Towards a sustainable port

The Port of Antwerp has been an important engine of the Belgium economy since the Middle Ages. In those days traders in small boats were bringing products to the different warehouses in Antwerp, now the world’s biggest container vessels ensure we are able to enjoy products everyday.

The Port of Antwerp has developed into the ideal gateway to Europe and is considered by shipping companies and manufacturers as a reliable link in world trade. This role of international port generates a lot of employment and added value. In all, approximately 150.000 people work in the Port of Antwerp and jointly they provide an added value of about 18 billion euros. To further strengthen this position  as an economic centre of growth, the Port of Antwerp wants to set itself apart as a multifunctional port. The port clusters several maritime, logistics and industrial companies which attract a lot of cargo. Together with these companies they also implemented a sustainability approach to doing the business. 

We – students at Antwerp Management School – were fortunate to attend a lecture / workshop from The Port of Antwerp during our so-called “SDG Exchange Day” at AMS. So we would like to take this moment to highlight some key takeaways with a focus on one of the five P’s namely: ‘Planet’.

‘Planet’ plays a major role in the policy of Antwerp-based private enterprises and the Port Authority. For years, the port community has shown that economic and ecological interests can be combined without major problems. The Port of Antwerp aims to continue being a frontrunner in terms of corporate social responsibility.

The Port Authority and private enterprises go to great lengths to improve the quality of water, air and soil. The port rewards clean vessels, waste flows are controlled as much as possible and companies work hard at further reducing the emission of toxic substances. The fact that these efforts have paid off already is visible from the fact that the emission of toxic substances per tonne of production has dropped by no less than forty percent these last ten years. Companies are also more focused on generating green energy and use combined heat and power generation.

However, questions can be raised to these numbers. From what we learned from Ray C. Andersons book (read about it  in on this blog: ‘Toward a sustainable economy), a careful look needs to be taken to the tool that measures sustainability. It is key to apply the right formula when we take a look at numbers and claims. Is a comparison by using the ‘per tonne of production’ data the right one? 

Antwerp is the first port in Europe to introduce “Zero Pellet Loss”

Antwerp leads the way as a sustainable polymer hub, and now with the Zero Pellet Loss program it aims to reduce micropellet pollution to nil. Antwerp is the main hub in Europe for production, handling and distribution of polymers, mostly in the form of tiny pellets. It has now been made a top priority for the entire port community to prevent loss or spillage of these plastic granules, and in particular to prevent them getting into the water and causing pollution.

To this end Antwerp Port Authority, the logistics service providers and the transport operators have all signed the Operation Clean Sweep charter aimed at reducing pollution from micropellets to an absolute minimum. This is an excellent example of the successful transition being made by the port in its efforts to implement the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Antwerp is the first port to sign the Operation Clean Sweep charter, an international initiative of Plastics Europe.

One practical move in this program is the Zero Pellet Loss project. Weekly monitoring will be carried out, clean-up actions organized and an incident manager appointed in order to reduce the loss of pellets to an absolute minimum.

In addition the industry will make efforts to achieve more sustainable production and handling of polymers. For this purpose a platform has been set up in which the participants will work out best practices in order to work more sustainably. The members of this platform are all participants in the Zero Pellet Loss project.

Due to the competitive market Antwerp Port Authority doesn’t have an easy job on their hands. They need to weigh the advantages to the disadvantages of certain decions and ‘opportunities’ all the time. Do you accept the joining of a more polluting billion euro firm who brings more employment or do you decline such an offer to control the impact on nature in a better way? What would you do? 

by Thomas Delanote (


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