Port of Antwerp says ecological footprint lags behind freight volume and industrial output

Sep 10, 2019   Supply Chain

The Port of Antwerp says it is taking important steps to become the sustainable port of the future.

This is the clear message of the fifth Sustainability Report published on September 10 by the port community. Development of the port must go hand-in-hand with the largest possible contribution to society, according to the report. Published every two years, it summarises the main economic, ecological and social indicators. These demonstrate the areas of sustainability in which the port is doing well, but also where additional efforts are required. Read the full Sustainability Report here.

Freight handling and industrial output flourishing

2018 was an excellent year for Port of Antwerp with a total maritime freight volume of 235.2 million tonnes, up 5.1% on the previous period and the sixth record year in a row. Industrial investments in the port also increased.

According to Port of Antwerp CEO Jacques Vandermeiren: "The positive aspect is that we are managing to stop our ecological footprint from getting bigger, despite larger freight volumes and higher industrial output. NOx and SO2 have declined further, our energy consumption is down and the number of green energy production units is growing steadily.”

Circular economy and digitisation

In the past few years the port community has resolutely pursued innovation as a way of meeting the challenges posed by climate change. For example, with the introduction of Ecluse, the first steam heating network for industry. This now provides 5% of total Flemish production of environment-friendly heating and saves CO2 emissions of 100,000 tonnes per year. Onshore power supplies for ships at berth also help to reduce emissions within the port area. Since 2016 some 40 onshore powerpoints have been installed on quays for tugboats, barges and river cruise boats.

In a first demonstration round for Carbon Capture & Utilisation (CCU) various companies are collaborating to investigate the possibilities for environment-friendly production of methane from CO2. Initiatives such as these are encouraging companies to experiment with new technologies, so that they can be scaled up in the longer term. In ways such as these Antwerp serves as a test-bed for innovation.

The port also leads the way in using digital transition projects as a lever for more sustainable logistics, in order to remain competitive on a worldwide scale.

"Together with the business world we have introduced the NxtPort data-sharing platform aimed at making the maritime and logistical processes in the port more efficient," declares Stephan Vanfraechem, director of Alfaport Voka.

A port for people

The port already provides employment directly and indirectly for more than 144,000 people, and seeks to remain an attractive employer in future. Practical ways of achieving this include multimodal commuter transport projects such as the Waterbus, working close to home, combined academic/practical courses, training courses and personal development. Efforts also focus on preparing candidates for jobs that are difficult to fill.

The port attaches great importance to respectful dialogue with local residents, with various channels of participation to let their voices be heard in projects that are liable to have a large impact such as the Oosterweel road link. The first "State of the Waasland port for local residents" was held last year.

On a worldwide scale the port contributed its expertise for Beyond Chocolate, a project for collaboration between the chocolate industry, government, scientists and civil society in order to make Belgian chocolate more sustainable, with respect for people and nature.

Future challenges

Although the port continues to make progress in sustainability, freight volume and industrial output, additional efforts are still necessary.

"To maintain our economic leadership position it is vital to keep the port accessible. And for ecological reasons too, we must tackle the problem of mobility. In particular, achieving a modal shift from road to transport by barge and rail is a priority for the near future," declares Peter Van de Putte, manager of the Left Bank Development Corporation.
The biggest challenge remains the transition to renewable energy sources and a circular economy through the introduction of innovative technologies. Alternative fuels are already being made available, but the supply has yet to expand. LNG is an temporary solution, but the port community sees perspectives in methanol and hydrogen. In 2021, an operational testing ground must encourage the development of new technologies and upscale them in the port of Antwerp.

Sustainability Award

In order to keep up the sustainability momentum, next year the port will once more present a Sustainability Award to the company with the most innovative project in the field of sustainability. This competition which is held every two years has an international reputation, and all companies in the port are eligible to participate.

About the Sustainability Report

Not only local companies but also other ports will find examples in the report that will inspire them to make their own contributions towards sustainability. For instance, the previous report inspired the international maritime sector to adopt the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. This led in 2018 to the charter of the World Ports Sustainability Program being signed in Antwerp.

The 2019 Sustainability Report itself has been drawn up in accordance with the standards of the Global Reporting Initiative and has been validated by an external auditor.

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