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Shipping’s decarbonisation “a fantastic commercial opportunity”

Diane Gilpin, Founder & CEO of Smart Green Shipping Alliance, tells us why the industry should be looking to decarbonise while preparing to comply with the 2020 sulphur cap regulation.

In a 2020 centric industry, it is important to look at the bigger picture and not forget about shipping’s long-term decarbonisation options. It is an exciting and incredibly critical time in the industry, as shipping’s response to the 2020 sulphur cap will not only define the sector’s ability to adapt and comply with future regulations, but also sends a message to the public about the industry’s attitudes towards sustainability.

Diane Gilpin, Founder and CEO of Smart Green Shipping Alliance, works with a number of industry leaders, incl. Lloyd’s Register and Rolls-Royce, to build technically, commercially, and environmentally superior systems solutions for the shipping industry. In this Q&A, Gilpin shares her views on shipping’s actions towards lowering air emissions and reiterates the importance of sustainability in today’s businesses.

Read the interview below.

Lili Nguyen: Is it too early to talk about decarbonisation and a zero-emission shipping sector?

Diane Gilpin: "No, I think that the urgent need to address the challenges of climate disruption means that the conversation on this issue is later than it should have been. We only need to look at the once-in-a-lifetime storms that we’re experiencing around the world. I don’t think it’s too soon. Framing it as a challenge, which is rooted in a moral imperative to address climate change, is not as important as framing it as a fantastic commercial opportunity. Certainly, when we are thinking about new business models for the future, we can see more resilient and more sustainable commercial solutions being developed – in every sense of the word."

LN: Are the technologies developed enough for shipping to talk about zero emission?

DG: "We have to talk about zero-emissions so that we can develop the technologies; the two are not mutually exclusive. I recognise and empathise with shipowners and operators that there is a lot going on and there’s a lot to think about in the world of shipping. Even in 2009, people were talking about the urgent need to address the sulphur challenge. But now we’re heading into 2020, 14 months away from the sulphur cap to come into force, and we’re running around panicking. An orderly transition would be much more efficient, so we do need to be talking about exploring the myriads of technologies out there and see which ones work best in which vessels. It’s a massive problem, but big problems are big opportunities. That’s the way I like to think about it and that’s the way people I work with think about it. The technology is not there, but it won’t be there, unless people are willing to develop it."

LN: Will current 2020 sulphur cap solutions aid decarbonisation or will they be discarded in time?

DG: "Dealing with air emission problems in the short term will ultimately be less efficient and more expensive. I think what we need to be thinking about is how to reduce overall consumption of fuel. If you use renewable energy, for example, you take the propulsion requirements, you’ll have a lesser need for fuel. If you go down the low sulphur fuel road, then the overall impact will be reduced. Equally, if you go down the scrubber option, if you use less fuel, the sulphur problem is lesser of an issue.

There’s a lot of attention on LNG, and I think that could prove to be an expensive diversion towards decarbonisation, because it’s still a fossil fuel, it’s still subject to commodity market shifts, and there is a really big doubt over its low carbon impact across the whole supply chain."

LN: What is the role of sustainability in modern industries? Why should the shipping industry embrace it?

DG: "Sustainability means the ability to sustain your business. If you want your business to be around, then you should definitely embrace it. A sustainable business makes sustainable profits. When I think about sustainability, I think about how we make enough money going into the long-term future. It’s not just about whether or not we’re impacting the environment in a negative way. It might sound harsh, but there is no business on the planet if we don’t survive as a species, and that’s a very real threat. We’re not even at the threshold of the Paris Agreement and we’re seeing massive climate disruptions – polar ice caps melting, unprecedented storms in the Pacific and Atlantic, thousand years historic rainfall events. All of those things impact the world we live in; it will impact crop production; and it will increase sea levels. As that impacts our species, doing business will become increasingly challenging. It’s not a question of ‘is my business going to make money out of it?’, but rather ‘is this environment in which we all live in going to still be around?’, so that your successors can make a good business."


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