2017 November 24
In 2050, the port of Rotterdam will still be a thriving centre of economic activity and employment. The main difference with today’s port is that this activity and this employment will be generated by industry and shipping sectors that release next to no emissions. Re-using waste will be the most natural thing in the world. The port will be even safer and healthier thanks to digitisation and new technologies. And there will be an even stronger focus on the ‘human dimension’. This, in a nutshell, is Remco Neumann’s vision of the future. And according to Neumann, the Port of Rotterdam Authority’s Corporate Social Responsibility programme manager, this future is closer than many people think.
“It’s difficult to make predictions – especially about the future.” Nevertheless, Neumann isn’t afraid to look some 30 years ahead with respect to sustainability. “It’s realistic to expect that industry and logistics will be virtually – or by that time, even entirely – zero-emission and silent. We presently recognise that growth in the industrial era has had a number of undesirable side effects. In 2050, there will be no more noise pollution or air pollution and no negative environmental impact. There’s a growing awareness that it is necessary, and indeed possible, to make this transition.”
Neumann’s optimism isn’t based on current statistics, however. “Only 6 percent of our operations in the port and the Netherlands as a whole are powered by renewable energy. But this is set to increase exponentially.” While the CSR manager is unable to predict exactly how this change will take shape, there’s no doubt in his mind that it will occur. “A lot is already possible in terms of technology. We already have fully-functional cars that run on hydrogen and solar power for example. Last year saw the first solar flight around the world. It’s now a matter of scaling things up. I’m optimistic about what technology can do for us. Just consider where we stood 30 years ago. We had only just started using PCs at home, there was no internet and cell phones were still pretty exotic. Compare that with the situation today… that’s what we should keep in mind when we’re looking ahead toward 2050.”
While technology creates all sorts of possibilities, it won’t be the actual driver for the dawning sustainable revolution. “It’s about the shift that’s taking place in people’s minds. You can observe an increasingly strong call in our society to make sustainability the norm. It’s what gets things going. And this basically paves the way for further electrification. Things like solar energy, hydrogen and tidal power, which are still small-scale right now, will soon be routine solutions for satisfying our growing demand for clean energy.”
“And you can also see this mind shift taking shape within the private sector. Major corporations like Unilever and Heineken are setting increasingly stringent requirements for their suppliers and transport partners in the field of CO2 reduction measures. Sustainability is an important selection criterion for these companies. It’s increasingly seen as a factor that gives you a competitive edge. That kind of economic principle can’t be ignored. This sustainable society is going to happen anyway, so you can better become an active part of the transition. Which is exactly what we’re doing as the port of Rotterdam. In the port, you can already find full-electrical container terminals and hybrid vessels, the re-use of residual heat and CO2 and a rapid increase in the use of solar power. The port area already accommodates 1.6 MW of generating capacity. This is expected to increase ten-fold before the end of 2020.”
Sustainability is about more than just the environment and climate change. It’s also about keeping the surrounding area safe and healthy, and about how people are employed. As far as Neumann is concerned, these aspects often go hand in hand. “Lower emissions and less sound contribute to healthier living conditions. And safety has always been a priority.” And while robotisation and digitisation may make some jobs redundant, they can also create new employment opportunities. “It’s important for us to remember that the job market is also going through a transition, and that we should prepare for this. One step we have taken in response to this is to include this issue in our sustainability programme. But we’ve also entered into a dialogue with companies in the port and their employees to discuss this. Some groups are at risk of falling by the wayside, but in due time, we’ll undoubtedly be able to solve this issue too. In fact, I think that by 2050, the port will be even more inclusive, and will offer even more employment and welfare to different segments of our population than it does today.”