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Jan Beyne

September 23, 2019

Jan Beyne

Let’s celebrate World Maritime Day

Sustainable Transformation

This year’s theme of World Maritime Day 2019 is ‘Empowering Women in the Maritime Community’. This provides a perfect opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of gender equality, in line with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals, and to highlight the important – yet underused – contribution of women within the maritime sector.

Ports worldwide pursue a workforce that reflects the active population in the region: the male/female ratio, the ratio of different age groups, the ratio of people with and without a migration background.

Nevertheless, this remains a big challenge. In their 5th sustainability report, the Port of Antwerp (POA) recognizes that diversity in the workplace hasn’t become a reality yet in the port region. An important step forward this year was the development of a more diverse, inclusive communication and brand policy, and the establishment of a network for women at the port.

Communicate your commitment

Incorporating sustainability actions such as these into your business or policy is an important step. But it is equally important to communicate your commitment and challenges both internally and externally, to business partners, suppliers, customers and other stakeholders.

62% of 796 companies in the Antwerp port region do not communicate sustainability issues on their website or in their annual reports.

A sustainability review of companies in the Antwerp port region, elaborated by Antwerp Management School as part of the Chair on Sustainable Transformation, supported by the Port of Antwerp, BASF and Randstad, demonstrated that 62% of 796 companies in the Antwerp port region do not communicate sustainability issues on their website or in their annual reports.

For this research, the sustainability content is classified as quantitative or qualitative information, and the material sustainability issues are noted and linked to the SDGs and type of sustainable solutions. A material issue is considered implicit if it relates to the theme of an SDG but does not explicitly mention that SDG.

5 main research insights

  1. 62% have no reporting, 12% have little reporting, 9% have average reporting, 4% high reporting and 6% very high reporting.
  2. Only 38 companies (4,8%) explicitly mention working with the SDGs.
  3. The top explicitly mentioned SDGs are SDG 8 (Decent work and economic growth) and SDG 13 (Climate action), followed by SDG 17 (Partnerships), SDG 9 (Industry, innovation and infrastructure), SDG 11 (Sustainable cities and communities) and SDG 12 (Responsible consumption and production).
  4. A company that communicates one SDG is more likely to report on other SDGs as well.
  5. Companies that do not use the SDG framework to communicate, are more likely to report on single topics.

Sustainability reporting is still immature

The findings show that sustainability reporting is still immature in the port business community. However, there are quite a few best practices to share and learn from. Also, reporting is clearly context-specific: different sectors have different priorities. This may be explained by the diverse range of categories, sectors and clusters in the port region. A shipping agency needs to tackle different challenges than a container terminal for example.

Through initiatives such as the Port of Antwerp Sustainability Awards, companies are triggered to communicate better their commitment and their challenges of sustainability. This exchange of ideas and plans in the port area is necessary to make progress towards sustainable development and the achievement of the SDGs.

Another study “Green Supply Chains” prepared by the University of Antwerp, VIL and UPT Erasmus for ING, recommends that - next to communication and information provision -  market actors will more than ever have to call out to other partners in the chain on how they can help companies to achieve sustainability objectives.

Using the SDG framework promotes a systemic approach to communicating and reporting

While explicit SDG reporting is low, far more companies already implicitly report on the SDGs. This may be explained by the fact that Agenda 2030 and the SDGs are not well known yet in the port community.

Nevertheless, using the SDG framework is more likely to promote a systemic approach to communicating and reporting on sustainability actions. It is tempting for companies to report on “easy” SDGs such as SDG 8, 9 and 12. However, the correlations between SDGs show that integrated reporting has more benefits. Thus, companies show a joint commitment and dedication to the overall sustainability agenda, instead of cherry-picking a few actions.

It is important to celebrate days like the World Maritime Day. This way, companies and organizations have the opportunity to communicate their plans, achievements and challenges. Through campaigns like these, new opportunities emerge to mobilize political will and resources to address global challenges in the maritime sector and to educate people on actions taken by the shipping industry.

More information on the Chair on Sustainable Transformation