Towards excellence in port environmental management and sustainability



Dr Antonis Michail, policy advisor, ESPO


What is a green port? How can a port authority respond to the environmental challenges relating to port operations? What is the vision of European port authorities towards that direction? Can a common framework for action be developed while respecting the diversity of ports? All these questions are being addressed in the European Sea Ports Organisation (ESPO) Green Guide; towards excellence in port environmental management and sustainability’ that was published in October 2012. Far from being a merely promotional tool of the evidence-based progress that European port authorities have achieved over time, the Green Guide demonstrates a common approach for action and a range of options towards further and continuous environmental improvement.


The ‘Environmental Code of Practice of 1994’ was the first official policy document that was ever published by ESPO, just one year after the establishment of the organisation. The code was then updated in 2003 and the recently published Green Guide is the third edition through which the sector defines its environmental ambitions. The main aim of the Green Guide is to trigger port authorities to be proactive and to commit to sustainable development and the continuous improvement of their environmental performance. With this focus, the guide demonstrates options and approaches, without losing sight of the fact that each port is unique. Overall, the ESPO Green Guide favours a bottom up approach, in which port authorities are proactively taking responsibility and living up to the expectations of the community. It encourages ports to be responsible for their own initiatives, to benchmark their performance, and to deliver science-based evidence of achievements.

Five principles

There are five long standing principles guiding the efforts of the European port authorities in addressing their environmental challenges:

  • Achieving voluntary self-regulation that raises standards beyond regulations through a bottom-up approach
  • Cooperating and sharing of knowledge and experience on environmental matters
  • Serving in parallel the interests of both the business and the

local communities aiming towards the sustainable operation of
port areas

  • Applying a systematic approach to port environmental

management through appropriate structures that enable continuous improvement of performance

  • Being transparent in communicating and reporting on the ports’ efforts and environmental performance. Encouraging common action with the ‘five Es’ approach A major innovative element of the ESPO Green Guide is the introduction of a common framework for action that demonstrates the range of options that are available while respecting port diversity. The Green Guide calls upon European port authorities to continuously work towards improving their environmental performance through focused action on:
  • Exemplifying: Setting a good example towards the wider port community by demonstrating excellence in managing the environmental performance of their own operations, equipment and assets
  • Enabling: Providing the operational and infrastructural conditions within the port area that facilitate port users and enhance improved environmental performance within the port area
  • Encouraging: Providing incentives to port users that encourage a change of behaviour and induce them to continuously improve their environmental performance
  • Engaging: with port users and/or competent authorities in sharing


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