Port Sustainability: A Holistic View of Port Operations

Before I joined Dewberry this year, I spent nearly 20 years working in the ports and intermodal industry, learning the ins and outs and many intricacies of port operations. With more than 550 ports in the U.S. alone, their operations are bound to have an effect on the communities in which they reside, as well as ecosystems and ecological environments. Running a port in a sustainable manner is more than just being aware of the environment. It requires an understanding of the internal and external aspects of marine terminal operations and how these aspects may positively or negatively impact, or be perceived as impacts by surrounding communities. It comes down to being mindful of your surroundings, such as the way natural habitats are affected and whether or not operations could harm or improve them, and what the long-term job opportunities may look like as operations shift and change over time. Ports are stewards of the communities, states, and regions in which they operate. This is their brand.

Tulsa Port of Catoosa Tulsa Port of Catoosa

I've come to understand that true port sustainability falls into three elements of stewardship: financial, environmental, and social. By breaking these elements down, we're able to have a better and more holistic understanding as to why sustainability is important, and how it impacts the world in which we live.

Financial Stewardship

Like most industries around the world, ports are drivers of economic growth and job creation. According to the American Association of Port Authorities, ports across the U.S. account for roughly 23 million jobs, translating to approximately 1.2 billion dollars in personal income and local consumption. Nearly 15,000 jobs are created for every billion dollars' worth of exports shipped through U.S. seaports. Believe it or not, 26 percent of our nation's economy is due to seaport cargo activity. All that to say, it's critical that we focus on being financially responsible with the port economy. For hundreds of years, ports have enabled those living in coastal regions to have secure jobs doing an array of things: mechanics, electricians, engineers, IT professional, analysts, longshoremen, truck drivers, and more. As technology has advanced and the work force has shifted, we are continuing to see a rise in port-related jobs. Although they may look different now than they did a hundred years ago, human capital is still vital to the success of ports.

Social and Environmental Stewardship

Years ago, I was involved in an environmental stewardship project for a large port on the east coast. We assessed the environmental climate of the region and determined that a community park set along our urban river with a view of our operations would encourage residents and visitors to learn more about the port and understand its vitality to the region. Since the maritime industry was such a huge part of the local economy and infrastructure, we wanted to create something that would benefit everyone in the community, not just create a wetland and advance our terminal renovations. The five-acre, family and pet-friendly park now includes bike and walking trails and is home to an environmental ecosystem made up of marsh grasses, blue herons, egrets, and more, all within a flourishing urban and maritime setting Our goal was to connect locals and visitors to the maritime industry, while restoring natural habitat that had been lost through years of less mindful development and industrialization.

Port of Long BeachPort of Long Beach

The ports and intermodal industry is more than just a holding and transport base for large shipping containers and cargo. It's made up of railway systems, planned roadways, and engineered societies that support the thousands of shipments coming and going from our ports each day. Since joining Dewberry, it's been fascinating to dive even deeper into the intricacies of state and regional planning in regards to the ports and intermodal industry. Working on this side of the industry for a firm that works in nearly every facet of the port world—freight and highway planning energy, resilience, and redevelopment—has allowed me to have an even more holistic understanding of how to best support the industry in terms of sustainability.

RACHEL VANDENBERG ON TRENDS AND CHANGES IN THE PORTS AND INTERMODAL INDUSTRY
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  • Heather Wood
    Heather Wood
 
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