Shipping, Sustainable Oceans, and Posidonia

Every two years Greece hosts the Posidonia shipping conference, considered by many to be one of the most pioneering and impactful maritime events in the world.   In early June, I was fortunate to attend this year’s event (my first time), which hosted over 22,000 participants and 2,000 exhibitors from 92 countries, making it one of the largest international shipping exhibitions in history.  


The ocean is never far from my thoughts: our family business is Moran Shipping Agencies, Inc., a global leader in maritime transportation logistics, ship agency, international safety and environmental regulatory compliance, and the digitization of port call management. Most recently, our company has diversified into new bluetech areas including maritime cyber security, ballast water testing, and offshore wind logistics services.

Through my experience in shipping, I have come to understand the importance of healthy sustainable oceans, and in particular, the vital role shipping plays in this mission. Scientists and industry leaders have taught me that good data is our starting point and that only through investment in innovation driven by all stakeholders (particularly industry) will we successfully achieve the goal of sustainable oceans. This ideal is also what led me to co-found SeaAhead earlier this year, where a key part of our mission is to foster innovative solutions to the environmental challenges impacting marine transport.

Before I reflect on Posidonia, let’s get some context by considering commercial shipping and the environment.  The good, the bad, and the challenging:

CO2 transport.png

The good news: on one hand, when compared to other modes of transport, shipping carries over 90% of the world’s traded goods and boasts the smallest carbon footprint.   In my favorite example, the wine lover in NYC choosing Bordeaux is paradoxically doing much more to help the environment when compared to that wine lover choosing a California Cabernet.  Why you ask?  Most Bordeaux travels by vessel, while the bottle from California likely traveled by truck where it’s shipment had over 10 times the environmental impact per ton shipped. 

Most recently, the shipping industry has shown growing leadership in placing a priority on sustainability. While bad actors do exist, most data show they are in decline. Global industry now most often actively advocates for smart and high environmental standards, uniformly regulated and applied globally, rather than a patchwork of local regulations which traditionally have disrupted level playing fields and precipitated bad actions.

Now the bad news: Although shipping is the greenest method of transportation, recent data suggest marine transport contributes between 2-3% of the world’s carbon emissions, with troubling projections for the decades to come.  The industry is facing other environmental challenges as well, such as the transportation of invasive species through ballast water and fouling, sound pollution, and wildlife collisions. 

And the challenging: Often the science does not exist to solve these intractable problems or even meet new global regulations. With the lack of viable solutions, best practice is still falling short. Again, innovation is paramount. 

Now back to Greece and Posidonia, where for the first time sustainable shipping squarely took centerstage. So important is this event that the opening ceremony was led by the Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, who I was told (the speech was naturally in Greek – all Greek to me) addressed green shipping and ports. It was later reported that this was the first time that Day One of Posidonia was dedicated to sustainability - focusing on clean shipping, LNG powered vessels, and to a lesser extent, green ports. Also opening the event was European Commissioner for Transport Violeta Bulc, who discussed the International Maritime Organization’s 2020 global Sulphur cap and an EU vision of zero emissions by 2050.  Particularly noteworthy was the launch of Probunkers, an LNG bunker vision innovatively converging the energy and shipping industries, offering global deep pocketed investors a unique way for large scale investment in shipping and energy.

A common theme among speakers and participants was the notion that great commercial opportunities exist for innovative companies looking to meet new regulations and the prospect of novel green revenue streams.  It was exciting to see so many exhibitors promoting new technologies focused on sustainability. Ship builders and engine manufacturers were most prominent. Ballast water treatment technologies were also a focus.  There are too many green solution providers to list, although notable newcomers for me included Blue Ocean Solutions, Green Maritime Technology, and Karcher Marine. I was proud to represent both Moran Shipping’s bluetech solutions as well as introduce the industry to SeaAhead, Inc, where I felt our vision was very well received. Already resulting from my trip, our SeaAhead team is forming a partnership with a prominent global environmental maritime trade association. On the startup front, thanks to Posidonia we have engaged in discussions with a Europoean company with new digital tech designed to make berthing vessels safer.   

At SeaAhead, we believe in the benefits that can come from catalyzing the intersection of the oceans, innovation and sustainability, with the maritime sector a core component.  We’d love to continue this discussion on green shipping, or on how you can get good Bordeaux shipped from France.

-          Jason