The ‘licence to operate’ … a proactive approach is more and more essential for the port actors

Published by  4 January, 2016 10:17 am Leave your thoughts

Interview of Prof Dr Michele ACCIARO, Associate Professor of Maritime Logistics at Kühne Logistics University (KLU), Hamburg

photos Michele Acciaro“Ports and cities have for many centuries lived in a symbiotic relationship. Industrialization has often increased conflict and in many cases required the port to move away from the city. A better account of the environmental and social dimension within port management can bring the port and the city together again and help them prosper together and strengthen each other.”

AIVP: Green strategies and corporate responsibility policies in the port sector are integrating more and more the classical business development schemes. What are the drivers of interest in these strategies and how comes that corporate responsibility for ports is increasing in these last years?

Michele Acciaro: The port sector has gone through a very dramatic change in the last half century, mostly as a result of deregulation and growth. The popularity of the landlord governance model, in all its nuances, stems from the recognition that entrusting the private sector with port operation can afford very high levels of efficiency and often reduce the burden of infrastructure development. However, as the number or private companies in ports increase and port authorities adopt private sector attributes as a result of devolution, deregulation and corporatisation processes, the pressure of all port actors to acquire what is often referred to as the ‘licence to operate’ increases. The complexity of port operations and the large number of actors that are involved in the port leads the public opinion to identify the port with the port authority. In addition the relations of port authorities with local governments and other public bodies are at the basis of the assumption by the public opinion that if something is not working in the port it should be the responsibility of the Port Authority to fix it. This puts a lot of pressure on ports to come up with solutions to the problems faced by the port-neighbouring communities. For example, in many ports emissions or pollution from terminal activities are not the responsibility of the port authority, and yet the public often expects the port authority to come up with a solution to reduce or compensate for such negative effects. The particular focus on environmental and social issues is of course also the consequence of increasing attention in the public opinion to the negative effects of port operations and maritime transport in general. Most ports have taken a rather responsive approach, dealing with issues as they are presented to them. I believe, however, as many port managers do, that it is better to think preventively of the potential issues that could emerge for the port. In many developed countries we take prosperity as a given, so convincing citizens of the economic benefits deriving from port activities is becoming increasingly difficult as port authorities are faced with the challenge of convincing the public that the negative external effects of the port are balanced by the positive effects. The expectation is, however, that port activities should be performed at zero external costs.

AIVP: In your article you mention that social structures such as norms, but also unwritten rules, or social constructs, helped you to analyse the motivational forces of port authorities to embrace the concept of corporate responsibility. How do these influence the port development strategies in terms of CR?

Michele Acciaro: That part of the article originated from the observation that in ports, like in any other industry, we observe certain waves of topics, which emerge and are discussed in industry fora, at congresses and in the media. I am fascinated on the processes that lead to certain topics to gain prominence or disappear. This is important as it often determines the agenda of politicians and in turn that of port managers. The idea here is that port management does not and cannot happen in the void. Port managers, also from competing ports, talk among each other, they observe what their competitors or other industries are doing and prioritise their actions accordingly. If in a port, for example, for some reason noise becomes an important issues, it is likely that we will observe port managers also in neighbouring ports start looking at noise as a topic to be tackled through regulation or new technologies. The increase in the exchange among ports, as well as the increasing role of the media and social networks in shaping public opinion, can considerably increase the urgency of certain topics, in my view to the benefit of society and in the longer term to improvement of the sustainability of the sector. However, I think these processes can make the life of port managers more difficult as they are faced constantly not only with the challenges emerging from their own port but with those of neighbouring ports or even ports located far away. In terms of CR this is good, as it creates more awareness of potential issues and favours a proactive approach, but prioritisation and better research on the issues become important then, as the risk of paying attention to issues that in reality have little impact on the port increases. This is a topic that in my view has not yet been analysed adequately in the port sector, how often, because of public outcry, issues of little importance or little impact are prioritised sometimes at the expenses of port operations or infrastructure development or other more critical actions. We should avoid a model where every societal claim or every environmental issue paralyses the port, and to avoid this situation, a proactive approach is essential. I see CR as a particularly instrumental tendency in this respect. It not only contributes to a preventive approach on issues that maybe are not yet critical in that port, but it also reduces the risk of social emergencies, allowing for a more paced reflection on the issues at hand.

AIVP: Finally, you are arguing that CR is likely to grow in the port sector and for this national governments have interest in favouring the development of the green port concepts including sustainable supply chains. How can research and further studies contribute to a better understanding of the implication of CR in the Port Sector and why it is important?

Michele Acciaro: CR is bound to gain importance in all industries, as long as our prosperity is not dramatically reduced by external shocks, such as wars or protracted economic downturns. Most industries, especially those that have direct contacts with consumers, have understood this and are taking actions accordingly. However, even in the business to business economic activities, increasing attention needs to be paid to those issues, as all sectors are today under the watchful scrutiny of social media, the press, lobby groups and regulators, no matter where they operate physically or whether they have a long history. We see how neglecting the social and environmental dimension of a business decision can wipe out or at least seriously damage a firm, in some cases even without solid reasons. The port and maritime sector have taken so far only the first steps in managing these processes, and I suspect that in the future we will be confronted with more and more situations where the sector will be under fire. I think the risks associated with such situation, can be reduced substantially with trying to anticipate potential issues. For this to be done more research is needed not only on the issues themselves, and I am referring in this case of the analysis of the environmental and social impacts of port activities in different parts of the world, but also on the mechanisms that make certain port issues emerge as critical. There is a lot of good research in the management literature and it would be valuable to further advance those concepts also for ports.


Michele Acciaro is the author of the article: “Corporate responsibility in the Port Sector” published in the International Journal of Logistics Research and Applications (Volume 18, Issue 3, 2015)

He is Associate Professor of Maritime Logistics at Kühne Logistics University (KLU). Previously he held the position of Senior Researcher Green Shipping at the Research and Innovation department of Det Norske Veritas AS (now DNV-GL) in Høvik, near Oslo, and of deputy director and researcher at the Center for Maritime Economics and Logistics (MEL)/Erasmus SmartPort of Erasmus University Rotterdam, with which he is still associated. Michele holds an MSc in Statistics & Economics, one in Maritime Economics & Logistics and a PhD in Logistics from Erasmus University.

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