| Written by Mark Buzinkay

Environmental sustainability and port development is a growing concern among governments, international agencies, and business sectors across the globe today. It is essential to ensure that port development doesn't erode the quality of our environment and instead seeks to promote sustainable growth and development.

In this article, we will examine how ports development can increase sustainability according to the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We will explore the impact of port development on economic, environmental, and social sustainability and offer a range of solutions to help promote sustainable port development.

Ports Development and Sustainability

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Overview of Port Development and Sustainability

The development of ports is vital to global trade, providing a necessary gateway for goods and services to be transported around the world. Although these ports serve a critical economic purpose, they often have a negative environmental impact. In the past, port terminal development had been left largely unregulated, leading to numerous environmental problems including air pollution, water pollution, and habitat destruction. For this reason, ensuring that port development is being done with sustainability in mind is becoming increasingly important.

The process of port development typically includes a variety of activities, such as constructing new infrastructure, dredging, and filling in land. To be done sustainably, these activities must be carefully planned and managed to minimize their environmental impact. For example, new infrastructure should be designed and built to reduce air and water pollution, and any dredging or filling operations should be done in a way that does not damage the local ecosystem.

The development of sustainable ports (read more about the "green port concept") also requires the involvement of local stakeholders. Local businesses, fishermen, and residents should all be consulted and included in the decision-making process for any port development project, as their input can provide valuable insight into the potential environmental and community impacts of the project.

For William Chan, Hong-Kong based Smartports Consultant, sustainability is critical for all business success in the future, especially in the maritime business: "I think it will impact everyone in the ecosystem. Not because of the penalties could apply to non-compliance, or ceasing of operation, but also for the core competency, profitability and corporate rating."

In addition, port developers must also consider ways to reduce the environmental impact of their operations, such as using renewable energy sources, implementing water recycling systems, and using electric vehicles. By taking these measures, port developers can ensure that their operations are as sustainable as possible.

In summary, port development must be done with sustainability in mind to ensure that the environmental and community impacts are minimized. This requires careful planning and management of the development process, as well as the involvement of local stakeholders. It also requires developers to consider ways to reduce their operations' environmental impacts through renewable energy sources, water recycling systems, and electric vehicles. By following these guidelines, port developers can help ensure that their operations are as sustainable as possible.


What are Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)?

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are an internationally agreed-upon set of goals agreed upon in 2015 as part of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The goals are aimed at addressing the root causes of poverty, promote prosperity, and protect the environment while ensuring that no person is left behind. In specific terms, the 17 SDGs cover issues such as poverty, hunger, health, education, climate change, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, and more.

When developing a port, it is important to keep in mind the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, so as to ensure that the growth of the port is not just financially beneficial but also sustainably minded. For example, SDG 14 aims to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development. Taking this goal into account when developing a port is key for maintaining the health of the marine environment, thus helping to ensure that any port development is ethical and sustainable.

"For me, sustainability is a goal we have to collaborate together to achieve the reduction of GHG emission with the aids of green technologies, fuels, operation, and collaboration of the industries and government support", says William Chan in a recent call with IDENTEC SOLUTIONS, "but there is a lot to do."

When considering port development, it is essential to consider its impact on the SDGs. For example, port development projects often involve dredging, which can have a significant impact on marine ecosystems. If done correctly, dredging can have a positive environmental impact. However, if done incorrectly, it can have a negative effect on marine life, resulting in the destruction of habitats and the displacement of sea life. Furthermore, port developments produce a large amount of industrial waste that can threaten the health of local populations and ultimately contribute to the climate crisis. Therefore, it is important to ensure that port development efforts consider the SDGs and commit to minimizing their impact on the environment.


Ports Development and Challenges

Developing modern ports, while keeping sustainability in mind, is no small task. Projects of this scale involve a great number of stakeholders and significant amounts of financial resources. Capturing the opportunities that come with successful port development while minimizing the negative externalities associated with it, therefore, requires comprehensive, long-term planning.

Finding the right balance between socio-economic and environmental objectives when planning and executing port development projects requires coordination and collaboration between different governmental stakeholders, industry organizations, and members of the local community. It also involves an extensive knowledge on different complex issues related to transport and logistics, maritime law and regulation, economic development, and environmental management.

One of the major challenges of port development is finding the most suitable locations for new port infrastructure. This involves conducting an initial analysis of both the proposed site and its surroundings to identify potential impacts of the project. Technical, economic, and environmental considerations should be taken into account, with particular attention paid to threats stemming from climate change and environmental pollution.

In addition, port development projects must comply with a wide range of international standards and regulations. Such regulations are likely to vary according to the country or region, and port developers must ensure that their projects meet all the applicable requirements. This can involve drafting a number of technical documents and reports to demonstrate the project’s compatibility with such standards.

Funding is also a major challenge of port development. In order to secure the necessary resources and investments, port operators usually need to seek financial support from both public and private sources. This can involve creating business plans and demonstrating the project's potential economic impact.

Finally, port development projects require effective stakeholder management. This involves engaging and consulting all the affected parties, providing them with regular updates on the progress of the project, and addressing any concerns they may have.

Overall, developing modern ports with sustainability in mind is a complex process which requires careful planning and coordination among multiple stakeholders. To ensure success, port developers must take into account a wide range of considerations, both technical and economic, as well as comply with international standards and regulations (read more about container terminal automation).


Financial sustainability

It is important to consider the economic implications of any proposed changes to ensure the sustainability of port development. Long-term economic stability is necessary to ensure the successful operation of any port and its associated activities. This means that careful consideration must be given to the costs of port development, maintenance, and operations. It is also important to consider the potential for future economic returns that can be generated from the port's operations.

The financial sustainability of port development must also take into account any subsidies and financing that may be necessary. These subsidies can come from a variety of sources such as governments, investors, and public-private partnerships. It is important to consider how these subsidies will be repaid and what their long-term impacts may be. It is also important to consider any potential grants or other financial incentives that may be available to support port development. 


Social Impacts

Port development can have far-reaching impacts on local communities, including both positive and negative consequences. On the one hand, increased port development can lead to an influx of jobs and investment, particularly in areas with high unemployment levels. On the other hand, port development can also lead to an increase in noise, air and water pollution, as well as other environmental issues. Additionally, port development may also increase the cost of living in an area, and some people may be displaced due to the need for land reclamation and other projects. It is important that when undertaking port development, the social impacts of the project are considered. This includes ensuring that vulnerable or marginalised community members are not disproportionately affected and that steps are taken to limit any negative impacts and take advantage of the potential for increased job opportunities.


Ports Development and sustainable solutions

The development of ports has the potential to bring economic growth but also to significantly harm the environment. With a focus on sustainability, several strategies can be employed to ensure that any port development is carried out in an environmentally responsible manner.

Firstly, it is important to ensure that the engineering design of the port infrastructure is sound. This includes considering the environmental impacts of the development including the potential of runoff into adjacent waterways, the potential impact of increased construction traffic, and other environmental concerns. To mitigate these impacts, environmentally-friendly engineering solutions should be implemented, such as using permeable pavements and runoff capture systems.

Secondly, when constructing a new port or carrying out maintenance on an existing port, the use of renewable energy sources should be strongly considered. For example, wind power could potentially be used to provide energy for port operations and to power the lights that are often used to light up the docks.

Thirdly, it is important to reduce emissions associated with port operations. This could be done through the use of biodiesel fuel for ships and other port vehicles and technologies such as hybrid electric propulsion for ships, which reduces emissions significantly.

Finally, ports should encourage the use of green logistics and transport solutions, such as the use of small boats and electric vehicles for port transport. This would significantly reduce the pollution associated with port operations. By incentivizing the use of these solutions, ports are able to reduce their environmental impacts and make their operations more sustainable.

For William Chan, there is even more to that: "We can see sustainability as common goals in the industries also driven by many governments such as Hong Kong as International Maritime Center. For example, Hong Kong has a goal committed to peak carbon emissions by 2020 and to reduce them by 26-36% from 2005 levels by 2030. "


Environmental Solutions 

Besides economic and social solutions to the SDG roadmap, environmental aspects play a crucial role now. "I think the IMO 2030 will expect an even greater reduction of Carbon emission by 40% with 2008 levels. However, this requirement should expect significant change to vessel design and use of LNG or BioFuel / BioFuel", William Chan says, "The terminal also requires to provide bunkering or electric charging station, waste management, upgrade of port equipment, reduction of noise and light pollution, and optimizing their services to vessel and equipment moves etc.."

Developing a port with sustainability in mind is more than just a buzzword - it's about making a conscious effort to reduce the environmental impacts of operations, materials, and transportation and improving container terminal operations at the same time. By taking into account the environment’s specific needs and limitations, a port can grow and improve while integrating sustainable solutions.

"This in mind, the impact of shipping lines is also expected to their operation including the detention of old vessels for compliance, a potential decrease in capacity due to the reduction in speed, an increase in transit time, with disparities between routes, and disruption of charters due to the reduction in speed to reduce fuel consumption", acknowledges Chan.

When considering port development, it’s essential to consider reducing emissions from vessels, increasing port efficiency and reducing land use. Moving towards an energy-efficient port can be achieved by investing in greener technology, such as hybrid vessels and low-emission shore-based equipment. Waste management should also be taken into consideration. By properly handling the materials and waste produced at the port, the environment can be kept clean and can be used as a source of renewable energy.

In addition to greener technology and waste management, port operators should also consider the impact of their activities on biodiversity. To promote biodiversity and sustainability, ports should invest in technologies that are low impact to the surrounding habitats and embrace nature-based solutions such as adding wildlife corridors and artificial wetlands.

By actively investing in sustainable solutions, ports can continue to grow while protecting the environment. By incorporating green technologies and reducing their impacts on local communities and habitats, ports can be developed in a way that is not only sustainable but also beneficial to the surrounding environment.



Fit for 55

"Fit for 55" brings together legislative proposals and initiatives presented by the European Commission in July. This package aims to align the European Union's climate policy with the 2030 climate targets and work towards the ultimate goal—climate neutrality by 2050.

"55" stands for the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, one of the main goals of the package. One EU measure is the Emissions Trading System (ETS), initially part of a directive (2003/87/EC) to reduce emissions. 

"Fit for 55" extends the existing ETS to new sectors, including shipping. Ships within the regulation's scope must record their emissions under the EU Monitoring, Reporting and Verification Regulation (2015/757) (EU MRV). 

Another part of the package of measures that also affects container terminals is the FuelEU Maritime initiative to promote the introduction of sustainable alternative fuels in the maritime sector. Ports, as important hubs, also serve as refuelling points and can thus promote the introduction of clean fuels, for example, by investing in infrastructure such as LNG bunkering facilities.

There are already several ports with LNG facilities, such as the port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands. Rotterdam is a pioneer in LNG bunkering and operates several stations. Another key LNG bunkering port in Europe is Zeebrugge in Belgium.



In conclusion, the development and maintenance of ports should be done with sustainability in mind. Through the implementation of sustainable engineering solutions and the use of renewable energy sources, ports can reduce their environmental impacts and ensure their operations are carried out responsibly. Additionally, ports should strive to reduce emissions and encourage green logistics solutions. By following these strategies, ports can ensure that they are contributing to sustainable development.

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Note: This article was updated on the 8th of May 2024



Mark Buzinkay, Head of Marketing

Mark Buzinkay holds a PhD in Virtual Anthropology, a Master in Business Administration (Telecommunications Mgmt), a Master of Science in Information Management and a Master of Arts in History, Sociology and Philosophy. Mark