Making The Case For Common Environmental Performance Metrics At Our Nation’s Ports

Update- See the reports from the workshop here.

Many of our nation’s ports are in highly congested areas that don’t meet federal air quality standards. While opportunities abound for new, creative ways of reducing pollution and protecting public health in these port communities, one promising way includes working toward better measurement of activity, equipment, and emissions. Through goal-setting, benchmarking and periodic evaluation, ports become better equipped to make significant strides in their emissions reduction efforts.

Along those lines, EDF co-sponsored a workshop this month with the American Association of Port Authorities to engage and share best practices with those seeking ways to reduce port emissions through the development of common environment performance metrics. While some ports exercise certain metrics, there is room for improvement in terms of a holistic and standardized metrics system, especially as port customers increasingly request adoption of such metrics to improve port operational efficiencies.

In addition to reducing criteria pollutant emissions and protecting public health, competitive global businesses, port authorities and communities, environmentalists and other stakeholders consider better measurement a worthy undertaking because these efforts also help reduce carbon dioxide emissions and improve supply chain sustainability; reduce costs and transit times for shippers and carriers; and enable ports to better accommodate increases in throughput through efficiency and technology improvements.

Key Metrics
A few of the key metrics that EDF would like to see implemented at ports involve truck registries, ship indices, and more SmartWay participation.

  • Truck registries provide a foundation for better tracking of port dray operations. At our workshop, we discovered that the Intermodal Association of North America (IANA) offers – for free – a tool that assists ports in tracking mandated or voluntary compliance with various Clean Truck Programs. IANA’s Intermodal Tractor Registry provides a registration point for UIIA Licensed Motor Carriers to provide tractor/truck information on behalf of their company drivers or owner operators. Currently, the Registry houses more than 200,000 drayage tractors, representing nearly 3,000 motor carriers.
  • An Environmental Ship Index (ESI) is a scoring system for assessing a ship’s emissions performance. As businesses continue to implement corporate sustainability goals, the transportation sector becomes an opportunity to secure emissions reductions. Therefore, ships with less polluting engines get increasing attention from those looking to reduce emissions.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay Transport Partnership helps freight companies improve fuel efficiency, increase environmental performance, and increase supply chain sustainability. During our workshop, EPA representatives outlined the value of SmartWay participation at ports, stating that the established program is becoming the industry standard. They also discussed how the innovative strategy addresses marketplace needs and challenges through voluntary and market-based incentives, and a simple, no-cost participation process.

Characteristics of Useful Metrics
Not all metrics are created equal. The best environmental performance metrics for ports have common characteristics as they:

  • Promote internal and external transparency;
  • Show return on investment for operational/technology investments;
  • Include some degree of auditing/validation;
  • Are standardized within industry with a broad level of acceptance;
  • Level the playing field when it comes to evaluating environmental performance;
  • Complement existing efforts such as SmartWay, clean truck programs, emissions inventories, ECA/fuel switching, and clean air strategies; and
  • Include and benefit shippers, carriers, MTOs, community and other port stakeholders.

We were encouraged by the level of engagement at this month’s workshop and look forward to future collaborative efforts toward development of common and transparent environment performance metrics, as they will certainly play a crucial role in reducing port emissions.

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