Sustainable development in the maritime industry: a multi-case study of seaports

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Seaports are historic and commercial infrastructures and significant nodes in the logistics and transport chains that form the backbone of national and regional economies. However, ports are also sites of environmental pollution originating from land-based activities, ship movements and ports‘ own activities that impact the ecology. It is, therefore, increasingly recognized that economic growth in ports must be balanced with environmental protection and social progress. This has led to enhanced appreciation of the need for sustainable development in ports. While much has been written about port environmental practices in European and American ports, there is limited synthesis of sustainable port practices from different parts of the world. Furthermore, in-depth case analysis and critical examination of the challenges of sustainable port development is limited.

Given this gap, this paper presents findings from a qualitative multi-case study research that aimed to analyse sustainable port policies and practices from a range of perspectives as well as to understand the dilemmas, challenges and opportunities faced in attaining SD in ports. This paper reports findings pertaining to the following research questions from a larger study:

  1. What specific sustainable practices do ports utilise to manage environmental aspects such as air pollution, water quality, ballast water, dredging and disposal of dredged materials, and hazardous substances?
  2. What are the driving and constraining forces in achieving sustainable development in ports?

Four port authorities were studied by reviewing documents and secondary data – the Port of Long Beach (USA), Port of Rotterdam Authority (The Netherlands), Sydney Ports Corporation (Australia), and Transnet Ltd. that owns and manages South African ports. Findings of the study demonstrate that the SD paradigm has gained momentum, albeit to differing degrees, in the functioning, organisation and the very ethos of case study ports. An important theme from all four case studies is that, while there is definite progress towards SD, practices deemed to be sustainable must be critically examined from the perspectives of different stakeholders including shippers, port-related businesses, and the local and global community. Reconciling differences between stakeholders; capitalising on economic opportunities, operational efficiencies and cost- savings offered by environmental-friendliness; public-private partnerships; and policies negotiated by involving all stakeholders were found to foster port sustainability. Furthermore, this study found that globalisation necessitates a more holistic and global analysis of port operations and environment practices in order to be truly sustainable.

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