SAFETY4SEA: How would you assess the current status of shipping with respect to sustainability? Are you satisfied enough? What are your suggestions to move it forward?

Katharine Palmer: There has been has been a lot of progress, but it has mostly been driven by the policy space – regulators like the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). But the bigger question is whether shipping’s ambition is great enough? There is still a gap when it comes to understanding how sustainability equals success and what this can mean for business. Rather than taking the approach that you need to maintain a licence to operate by complying with regulation - and several sustainability challenges are being addressed through compliance – it’s about truly understanding the sustainability benefits and impacts, so that you can turn these into something successful, investing and innovating for resilience and sustainability. Currently, that sentiment is not embedded throughout the sector.


S4S: In your view, what would be the biggest shipping challenge in the years to come with respect to sustainable shipping for industry stakeholders?

K.P.: Fully decarbonising the shipping sector is one of the biggest challenges; it has the potential to be the most disruptive transition that shipping has had to deal with. It’s a paradigm shift for an industry built on fossil-based fuel and the whole supply chain that will be affected as we move away from them. Decarbonisation also raises questions about whether the cost of shipping will increase and if so, who will pay it. If you map out all the stakeholders in the shipping value chain, you will see that decarbonisation affects everybody. No stakeholder is immune.


S4S: Which are the key barriers and drivers towards sustainable shipping?

K.P.: A key barrier is an understanding of what sustainable shipping means. There is too much of a focus on seeing it as compliance, and particularly, environmental compliance. It is more than that. There are commercial, environmental and social elements. A key question that needs to be asked is does maritime as a sector balance these three elements when assessing sustainably? The environmental element is driven by regulation, the commercial aspect is driven by immediate cost and supply pressures and the most cost-effective way to comply – that is not really seeing sustainability as embedded in your business or using it to drive forward business. Therefore, the actions currently taken are constrained and much education is still required by the industry around sustainability on the opportunities.

Sustainability also involves a mindset change. For shipping this means moving away from looking at an asset in isolation but as part of the shipping value chain, bringing in different perspectives to support practical steps and being able to think forward.

It also calls for greater collaboration – no one individual or company can solve these complex challenges on their own. This brings the requirement to be transparent and share information and this tendency is not always inherent in shipping.

Sustainability involves a mindset change.

S4S: Is there anything that you would like to see other industry stakeholders do differently or better?

K.P.: I would like to see maritime talking outside the industry. Shipping tends to talk to itself and when we talk about sustainability, we tend to talk to those that understand it. We need to talk outside our sector and learn from other industries.

When we talk about sustainability, we tend to talk to those that understand it; however, we need to talk outside our sector and learn from other industries.

S4S: What do you see as the defining sustainability trends driving the industry towards 2050?

K.P.: The two defining trends will be transparency and decarbonisation, but they should not be disconnected with digitalisation. Digitalisation is an enabler but not everyone in maritime see this. Embracing new technology and changing the way we do business with digital applications is inextricably connected to resolving complex sustainability challenges, therefore sustainability and digitalisation should not be talked about separately.


The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and not necessarily those of  SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion  purposes only.

About Katharine Palmer

Katharine Palmer is the global head of sustainability for LR's Marine & Offshore business. With over 17 years experience in the shipping industry she is an established thought leader providing advice and insight to maritime stakeholders including regulators, ship-owners and trade associations.