Marine group cleans up ports in North America

The Port of Albany is a year-round, 24-hour operation on nearly 300 acres and in two municipalities.
The Port of Albany is a year-round, 24-hour operation on nearly 300 acres and in two municipalities.

(Photos courtesy Port of Albany)

Related Topics:
Infrastructure, Oceans, Sustainability

Our country’s ports play a vital role in the world supply chain. But communities surrounding these ports have faced issues from pollution as a result of the robust industry.

Just over a decade ago, environmental scrutiny arose regarding the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes waterways in the northeastern United States and southwestern Canada. The watershed was in the midst of a crisis caused by the spread of aquatic invasive species through ships’ ballast water — the water large ships take in to provide stability while at sea, and release when in port.

Air pollution from diesel-powered vehicles that help run these ports also has blanketed surrounding communities — which often are low income neighborhoods — and can yield a higher risk of disease within them as a result.

Facing increasing public concern and media attention, the ports’ stakeholders recognized the need to minimize the environmental impact of maritime transportation.

The program criteria are developed with the help of advisory committees to represent both regional issues and the binational aspect of the program. Green Marine, established in 2007, says the hallmark of its program is that it “makes it possible for any marine company operating in Canada or the U.S. to reduce its environmental footprint by undertaking concrete and measurable actions.”

Maritime associations, including the St. Lawrence Development Council (SODES) in Quebec and the Chamber of Marine Commerce in the Great Lakes region, joined forces to find a way to address the problems. Their talks led to the creation of a reliable framework to clearly measure and relate their environmental progress through a certification program they named Green Marine.

Green Marine executive director David Bolduc and their program manager, Thomas Grégoire, talked with us about the growth and success of the program. Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation:

Q: What strategies and ideas have you used in order to engage new members in the green movement and environmental protection conversation?

Bolduc: Our program’s best-selling tool is the program itself: Its rigor, credibility, and transparency. Social license is increasingly required by industries, and shipping is no exception. The program fills a real need within the marine industry for a thorough but simple framework that guides ship owners, port authorities, terminal operators, and shipyard managers toward improved environmental performance. Tailor-made by the industry for the industry, it’s steadily engaging new participants. The program’s uniquely collaborative approach is also playing a key role in recruiting new members. Leading environmental groups, government representatives, and the academic/scientific community appreciate the program giving them a true say in the criteria development and program’s revision to ensure that each level of our performance indicators consists of ambitious but still feasible goals. External verification also ensures the program’s rigor.

There’s also the business case for sustainability. The program and its members are demonstrating how being greener often means being more efficient, which can ultimately save money and improve the bottom line. Taking proactive steps to be sustainable also reduces the chances of Green Marine’s certified participants running environmental risks, which reduces the likelihood of costly legal action.

The Port of Albany, with facilities on both sides of the Hudson River in Albany and Rensselaer, New York, is a Green Marine-certified port. (Courtesy Port of Albany)

… Green Marine inspires its participants to adopt best practices and leading-edge environmental technologies that result in the greater protection of our ecosystems. Although it is a voluntary program and there is no competition, per se, among participants, the certification process spurs a healthy emulation among the industry’s stakeholders — a kind of a positive peer pressure. New member ports joining in one region, for example, can have a snowball effect by encouraging other ports and terminal operators in the same region, or working in the same trade, to join.

Q: Why do ports act as a unique outlet for action on emissions and an opportunity for leadership, in comparison to, say, the trucking industry or airline industries?

Grégoire: Ports are intermodal hubs where ship owners, tug operators, stevedores, truckers, and railroad operators all cross paths. It’s also where the marine industry is in direct contact with the general public as ports are often adjacent to residential communities.

Many port authorities are not terminal operators but landlords. Their tenants – the terminals – operate all the facilities within the port’s vicinity. Ports can play a leadership role by encouraging tenants to take measurable actions toward greater sustainability. They can set the example, especially when it comes to air emissions. Ports can reduce pollution by managing traffic to avoid road congestion, installing shore power utilities for vessels in harbour, rewarding greener ships, encouraging best practices among port users, and engaging and cooperating with governments and the community to create greener spaces.

Q: What has been the most rewarding part of the growth of Green Marine?

Bolduc: Green Marine’s steady but thoroughly considered expansion has permitted us to evolve our framework to be inclusive without compromising any objectives or performance standards. The most rewarding part of this growth is the local, national, and international recognition that Green Marine is receiving. The Green Marine certification is now referenced as an example of industry best practices, a model to emulate to achieve continuous improvement. It’s become harder to talk about the maritime sector’s efforts to improve sustainability without hearing Green Marine being mentioned. Part of this discussion – and solution – is a testimony to the program’s relevance and credibility. It is also rewarding to see more and more of the marine industry pursuing their sustainability through Green Marine’s framework as it aligns with our fundamental goal of advancing environmental excellence. I believe that our most important accomplishment to date has been to foster a culture of dialogue between the industry and its stakeholders regarding environmental issues.

Q: How do you intend to further engage ports to reach and protect their surrounding communities?

Grégoire: Green Marine is trying to provide both individual and collective benefits to its members. The certification scheme helps all of the participating members – including ports – to demonstrate their commitment to greater sustainability and to measure their progress with a common “yardstick.” The collective goal is to maintain and even bolster the entire industry’s social license.

Social acceptability is at the forefront of port development these days and must be addressed. Green Marine started out by addressing a few key issues that included community impacts, but this performance indicator focused primarily on mitigating noise and dust nuisances. … Our working groups are currently developing the criteria for a new performance indicator that will split the existing performance indicator for community impacts into two: One of them will continue to address noise, light, dust, and other nuisances, as in the past. And the other new indicator will specifically focus on community relations, such as improving communications and establishing information channels. Splitting the indicator in two reflects the program’s evolution as its participants advance from a purely environmental protection stance to a more holistically sustainable development approach.

Q: How do you think operating as a binational organization has affected your success as an environmental organization? What challenges come with this dynamic?

Bolduc: Green Marine has significantly enlarged its North American reach over the past decade, quadrupling its original participation and overall membership. One of the program’s core strengths comes from being responsive to regional concerns related to the maritime industry’s environmental footprint. Industry representatives and Green Marine supporters (representing government, the academic/scientific community, environmental organizations) serve on three regional advisory committees. Each committee assesses local concerns and discusses feasible solutions. The recommendations often lead to the program’s evolution.

New regional committees may be formed as soon as a region’s membership numbers warrant one. Meanwhile, the marine industry is very integrated in some regions, such as the Great Lakes, where addressing binational concerns is essential and can help in some cases to eliminate future bureaucratic frustrations or conflicting regulations.

Balancing the priorities of the different regions is challenging. Not all environmental issues are as pressing everywhere… it is also challenging to keep up with the different regulatory baselines from the various regions where Green Marine now has participants.

Q: Where do you hope to see Green Marine in 10 years?

Bolduc: Green Marine will continue to increase in size and status as a sustainability leader as its members demonstrate that the program’s framework clearly identifies and measures priorities, accomplishments, and opportunities. … Where will Green Marine be in a decade from now? Who knows! International interest is mounting. … (But) Green Marine will continue its leadership role in helping ports and seaways create more sustainable futures and cleaner waterways.

The EPA’s take on Green Marine

To learn about the environmental benefits of programs like Green Marine, we also spoke with Abby Swaine, who works for the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s New England regional office in the Clean Freight Program on voluntary and regulatory programs to improve freight fuel efficiency. On the voluntary side, Swaine promotes the EPA’s SmartWay Transport Partnership as the regional liaison to the national program and promotes EPA’s Sustainable Ports Initiative. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation:

Q: Why are organizations like Green Marine important to the fight for cleaner operations and development?

Swaine: The EPA believes in collaborating with a variety of organizations that work toward goals we have in common, across all environmental media (air, water, land). Green Marine has the capacity, as an independent, self-supporting nonprofit, to lead voluntary efforts at ports to go beyond compliance with environmental regulations.

Q: How does Green Marine further the EPA’s Ports Initiative?

Swaine: The EPA’s Ports Initiative works in collaboration with the port industry, communities, and all levels of government to improve environmental performance and increase economic prosperity. This effort helps people living and working near ports across the country breathe cleaner air and live better lives. At present, the EPA’s Ports Initiative focuses on reducing criteria air pollutant emissions from ships, cargo handling equipment, trucks and trains. The EPA also has a Ports focus within its new Smart Sectors program. Aspects of Green Marine complement and go beyond what either EPA program offers at this time.

Q: Why do you believe ports have a leverage point for action on emissions and pollutants?

Swaine: As populations and associated consumption grows, ports will continue to handle increased amounts of freight throughput. Port authorities acknowledge that they have been granted a social license to operate and contribute to area-wide as well as local attainment of ambient air quality standards. Therefore, proactive ports have been welcoming the chance to work with regulators, communities, and nonprofits to demonstrate meaningful efforts to minimize their impacts.



To learn more about Green Marine visit their website at:

To learn more about EPAs Ports Initiative visit:


Special thanks to David Bolduc, Thomas Grégoire, and Abby Swaine for their involvement and time as well as the Green Marine-certified Port of Albany for images of operations.

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