Port of Los Angeles, setting the sustainable standard



Natalie Shore Peterson, freelance journalist, Los Angeles, USA


The Port of Los Angeles is known as one of the world’s most environmentally progressive seaports, and its success in dramatically reducing pollution from ships, trains, trucks and cargo handling equipment has influenced global strategies for greening the maritime industry and goods movement. Pioneering initiatives, such as the San Pedro Bay Ports Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP), have helped to accelerate sustainable practices among all links in the supply chain doing business in southern California and around the globe.

About the same time the Port of Los Angeles was developing the CAAP, it was also taking a hard look at itself and how to improve its internal track record on the environment. The result was the port’s Environmental Management System (EMS) – a lesser known, but equally significant component of its commitment to environmental stewardship.

“We never viewed sustainable practices as the sole responsibility of our business partners,” said port executive director Geraldine Knatz, Ph.D. “We always knew that environmental leadership started in our house.”

In 2003, the Port of Los Angeles teamed with the US Environmental Protection Agency and the American Association of Port Authorities to be among the first US seaports to establish an EMS programme – a comprehensive strategy for ensuring internal operations are conducted in accordance with the highest international environmental standards. Today, the Port of Los Angeles’ EMS is still going strong.

“The goal is continual improvement based on cultivating awareness and developing protocols that make sustainable practices part of an organisation’s permanent culture,” said Christopher Foley, environmental affairs officer for the Port of Los Angeles.

An international standard

Established by the Inter national Organization for Standardization, ISO 14001 is an international standard available to any company, organisation or institution seeking a strategy for minimising its environmental impacts while maximising resources and operational efficiency. The ISO 14001 EMS standard follows a ‘plan, do, check, act’ framework for organisations to identify significant environmental impacts, set goals for reducing their footprint, institute best practices and operational controls for meeting targets, and check progress through internal and external audits.

Adopting the processes and practices of ISO 14001 is purely voluntary, and some of the port’s business partners – most notably NYK at its Yusen Terminal in Los Angeles – are among those whose operations that also meet the EMS standard. The ‘system’ allows organisations to customise their programmes and set their own goals based on environmental priorities and requirements specific to their operations.

The standard sets the bar high, and compliance represents a serious commitment of financial resources and personnel. This is especially true for organisations like the Port of Los Angeles that voluntarily submit to an independent audit every three years to certify they meet the rigorous requirements.

The Port of Los Angeles was the first port on the US west coast to develop an ISO 14001 certified EMS. As America’s busiest container port and given its location in California – widely viewed as one of the most environmentally proactive regions in the US– the port’s decision to take on the challenge of developing an EMS speaks volumes about its values, said Meredith Martino, AAPA’s director of publications, digital media and technology and environmental policy expert.

“It demonstrates the port’s commitment to comprehensively looking at its environmental footprint and always looking for ways to improve its environmental performance,” Martino said. “It also speaks to the value of an EMS,” she added. “That the largest container port in the US sees it as an important tool, even with all the other sophisticated things this port does with its emissions inventories and clean air and clean water programmes, underscores the value of this model and how it can be used by others.”


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