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It’s time to grasp the science behind sustainability

There has been too much discussion about how to make shipping sustainable and too little appliance of science in achieving it

If we cannot measure shipping’s real climate performance, we cannot change it. Finding a way to measuring our footprint should be the goal for next year

CONSIDER the humble pump, urged the speaker at the International Marine Purchasing Association conference this week.

It may be manufactured in Asia from virgin steel forged in a furnace using coal mined thousands of miles away. Its operational life is eight years; delivered to the customer by air. Cost today about $2,200.

Alternatively, it may be manufactured in Europe using recycled steel. Operational life about 15 years, delivered to the customer by sea. Cost about $3,200.

What makes the Asian product sell so much better than the European product?

Price. Nothing more or less than that.

And therein lies the biggest frustration for marine purchasers and, by extension, for the entire maritime sector.

The IMPA event took sustainability as its theme this year, just as most maritime events have. During the year, hundreds of official statements, emotive speeches, panel sessions, webinars and podcasts, media interviews and briefings have pleaded with the industry to act now.

Yet in reality, the buyer looks at the price of the pump and takes a decision based on cost to the company. What is needed for sustainability to become reality is a statement of the cost to the planet of buying and using this product.

Another way of thinking about this is: sustainability is a battle between the way maritime used to think and the way it must think from now on. Cuba’s Fidel Castro famously saw revolution as “a struggle to the death between the future and the past”, adding that revolution is no bed of roses.

Transformation from fossil fuels to zero-carbon shipping is a revolution that has already shown itself bereft of flowers of any kind.

Habits only change when cost goes beyond an acceptable threshold, so for sustainability to be embraced much more widely than it is today, the problem of cost must be addressed.

Rasmus Elsborg-Jensen describes his business, ReFlow, as environmental performance experts. He has spent the past year as Climate Pact Ambassador at the European Commission, working with the executive to promote the European Green Deal.

Mr Elsborg-Jensen — who brought the humble pump illustration to IMPA — makes a very pertinent point about the science behind sustainability. If you can’t measure it, you can’t change it, he says.

No one doubts that measuring climate performance of every product is extremely difficult. However, the alternative is to hold endless conferences about sustainability, each one of which harms the planet just a little more.

With the International Maritime Organization’s Marine Environment Protection Committee in session, the science behind sustainability comes to the fore. Cost of our action or inaction must be measured.

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