Green Ports: Embracing sustainable practices to future-proof our ports


Ports are essential to global trade as around 90% of all trade is currently seaborne. However, their virtually non-stop industrial activity across the globe means they are responsible for a fair share of the world’s air and water pollution.

With the Paris Agreement on global climate change back in 2015, the publishing of the UN Sustainable Development Goals in the same year, and the current world trends towards Net Zero, it is only natural that ports are increasingly interested in sustainable practices and how they can adopt these to align with the SDGs within their area of responsibility. This has led to the term “Green Port” becoming growingly popular to refer to ports that are taking proactive measures towards sustainable development and environmental awareness.

This paradigm shift should not only contribute positively to the planet but it should also help ports future-proof their business in a world where sustainability is making its way up in government’s agendas. As at 2020, some of the major environmental challenges the port industry faces are discussed below.

Examples of  major environmental and societal challenges faced by the port industry

Although the focus tends to be on air and water pollution from shipping emissions and heavy oil fuels, the wide range of activities taking place within the port area gives rise to a number of environmental and societal threats that cannot be neglected, such as air pollution from road transport and industrial chemical processes, noise and dust pollution from port operations and bulk handling, vessel-generated and port-generated waste collection and management, oil spills and accidental release of hazardous products, increased air and water pollution in neighbouring urban areas, ballast water disposal and exchange, and disposal of contaminated dredged sediments.

Measures being implemented by ports

Over the last decade and, in particular, after the release of the IMO GHG Strategy to reduce CO2 emissions across international shipping by at least 40% by 2030, ports have been adopting regulatory, technical, operational and economic actions to start the migration towards a “Green Port” model.

Examples of key areas of development and research within the “Green Port” context

The popularity of the measures and the pace of implementation of these measures is generally closely linked to the investment required and the financial support available. Numerous innovative pilot projects and tried and tested solutions are currently emerging in the port industry.

The figure below shows examples of actual measures currently being implemented across the globe:

Examples of “Green Port” actions being implemented across the globe

Currently, the most relevant examples of measures related to the Green port are explained below:

Alternative fuels

Safe and efficient bunkering of alternative low sulphur fuels such as Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) are one of the major focuses at the moment. Marine bunkering of other alternative fuels such as hydrogen for hydrogen powered vessels are also undergoing research and development, though it is still an immature market compared to other alternatives such as LNG.

Nonetheless, hydrogen-powered terminal vehicles are being implemented at ports like Rotterdam (NED) and, similarly, the Port of Tyne (UK) is investing in biomass powered eco-hoppers.

The provision of shore power (i.e. cold-ironing) is also becoming increasingly popular to provide an alternative energy source while berthed to stop vessels from using their own generators.

Renewable energy sourcing

The adoption of alternative, cleaner energy sources to fulfill port demands and supply surplus to local grid is also a major trend in the industry.

Initiatives such as the installation of wind mills on port land or wave energy harvesting (utilising the port structures or deploying remote equipment) present great opportunities to take advantage of otherwise wasted green energy thanks to the location ports generally benefit from.

Other measures with scalability potential ports are gradually adopting to obtain clean energy are the solar energy harvesting on roof and façades of port buildings or the storing of energy produced by STS (ship-to-shore) cranes during container lowering to reuse it for hoisting.

Digitalisation for energy efficiency

The digitalisation and, particularly, automatisation and the Internet of Things (IoT) have great potential towards achieving sustainability goals at ports, increasing efficiency and, consequently, improving profit. Examples of applications found in the port context are:

  • Intelligent transport systems and gate controls to minimise wait times
  • Optimisation of port calls facilitating just-in-time (JIT) arrival of ships
  • Smart port management applications to minimise ship idle time
  • Smart monitoring of energy usage and domotics to reduce energy consumption in port buildings
  • Digital twin models of the port infrastructure to identify and plan maintenance actions.

Contaminated dredged sediment management

The stabilization and solidification methods are becoming more and more popular to avoid older, frowned-upon solutions such us landfilling or offshore sediment disposal.

Waste management

A number of ports have or are in the process of building waste-to-energy plants within their land to produce energy from non-recyclable waste to supply to the port and supply surplus back to the local grid.

Ecology and human welfare

Noise, dust, and water quality monitoring allow to take proactive measures to avoid excessive levels of pollution and plan ahead of operations. Substantial investment on dust control measures like dust bosses, skirting on hoppers, and pyramid covers has recently made public by the Port of Tyne (UK), for example.

The devastation of local coastal and intertidal habitat due to discharge of ballast water contaminated with foreign microorganisms is a major issue. Ports must provide safe, adequate ballast water disposal and exchange facilities and have efficient, up to date protocols in place ships must follow to avoid undesired water spills into harbour waters.

Oil spill control

Measures implemented by ports to control accidental spills and reduce harm may include deploying oil containment booms during high-risk operations and ensure oil spill and hazardous matter early-response procedures are in place and up to date.


About the authors
Rubén Naveiro holds a MSc in Industrial Engineering and is a Director at ALG.
María García Mateo holds a MSc in Civil Engineering and a Master’s Degree in Architecture, Urban Planning and Building Engineering and is a Sr. Consultant at ALG.
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