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Supply Chain Challenges

Port Expansion: The Challenge of Sustainable Growth

Alex Stark | June 09, 2016

There are few issues where goal of sustainable logistics is more relevant than port expansion.

Our economy depends on thriving seaports to act as the turnstiles of global trade. But as public officials and logistics companies seek to increase seaport capacity, surrounding communities claim this expansion damages their quality of life, as this Wall Street Journal article explains.


Photo by Patrick T. Fallon, Wall Street Journal

In recent years, logistics professionals have come to recognize the significant impact of the supply chain on climate change. Steps taken to mitigate that impact include the use of alternate fuels and shifting to more energy efficient modes, like rail.  Ports are one area that requires the special attention of the logistics community. The challenge is how to facilitate an increasing volume of global trade, while preserving the quality of life for neighboring communities.

The two goals must coexist. 

Ports are Hot Spots for Emissions

The Environmental Protection Agency says more than 41 million U.S. residents—or 1 in 8—are exposed to air pollution from port operations and face higher risk of asthma and other health problems.

According to Christina Wolfe, Manager, Air Quality, Port and Freight Facilities for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), “The problem is that, around ports, the high concentration of trucks, ships, cargo equipment, harbor vessels, and locomotives contributes to significant amounts of harmful pollution such as nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. Poor air quality can lead to a number of adverse health outcomes and disproportionately high health costs.”

The good news is there are steps that port operators, as well as shippers, can take to dial back pollution levels around ports. Some are as simple as replacing old and inefficient diesel equipment with newer drayage trucks that significantly reduce harmful emissions.  Some ports even facilitate low-interest loans to make it easier for truck owners to upgrade a vehicle or a fleet. 

For more ideas, check out EDF’s Clean Air Guide for Ports and Terminals.

Collaboration Will be a Key to Managing Future Port Expansion

Major infrastructure projects are needed to accommodate continue growth in container volumes:

  • Harbor dredging
  • Bridge raising
  • New roads and rail lines

All of these projects have implications for our natural environment, for neighboring communities, and for the health of our economy, which depends on the efficient flow of imports and exports. As a result, numerous interest groups are becoming vocal advocates for their own particular point of view.

Sometimes the debates are contentious, but increasingly they are becoming more collaborative. As Angelo Logan, policy director of the Moving Forward Network, says, “The focus is really to get beyond opposition and into more proactive planning.”

Logistics businesses and professionals have much to offer and can’t stand on the sidelines as these issues are debated. We must be active participants in a collaborative effort to address the challenge of sustainable port expansion.