In 1994, the European Sea Port Organisation launched a code of practice for port environmental policy. This responded to the growing interest in effective environmental management in the maritime sector, to meet the challenges of increasingly stringent regulations. It also reflected the development of standards for environmental management systems (ISO14000 and the European Eco-Management and Audit System, EMAS). However, it became clear that an exchange of experiences and best practice between port managers would be desirable, to increase the cost-effectiveness of developing new environmental policies for individual ports, where possible in a competition-neutral way.
The aim of the ECO-information project was to develop and test a dedicated information system for all types of ports and port authorities, designed to facilitate port environmental management. This system was required to be cost-effective, environmentally effective and practical.
The project has provided a web-based information system incorporating the following modules:
- A self-diagnosis method that allows ports to assess their environmental situation and performance, including periodic review of progress. This tool incorporates the requirements under the EMAS and ISO14000 standards.
- Data resources allowing each port to benchmark the resulting environmental situation with the results of other European ports.
- A database containing around 100 short case descriptions of successful projects, giving practical experiences with environmental solutions (both managerial and technical) contributed and updated on-line by various ports. Each solution is described in a standard format, and background information is given on the port characteristics and regulatory context to allow applicability in another port to be assessed.
- A methodological guide to assist port authorities in the process of analysing the nature and extent of an environmental issue (such as dredging), the risks from specific port activities (such as painting), and appropriate monitoring methods.
- A communication platform and contact details for professionals in European ports dealing with environmental management.
The self-diagnosis method has been tested by more than 60 ports in the ECO network. Analysis of the aggregate results showed that the most important environmental issues are dredging and dredging disposal, waste management, health and safety impacts and water quality. Noise, dust and air quality are also significant. The most important drivers for environmental action are national/European legislation, port policy and complaints. The results also show increasing uptake of environmental management procedures.
27% of all environmental solutions in the database were reported by the participating ports to have resulted in cost savings. Good image and reduced complaints were also cited as benefits. However, many ports do not seem to have a clear picture of the financial implications of environmental management. Consequently, they focus their attention on visible issues such as dredging and waste management, while issues such as energy consumption remain in the background.
Network-based sharing of experiences and tools clearly has good potential for promoting the transfer of good practice. Previously there has been no unified method for assessing the environmental performance of ports, available on a European scale. The new self-diagnosis tool should support the wider implementation of certified environmental management systems, the possibilities of self-ruling in an industrial sector, as well as helping to highlight the effects of new legislation or the need for new regulations. However, it would need some further improvement before it is ready for introduction to all European ports.