People, Planet, Profit - CSR and the Shipping Industry
November 19, 2013 - 5:06pm

Support for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) within the shipping industry was strong at The Northern European Shipping CSR Symposium that took place on 12 November in Helsingør, Denmark. The event brought together nearly 200 participants from around the globe including policy makers, academics, and shipping companies to discuss the underlying triple bottom line of CSR that takes into account social and environmental concerns, as well as profit.

Funded by The Nippon Foundation and hosted in cooperation with the Danish Shipowners’ Association, Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO), Japan International Transportation Institute, and WMU, the event highlighted the importance and benefits of CSR as part of business strategy for shipping companies.

In the opening welcome, Mitsuyuki Unno, Executive Director of The Nippon Foundation, began with expressing concern and condolences for the Filipino people in the wake of the recent typhoon disaster. This initial comment, and the fact that The Nippon Foundation funded this CSR event, are reflective of their mission of social innovation to achieve a society where people support one another. From their website, “Everyone has a role to play: citizens, corporations, nonprofit organizations, government, and international bodies. By forging networks among these actors, The Nippon Foundation serves as a hub for the world’s wisdom, experience, and human resources, giving individuals the capacity to change society - the hope that they can make a difference.”   

As one of the speakers opening the symposium, WMU Vice President Academic, Neil Bellefontaine stated, “We all have a responsibility to protect the planet, the oceans and its finite resources, and to protect human life and well-being. This ethical responsibility is just as commanding whether we are functioning as an employee within the maritime industry or in our private family life.” He noted that with today’s competitive market, customer perception of companies has gained importance, and customers will choose alternative providers if a company is perceived as contributing detrimentally to the environment or taking a cavalier attitude toward the safety of their employees.  

International Maritime Organization (IMO) Secretary-General and WMU Chancellor, Koji Sekimizu, spoke passionately about his efforts to support CSR via IMO promoting the pro-active application of new regulations, the welfare of seafarers, and the important role that WMU plays in educating maritime policy makers. He noted that the challenges faced in the maritime industry are defined by society, economy, and the environment.

Hearing from the shipping industry, the business case for CSR was further promoted by keynote speaker Jan Kastrup-Nielsen, President & CEO of J. Lauritzen A/S and Board Member of the Danish Shipowners’ Association. The world fleet is approximately 56,000 vessels of which Lauritzen A/S operates 2,000. Kastrup-Nielsen described CSR as “combining business with human social benefits, and trying to maximize both.” Although he admitted the concept of CSR can be difficult to grasp, and the effect on the bottom line isn’t always clear, he believes CSR is changing our world. “Doing the right thing takes time, but that does not make it less right,” he stated.

A non-shipping oriented presentation by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Edward Humes, entitled “businesses large and small are reducing risk and creating value through sustainability,” brought a compelling case study to the table. Using the example of the U.S.-based Wal-Mart, Humes presented the company’s previously sinister reputation as a big-box, mega-retailer, and how that was turned around by embracing CSR, albeit reluctantly at first. Encouraged by the environmental consultants at Sea Change, the retail giant made their first foray into CSR simply by reducing packaging on one of their products. The impressive cost savings and reduced environmental impact result paved the way for successive measures that landed Wal-Mart’s CEO on the cover of FORTUNE magazine with the headline “Wal-Mart Saves the Planet.” Through this example, Humes made the case that “CSR is less about risk, and more about competitive advantage.”    

In his remarks, WMU Professor and Nippon Foundation Chair, Olof Lindén, called for action noting that the environmental aspect of CSR has been discussed for the last 50 years with minimal action. Shipping is linked directly to some of the most important environmental issues affecting the world’s oceans including the spread of alien species, ship strikes with large slow-swimming whales, and the release of greenhouse gases NOx SOx. Despite these distinct challenges and additional concerns such as the increase in red tides, he maintained optimism. He noted that if you only look at the data, it’s easy to be pessimistic, but if you understand what change is possible, there is room for optimism.

The afternoon sessions brought the focus to shipping companies with representatives from Shell, Norden, BSR, and A.P. Moller Maersk presenting actions their companies are undertaking to incorporate CSR practices. Their respective presentations addressed combating piracy, reducing CO2 emissions, anti-corruption, and making the case for sustainability as a source of innovation. A further panel debate moderated by José María Figueres, President of Carbon War Room, brought together representatives of Nordic Tankers, Enbridge, Inc, and the Danish Shipowners’ Association. The opportunity for questions raised some spirited debate among the audience and the various industry representatives, but all in the spirit of recognizing the importance of good CSR practices.

Closing remarks and a summary of the conference were delivered by Figueres who picked up on Humes presentation with "people, planet, profit," and deemed these "a great trilogy as a moral compass for business, and we are the agents of change.” Recognizing the valuable contributions from the industry, academia, and policy makers to the symposium discussions, in addition to the contributions from the audience, he summed up the question of CSR and sustainability with the words of Shakespeare, “to be, or not to be.”

Helsingør’s Culture Wharf was a fitting venue for the symposium. Opened in 2010, it was the first project in a large-scale revitalization of Helsingør’s old wharf. The event concluded with a reception and visit to the neighboring Danish National Maritime Museum, an adaptive reuse project of an old dry dock. Funded by Danish shipping companies and the Danish Maritime Fund, the architecturally stunning building opened just one month earlier and contains an intriguing collection of displays dedicated to Danish maritime history.

Following on the symposium, WMU’s CSR-related efforts will continue in regard to educating maritime policy makers. In 2011, WMU began work on a project where the University functions as a catalyst for the development of new CSR education programs for WMU alumni. The goal of the project is to disseminate knowledge about the concept and implementation of CSR, and its relationship to capacity building to contribute to the work of IMO. In addition, WMU is collaborating with The Danish Maritime Authority and DSA to create CSR toolbox courses in a project funded by The Danish Maritime Fund.

Click here to access a full album of photos from the symposium.

Last updated date

November 19, 2013

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