By its nature, the shipping industry is one of the truly global industrial sectors influencing the world’s economies, affected by a raft of industry, regional, political and resource challenges in the face of ever-increasing strains and demands on the freight domain.
Formulating a plan to deal with such myriad challenges therefore becomes an imperative, if not even more challenging, requirement, and is one that the Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI) has worked to achieve since first implementing its Case for Action in 2011.
Its subsequent Vision 2040 further elaborated on the trends that needed to be addressed on an intercontinental scale, and the challenges that needed to be overcome over the coming decades; culminating in a member-led organisation that continues to expand and educate with each passing year en route to 2040.
The Chief Executive orchestrating SSI’s successes is Alastair Fischbacher who, having experienced and witnessed many of the impending challenges the shipping industry faces while working for Rio Tinto, is optimistic about the organisation’s plan for shipping’s future.
Asia Outlook was fortunate enough to talk to Fischbacher about the SSI’s rise to prominence thus far, its goals, and the key drivers behind the 2040 milestone.
Asia Outlook (AsO): Please talk me through the Sustainable Shipping Initiative’s origins, the original Case for Action, and your role as part of the organisation.
Alastair Fischbacher (AF): I was working for Rio Tinto when the Company joined the SSI in its founding stage and as it was developing its Case for Action.
At that time there was a lot of work being done in understanding the wide variety of trends and challenges that were affecting the industry.
Those were then narrowed down into the megatrends, which were illustrated in the Case for Action in 2011. The Vision 2040 was extrapolated from this and also published later that year.
AsO: What were these megatrends and how much of a collaborative process was involved in bringing them to light?
AF: Seven megatrends were identified, covering a number of different areas including the global economy, technology, the changing climate, the energy mix and migration from the use of oil, ocean governance and regulations, and the transparency of the industry.
These became the focal point, because beforehand, while we had the background and substance, we needed to conceptually clarify it. With these underlying megatrends in place we not only developed a vision but we also had people standing up and acknowledging it. Even more importantly, it wasn’t just the people working on it standing up and saying ‘this is it’, but it was the CEOs of the member companies signing the Vision and saying ‘yes, we agree with this’.
People who join now are still physically signing up to that Vision, working together to find solutions to the three key challenges; the economic context, the increased scrutiny regarding energy, and climate change.
AsO: Following the establishment of the Vision 2040, what efforts went into spreading the word and ensuring that it caught the industry’s attention?
AF: Essentially, the SSI’s remit is comprised of two things. One is the collaborative efforts of the members in demonstrating leadership in the industry, working together and sharing best practice amongst ourselves. This involves learning from one another and ultimately accelerating progress internally.
Secondly is the education of the industry from a wider, external context based on the learnings and knowledge developed. Having done the internal side of things, it then expands externally to show we are prepared to share more widely what we know and understand.
There’s always a balance between commercial sensitivity and appropriate levels of communication, but the fact that members are prepared to try and engage, and bring the industry along with them is very important.
A lot of what is said is around the case of ‘the longer you leave it, the harder it becomes’; because there is no doubt that the industry has to change from a number of perspectives. You’re seeing those impacts already through increased discussions over emissions on a political and chartering level, and whereas corporate social responsibility was not really a well-known term in shipping not long ago, it is now becoming increasingly visible under the holistic banner of sustainability.
It is a member-led organisation, so the responsibility is with them to influence change, but we also publish case studies that demonstrate best practice, and reports which reference activities and things being done; the successes, the challenges and how they can be overcome. We have to be proactive, but pushing the boundaries is what’s required to portray the same old stories in a different way and to keep it fresh in the industry.
We published our Case for Action in 2011, our Case for More Action in 2013, and we have another report coming out later this year. Following on from this, we have to find fresh and innovative ways to bring attention to the requirements, and drive actionable and tangible change, because they certainly haven’t gone away.
AsO: To that end, what responsibilities are placed on member companies to drive further development?
AF: As the SSI secretariat we don’t set individual ambition levels. From an SSI perspective, we take a view of the sustainability challenges within the industry, and work together as a collective to set out our Vision, and its objectives.
To assist this we have developed a roadmap, which sets out tangible milestones to work towards achieving it by 2040.
The roadmap highlights some uncertainties but also some things that really do need to happen if we are going to be successful, and through our members, it’s already happening to a large extent.
We have improved that interaction and visibility, with the importance of the outcomes as the focus. It is an active membership, so when you join you have to do things and participate actively, share and be multifaceted.
It’s a matter of quality above quantity too, and we’re not seeking to grow our membership exponentially at the risk of detracting from how the organisation works. The existing members want new members to come in and participate, but if we grow too fast, that won’t happen in a successful way. It needs to be an organic growth.
AsO: What would you say have been the main signs of progress so far, despite still being in the very early stages of development?
AF: Firstly, the transparency being brought on by charterers’ requirements and the demand for transparency is one area that has been developing positively.
Secondly is progress in technical areas, because while it’s a slow process and it’s unlikely that there will be a light bulb moment, there is still a lot of great work going on.
Another aspect of our vision already being seen is the mix of fuels being used. We went from coal to oil in terms of ship propulsion and now we have LNG coming on board too. We also have talk of wind assist technologies which are exciting, despite coming with their own challenges.
Lots of things are happening, from very small but important improvements - focused on making day-to-day operations more efficient such as slow steaming and route optimisation to save fuel and reduce emissions - to some fairly large scale improvements from a technical perspective that could potentially transform vessel designs of the future.
AsO: Looking forward, to what extent do you believe the SSI is on the right track to achieving its Vision 2040 and what do you believe the key drivers will be in maintaining this progression?
AF: If you look at the Vision, there is a lot that needs to happen between now and 2040. It’s difficult to put specific timeframes on each area, but key challenges like energy sources and the reduction of greenhouse gas intensity are clearly issues that we need to be a part of.
We also need to maintain the industry as an attractive workplace, which means not only having an up-to-date, safe and secure work environment, but also maintaining relationships with the communities we interface with. Similarly, in terms of business relationships, we have to be a trusted and responsible partner, again reinforcing the transparency aspect and producing more reports on that basis.
We published an interim update earlier this year which picked up on the megatrends affecting the Case for Action. These included factors such as increased transparency requirements, emissions regulations and the growth of renewable, plus the influence of emerging economies and their growing influence on energy supply and demand.
We’ve looked at how they’re developing now, so the road map which will come out in the next three months will hopefully illustrate the pathways around these aspects even more.