at some of the leading examples of best practice in social and environmental sustainability across the port sector which banks, insurers and investors can seek out.

Ports are gateways for development, global trade and maritime innovation, and being located at sea level, they are on the front lines of climate change. Ports are also clusters of companies and hubs of economic activity. With strong scale and scope advantages they are ideal hubs for sustainable maritime innovation and have become a key part of development strategies employed by many nations (Rodrigue and Notteboom 2020).

To further encourage the sustainable development of the sector, we have listed 5 examples of innovative best practice in ports that you might not know about. Check out Turning the Tide, UNEP FI’s detailed guidance on financing for the sustainable blue economy for more examples and how they may be material to your institution. The guide also includes an overview of activities to challenge or to avoid financing altogether, based on their sustainability credentials and overall risk. The recommendation may be to challenge certain activities, even where best practice is present in other areas.

1.     Green transport

Ports are the gateways between land and sea, and can offer opportunities for linking the blue economy with the green economy. Seek out ports or companies that provide green port-hinterland connections that are less reliant on additional travel or offer alternatives like rail terminal development.

2.     Green technology

Ports can be a hub for sustainable innovation and a centre for spinning off new business opportunities. Seek out ports that have skills and systems available to support green port technologies, for example in funding green technology development, as in the case of the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore’s Maritime Decarbonisation Centre.

Another green port initiative in Singapore is led by ship management company Eastern Pacific Shipping (EPS) and entrepreneur network Techstars. The duo announced a joint-venture project to launch a global start-up accelerator, the “EPS MaritimeTech Accelerator Powered by Techstars”. Digital technology is transforming the maritime space, making it possible to advance and monitor sustainability goals in everything from port operations to fuel efficiency and sustainable fishing. A shortlist of start-up companies was chosen for an intensive three-month programme of research and development, mentorship, and collaboration. The companies then pitched their business to an audience of venture capitalists, corporate innovation leaders and industry experts (Port Technology 2019).

“The maritime world has traditionally lagged behind other sectors when it comes to embracing and leveraging the power of digital solutions and new technology,” says Dhritiman Hui, the new managing director of the mentorship-driven Techstars accelerator program. “Now, the confluence of new regulation, an influx of tech-savvy entrepreneurs interested in the space, and large, deep-pocketed VC funds, intrigued by the size and the possibilities of the maritime sector, are threatening to shift that paradigm.”

3.     Spatial management

Ports are heavily trafficked areas with vessels arriving and departing throughout the day. This can cause impacts on wildlife and habitats. Seek out ports with policies and practices in place that protect vulnerable species and habitats and adapt to known animal aggregation migration routes – for example along the California coast annual incentives are offered for vessels to reduce speed in and around ports to avoid fatal collisions with whales and reduce noise pollution.

4.     Supply chains

How ports are powered and supplied carries significant environmental impacts, and when done sustainably can set an example for their hinterlands and associated ecosystem of businesses. Focusing on renewable energy, utilising waste heat, carbon capture and storage as well as improving energy efficiency are all steps that can be taken, as demonstrated by the Port of Rotterdam. Seek out ports or associated companies using green supply chains for renewable energy, waste management, and sustainable sourcing.

5.     Emissions incentives

Ports can incentivise their visiting ships to move towards best practice on e.g. carbon emissions, for example by offering incentives for good emission ratings through discounted port fees as done by a number of ports worldwide through the Environmental Ship Index. Seek out ports that offer lower fees or other incentives to attract ships with good emissions ratings.

For example, the Thames Green Scheme is a Port of London Authority (PLA) project that has been developed in partnership with vessel operators (Green Port 2020). Its focus is performance related to air quality, carbon emissions, energy use, water quality, litter and waste. Applicants to the scheme will be ranked in one of five tiers. This ranking system will recognise early adopters of new green technologies and allow customers to make more informed choices in connection with climate change and environmental impacts (ibid).

In addition to this scheme the PLA is also committed to cutting carbon emissions by more than 60% by 2025 and to achieving ‘net-zero’ by 2040 (ibid). Victoria Chan, Air Quality Advisor to the PLA said, “We have introduced this new scheme to help the inland waterways community do their bit in achieving national Net Zero goals, improving air quality and reducing damaging carbon emissions”. We also note that the project includes financing early-stage technologies, which expands the opportunity set for port finance beyond the traditional emphasis on proven infrastructure assets.


DISCLAIMER: This list does not represent investment advice, nor is it an endorsement of any specific investment opportunities. Due diligence should continue to apply in addition to consideration of opportunities enabled by applying the Turning the Tide guidance.

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