Sauder profs to lead international research network on eco-friendly shipping

Researchers at the Sauder School of Business are leading an international collaborative research network focused on improving the environmental performance of the maritime shipping industry.

The Green Shipping Partnership (GSP) is investigating efforts to encourage greener shipping practices and will contribute policy recommendations aimed at reducing the negative impacts of shipping on the environment.

“It’s a topic that is integral to the global economy,” said Dr. Jane Lister, research director of the network. “[Maritime shipping] has a major environmental impact which has been under-addressed.”

The research network is being run out of the Centre for Transportation Studies (CTS) at Sauder, where Lister is the associate director. It involves academic partners from universities across North America, Europe and Asia, including four different faculties at UBC. Seventeen industry, government and non-governmental partners are also involved.

“We want it to be integrated in both producing knowledge but also disseminating knowledge,” said Professor David Gillen, director of CTS and principal investigator for GSP. “Disseminating knowledge from academics to the private sector but also from academics to the private sector for policy, and to be able to use the network to facilitate education as well.”

Currently, the project is funded by a six-year, $2.5-million partnership development grant awarded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council, a federal agency that supports post-secondary research.

Increasing impact on the environment

The maritime shipping industry is huge. Approximately 90 per cent of globally-shipped goods are transported by container ship, according to the International Chamber of Shipping.

This is because shipping by container ship is relatively inexpensive. The enormous vessels burn bunker fuel, which is the lowest-quality form of diesel. It’s cheap but dirty, especially in terms of particulate and carbon emissions.

The International Council on Clean Transportation estimates that maritime shipping contributed roughly 3 per cent of global carbon emissions from 2007 to 2012. That number could increase to 17 per cent by 2050, a European Union estimate says.

In addition to the shipping industry’s impact on climate change, maritime shipping also causes numerous other land, air and water impacts. The transfer of ballast water — seawater collected by a ship to offset the weight of unloaded cargo — has been shown to introduce invasive species to marine ecosystems by transporting organisms to areas where they are not native. The impact of underwater noise on ocean mammals is also a key point of concern in places like Vancouver, where whales are common.

Individual ports have taken some action to implement green shipping initiatives, such as requiring ships to plug in to on-shore power upon arrival at port rather than idling their engines. The Port of Los Angeles has pledged to switch to zero-emission cargo handling equipment by 2030. The Port of Rotterdam has announced its intention to achieve zero-emission status by 2050.

The Port of Vancouver has also been a global leader in this regard. In 2017, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority was given the North American Marine Environment Protection Association award for its marine environment protection initiatives. These initiatives include a study aimed at better understanding and managing the impact of shipping activities on whales throughout the southern coast of BC. Ships that implement emissions reduction measures can also receive a discount of up to 47 per cent off harbour dues.

But progress at the global level has been slow.

The International Maritime Organization, a United Nations body, is responsible for regulating global shipping industry. But as of October 2017, it only had one regulation mandating improvements in energy efficiency.

The lack of international standards means that there is a patchwork of regulations at the domestic, regional and international levels.

GSP aims to address this lack of policy coordination by examining case studies to determine the issues and the best policy instruments to address them. They would then take these recommendations to industry leaders, policymakers and other key players involved in the sustainable development of the maritime economy.

Cutting across disciplines

In response to the scope of this topic, the research network will take on a multidisciplinary approach, bringing together business management scholars, political scientists, economists and scientists.

Academics will participate in joint research projects that focus on governance in five main areas: trade and logistics, green ports, innovation, stakeholders and value chain. A chair has been appointed to lead research in each area.

Research will progress in phases, starting with an identification of the major knowledge gaps that exist, addressing those gaps, and then mobilizing knowledge by lobbying industry leaders, policymakers and other key players involved in the sustainable development of the maritime economy.

“Our project is unique because it goes beyond strictly an economic analysis of the industry, which has been the major form of investigation, to include political, social and environmental aspects,” said Lister.

Academics, industry and government

The partnership with industry and government agencies is especially exciting, according to Lister and Gillen.

Industry partners will provide access to previously unreleased data that will be used for in-depth analysis. They will also provide guidance in terms of making sure the project is addressing research questions that are important to the industry.

“It’s not a question of if — it’s a question of how we’re going to improve [the industry’s] environmental performance,” said Lister. “I think they appreciate that there [are] best practices that can be shared.”

The participation of government agencies such as Transport Canada will also come into play at a later phase, as the researcher seek to mobilize the knowledge they generate by converting it into policy recommendations.

The project will also open a number of opportunities for Sauder students, according to Gillen. He hopes the partnership will facilitate exchanges of graduate students in the future.