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SSI releases guidelines for sustainable shipping

The Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI) is helping chart the course for a maritime industry that is “very slow to change.”

SSI released a statement last week saying its updated “Roadmap to a sustainable shipping industry” is a “resource for stakeholders across the shipping value chain to navigate the major, pressing sustainability challenges facing the industry.”

SSI Executive Director Andrew Stephens told FreightWaves he has seen a shift in the past five to seven years from the industry doing “good deeds” for the environment to making sustainability a part of company operations.

The “Roadmap to a sustainable shipping industry” features six vision areas aligned with the United Nations’ sustainable development goals: oceans, communities, people, transparency, finance and energy. Each vision area includes objectives and milestones from the 2020s to 2050.

What are the biggest challenges maritime faces in the transition to sustainability?

“Time is the challenge,” Stephens said, noting the maritime industry is “very slow to change.”

He discussed the time disconnect between regulations and actions in shipping. “What we see emerging is that regional regulation could be moving forward ahead of global regulations,” Stephens said.

He said regional regulations began long before IMO 2020 put a limit on sulfur emissions. But if there are different regulations for different regions that a company operates in, keeping vessels and operations compliant worldwide is a challenge, Stephens said.

Another obstacle revolves around the transition to sustainable alternative fuels. Stephens compared it to the chicken-and-the-egg dilemma. Shipping companies don’t want to invest in a new vessel without knowing what the technologies and fuels of the future will be, Stephens said. Companies want to avoid the “stranded asset risk” that their vessels won’t be usable or the right fuel won’t be available in a few years, he said. If there are several fuels being used for shipping, there is a chance that the ports a company needs to access might not provide the fuel its vessels require.

Which alternative fuels have the most promise to get the maritime industry to zero emissions by 2050?

“There is no silver bullet,” Stephens said, adding that no one has the answers right now. He predicted that maritime would likely see a multi-fuel future with potential for more dual-fuel-equipped vessels. He pointed out that the SSI is “fuel agnostic” and does not promote any specific fuels.

Stephens said that green and electro-fuels are emerging alongside other alternative fuels such as ammonia-based fuels and LNG. The SSI wants to make sure that all fuels are being evaluated not only for their price and efficiency, but also for their impacts on other sustainability criteria, such as air quality and socio-economic factors, he said.

In 2019, the SSI released a study, “The Role of Sustainable Biofuels in the Decarbonization of Shipping,” that explored the “food versus fuel” debate and the place biofuels may have as a transitional fuel to long-term decarbonization. You can find more of SSI’s work here.

SSI and the updated ‘Roadmap to a sustainable shipping industry’

Founded in 2010, the SSI is a member-led nongovernmental multi-stakeholder initiative that strives to guide the maritime industry to sustainable operations in terms of social, environmental and economic impacts. Stephens, who has been with SSI since August 2018, has 30 years of experience in the maritime industry.

Stephens said the updated guide has some additional and updated objectives and milestones. Finance and energy dominate industry discussions, he said, while there should be more focus on oceans, people, transparency and communities. Stephens said the SSI aims to connect all of the vision areas and “build attraction and adoption” of the map’s sustainability goals.

When asked about progress on goals of the road map, Stephens stated, “It’s about people, it’s about communities and it’s about transparency.” He said that currently shipowners are disclosing information on safe and responsible ship recycling policies and practices for around 5% of ocean vessels via the Ship Recycling Transparency Initiative. Stephens said the industry needs more transparency in other areas, including progress toward decarbonization.

As part of its work to maintain the road map, Stephens said the SSI plans to release a report on the state of sustainable shipping midyear annually. It will shine a light on continuous work and sustainability trends in shipping to create engagement and connect the dots across the shipping value chain, he said.

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