Top 5 Environmentally Sustainable Ports in United States

1. Georgia Ports Authority (GPA)
2. Port of Baltimore
3. Port of Long Beach
4. Port of Los Angeles
5. Port of Oakland


Ports in any country are a proxy indicator of its economic growth and act as a gateway to global trade. They also provide one of the most economical form of transportation for businesses. The US has about 360 commercial ports, which are key drivers of its economic growth and prosperity. It is estimated that the ports carry about 2 billion tons of cargo annually. Seaports are the preferred channel for exporting about 99.4% of the total export of the US. Ports also contribute significantly towards job creation. According to the 2007 survey, the US ports create 471,000 direct and 543,000 indirect jobs. For every $1 billion of manufactured goods exported through the US ports, about 15,000 new jobs are created. In addition to the export, the US ports play a very important role in supporting the ever-growing cruise line industry. The cruise line industry is the fastest growing segment of the overall travel industry. The US ports account for about 75% of the global cruise departures. It is estimated that in 2009 itself, the US cruise line industry generated revenues of $35 billion and created 314,000 new jobs. The article provides the potential threats from the ports, the measures towards building an environmentally sustainable port, and the details of top 5 environmentally ports in the United States.

Environmental Threats from Ports

While the ports contribute significantly to the economic growth, they also pose considerable environmental threats. The major environmental threats caused from the ports are as follows:

Air Pollution

Ports can cause serious damage to the air quality. The ships, vehicles, trucks etc. associated with the port activities make heavy usage of diesel engines which release harmful gases and effluents to the atmosphere. Traffic congestions and ship idling can also contribute drastically towards air pollution and degrading the overall air quality. It can cause particular discomfort to people suffering from respiratory disorders like bronchitis and asthma.

Water Quality

Improper port maintenance can affect the water quality and adversely impact the local water-based ecosystems. The ballast water discharged by the ships can pose threats to the local ecosystems and environmentally-sensitive habitats. The bilge water can also cause serious harm to the marine ecosystem.

Health Related Impacts

Port operations can cause health issues to the nearby population, especially if the port is located near to residential areas. The air and water pollution can lead to health problems like bronchitis, asthma and even lung cancer. The port operations also cause light and noise pollution which can result in health disorders like hearing impairment, sleep deprivation, hypertension etc.

What is an Environmentally Sustainable Port

The ports should realize the potential harm caused by them and move towards being environmentally sustainable ports. They should plan for being green and sustainable for ensuring that they do not undermine the future generations. The ports should work out an environmentally sustainable plans and should review these plans annually to ensure that the plan is on track. The regular review will also help the respective ports to remain on track with the latest changes and technologies.Some of the key steps which ports can take for becoming environmentally sustainable are as follows:

Shoreside Power Arrangements

When the ships are parked at the berth, their auxiliary engines continue to power them. this causes heavy air pollution. The ports can provide shoreside power to the ships through electrical sources, which will be a better option as it will reduce the emissions and air pollution. The ships can also be provided source of renewable energy which will benefit the air quality by reducing emissions.

Promote Cleaner Fuel

The ports cannot directly influence the type of fuel used by the ships. They can however provide incentives to the ships for using cleaner and environmentally friendly fuel. This can greatly reduce the air pollution.

Use Better Cargo Equipment

The ports should make use of better and more efficient cargo equipment which run on cleaner fuel. This will result in lower emissions and improvement in the air quality. In case the cargo equipment cannot be upgraded, then shifting to higher grade diesel can also help control the air pollution.

Better Infrastructure Connections

The ports should ensure better infrastructure connectivity for transporting the cargo in and out of the port. Improved railway connectivity can ensure better and efficient transportation of cargo to and from the port. Diverting the cargo vehicles from the highway and providing them direct access to the port will save time and also reduce the resulting congestion and pollution.

Minimizing Light and Noise Pollution

Ports located near residential neighborhoods should ensure to minimize light and noise pollution. They can limit the use of unnecessary bright light during the nights to reduce glare and light pollution. They should also reduce the time which the ships and cargo vehicles have to be idle, which will reduce the noise and air pollution.

Use of Renewable Energy

The ports should be committed towards using renewable energy sources in their daily operations. They can also establish Energy Management Systems (EMS) to improve the environmental profile of the port and work towards achieving energy efficiency.

Top 5 Environmentally Sustainable Ports in the United States

Achieving environmental sustainability is a top priority among the US ports. They have implemented various initiatives for meeting this priority. some of the key initiatives undertaken by the ports in the US for becoming environmentally sustainable are- reducing ship waiting times, reducing emissions, modernizing the cargo equipment etc. The top 5 environmentally sustainable ports in the US are as follows:

Georgia Ports Authority (GPA)

The GPA manages the ports of Brunswick and Savannah has taken many measures to reduce the harmful emissions.They have transitioned its rubber-tired gantry cranes (RTGs) from diesel to electrical energy which run on electrical power and not diesel. This reduces the emissions considerably. They also make use of electrical ship-to-shore cranes which also reduces the emissions. There move to install 104 electrified refrigerated racks has resulted in saving 5.6 million gallons of fuel annually. It has also retrofitted 11 locomotives with automatic engine stop-start devices, which has led to a decline in the annual CO2 emission of 18 tons. The GPA has installed computer controlled photosensitive lights in 1200 acre which has led to reduction of 3569 metric tons of CO2 emission annually. The port authority has also started a truck finance and rebate program where they incentivize the truck owners and operators who install new and cleaner engines.

Port of Baltimore

Port of Baltimore continues its commitment towards becoming a green and environmentally sustainable port. The port authorities have planted nearly 35 acres with trees, which reduces the harmful emission and provides cleaner air. It has replaced and retrofitted more than 100 units of port equipment. This has resulted in better working efficiency of the port equipment and also reduction in the harmful CO2 emissions. The port has also taken initiatives towards improving the water quality. It has installed the Inner Harbor Water Wheel which is a solar and water powered equipment and it works to remove the garbage from the Baltimore waterfront. Another praiseworthy initiative of the Port of Baltimore is its Day Truck Replacement Program. Under the program, the port authorities encourage the truck owners and operators to replace their old trucks with newer and environmentally friendly trucks. It has helped in replacement of more than 135 old trucks. This program has been instrumental in reducing harmful emission. It has helped in reduction of 2076 tons of nitrogen dioxide, 81 tons of fine particulate matter and 520 tons of carbon monoxide. It has also saved fuel to the extent of more than 500,000 gallons annually.

Port of Long Beach

The Port of Long Beach authorities decided to invest for reducing the ecological footprints of the port in the year 2005. This was called the Green Port Policy and under this policy, the focus was to ensure cleaner air, soil, and harbor water. The port authorities introduced the Clean Trucks Program since 2008 wherein it was enforced that all the trucks entering the port will have engine installed which were manufactured after 2007. This has led to significant reduction in harmful emissions. The cranes and other cargo equipment in the port run on electricity instead of diesel. In the year 2015, four new buildings were constructed which conserve water and energy and have been awarded gold level certification from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). During the period 2005-2014, due to the initiatives of the port, the diesel particulate emissions reduced by 85% and nitrogen dioxide by 50%. The sulfur oxides and greenhouse gases emissions reduced by 97% and 21% respectively.

Port of Los Angeles

The port of Los Angeles started the Alternative Maritime Power Program in the year 2004. The program focused on providing shoreside power supply to the ships. This ensured that the ships when they are at the berth did not have to use their auxiliary engines to power up. They could plug into the shoreside power available at the port. This reduced the emissions of diesel particulate matter by 14 tons and nitrogen dioxide by 123 tons. Based on the success of the program, the state of California passed a new resolution which needed the ships to use shoreside power. Due to the environmental initiatives of the port authorities, the diesel particulate matter and the fine particle emissions reduced by 87% and 85% during the period 2005-14.

Port of Oakland

The port of Oakland has come with its Maritime Air Quality Improvement Plan (MAQIP) with an objective of reducing the diesel particulate emissions by 85% by 2020, as compared to the emissions levels in 2005.It also has provisions for shoreside power which enables the ships to plug into electrical grids when they are docked. In another innovative green initiative, the port has introduced smartphone applications which help the truckers to work out their travel times, idle times etc. The app helps them become more efficient and thereby reducing the congestion and emissions.

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