GREEN4SEA: What are currently the biggest environmental challenges for the shipping industry? What is Panama Canal’s response? 

Alexis Rodriguez: The significant challenges for the shipping industry will be the short, mid and long-term measures to reduce emissions from shipping. In this sense, it will be important to adopt the IMO initial strategy to reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions from shipping during the next MEPC 72. To move towards a truly sustainable future, everyone within the industry must be fully involved and on board, keeping in mind that maritime transport is the first and cheapest way to transport goods around the world.

In its 103 years, the Panama Canal has greatly impacted and changed the patterns of international commerce. Now, we also want to impact the way we solve environmental challenges, and encourage emissions savings throughout the maritime industry. It is for that reason that the Canal has adopted a number of innovative green initiatives, such as the CO2 Emissions Calculator, that support the international commitment to sustainability. This new tool allows us to bring that same commitment to our customers, giving them the information they need to make a more informed and environmentally conscious decision when planning their routes.


G4S: In our previous interview, you talked about the many initiatives that the Panama Canal has already launched towards greener shipping. What’s new now?

A.R.: The Panama Canal is always striving to remain a leader in environmental stewardship. Our newest innovation in greener shipping is the Emissions Calculator – a tool that will collect, hub and provide access to an array of data on the carbon emissions of its customers’ vessels – as well as its own operations – to incentivize environmental stewardship and reduce greenhouse gases.

The Panama Canal will also employ its new tool to inform its decision-making and the steps it takes to reduce its own carbon footprint. The Emissions Calculator will track the Panama Canal’s emissions from various sources including all the operational scope in accordance with international standards. By tracking this data, the Canal plans to take steps to more effectively reduce them and ultimately become a “Carbon Neutral” entity.


G4S: How this new tool will incentivize the maritime industry to cut emissions? How it works?

A.R.: The Emissions Calculator will leverage technologies already aboard the world’s maritime fleet to capture an array of data – such as vessel type, speed, route, size, capacity and fuel consumption – and provide the most accurate measurement of the amount of global greenhouse gases emitted by shippers. The Calculator will centralize data and publish a CO2 Emission Reduction Ranking, which will be updated monthly and rank shippers by the total amount of emissions they save by using the Panama Canal.

Our aim is to encourage customers to adopt more sustainable itineraries and reduce their carbon footprints. The maritime industry has already reacted favorably to the Calculator during preliminary conversations with the Panama Canal.


G4S:  The tool is part of Canal’s Environmental Recognition Program. Could you briefly introduce us the program?

A.R.: The Panama Canal’s Green Connection Environmental Recognition Program is an initiative launched almost a year ago with the aim of acknowledging customers who demonstrate excellent environmental stewardship and encouraging others to implement technologies and standards that reduce emissions.

The program consists of the two components. The first, the Environmental Premium Ranking, rewards customers who meet high environmental efficiency standards with the opportunity to improve their position within the Customer Ranking System, which is considered when booking transits through the Canal. Secondly, the Green Connection Award honors Canal customers who comply with the highest environmental performance standards set by the International Maritime Organization.


G4S:  What were your goals & aspirations with the launch of the Environmental Recognition Program? Any feedback received so far since its introduction?

A.R.: With the introduction of the Environmental Recognition Program, we hoped to encourage our customers to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and invest in technology that will make shipping even more efficient. We aspired to partner with our customers to further bring value to their businesses and to our route, all while strengthening our commitments to sustainability and environmental protection.

Since its launch almost a year ago, the Environmental Recognition Program has been a remarkable success for both the Canal and the maritime community. Thus far, more than 100 vessels have received a Green Connection Award and more than 400 vessels have qualified for the Environmental Premium Ranking since its implementation in January 2017. Customers continue to join the program, which highlights the shipping industry’s growing effort to curb emissions. 


G4S:  How happy are you with the environmental performance of the expanded Panama Canal so far?

A.R.: Due to the wider, longer and deeper lane, more than 2,000 Neopanamax vessels have transited the Expanded Canal since its inauguration, providing greater cargo carrying capacity and requiring less cargo movements, thereby reducing costs, fuel consumption and emissions.

In its first year of operation, the expanded Canal gave us the opportunity to welcome bigger vessels with 14,863 TEUs capacity. Vessels of that size didn’t have the opportunity to pass our all-water route before the Expansion. With the transit of all these vessels, in addition to the new segments such as LNG and LPG, the Expanded Canal contributed to a reduction of more than 17 million tons of carbon dioxide, which is the equivalent of how much approximately 60,000 hectares of rainforest would absorb during that time.


G4S:  Do you anticipate any new market/ segment to operate in the forthcoming years?

A.R.: The Panama Canal is always working to improve efficiency in our operations so that we can transit more vessels in the coming years.

With these measures, we will give more opportunities to our customers of different segments to transit the all-water passage that requires fewer cargo movements compared to freight transportation via air, truck or rail. And given the shorter traveling distance and larger capacity it offers, reducing the fuel consumption and therefore emissions, generating less greenhouse gases compared to other routes.


G4S:  What are your suggestions to industry stakeholders to enhance their environmental performance?

A.R.: To achieve mid and long-term measures, we will need more research and development, technology and capacity building. My recommendation would be to prioritize innovation and analyze the short-term measures that have worked so that we, as a maritime community, can reiterate our strong commitment to the environment. Innovative efforts, like the Panama Canal Environmental Recognition Program, begin with out-of-the-box ideas supported by prioritizing innovation.

In addition, it is key to continue reducing our own CO2 footprint. That’s why we’ll use the Emissions Calculator to help measure and track emissions from the Panama Canal’s day-to-day operations. This kind of innovative tool will support the planning of a low carbon strategy to help the Panama Canal become a “Carbon Neutral” entity. 

Environmental protection should be continually improved and cannot remain static. It is key for industry stakeholders to develop their environmental performance as a “Green Business Case” – taking into account the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats they may face, and integrate environmental considerations into their organizations’ DNA.



The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and not necessarily those of GREEN4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only



Alexis Rodriguez is  the Panama Canal’s Environmental Protection Specialist. The Panama Canal is run by an autonomous agency of the Government of Panama in charge of managing, operating and maintaining the Panama Canal. The operation of the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) is based on its organic law and the regulations approved by its Board of Directors. For more information, please refer to the ACP’s website: o