Ports are a key factor as we transition to a decarbonised world and are not immune to the challenges of ESG. They are an essential part of global manufacturing and distribution systems, and their role has been highlighted through the supply chain disruption caused by the pandemic. 

Australia is at an inflection point in our ESG journey. Never has the impact of climate change been brought into such focus and extended to all facets of our economy. From creating better climate resilient infrastructure to reevaluating energy supply, as a nation we are at the precipice of great structural change. 

Port authorities worldwide are striving to find better ways of operating and facing increasing pressure from world regulators to become more environmentally and socially integrated. Australia is no exception to this pressure.  

This is why whole-of-life analysis of port infrastructure helps ports respond to economic challenges by making informed decisions about infrastructure investment they make, ensuring their competitiveness in a resource-constrained world while fostering innovation and reducing environmental impacts. 

According to scientists, extreme weather events will become more frequent, more intense and increasingly unpredictable as a result of climate change. Infrastructure Australia says that by 2050, the annual cost of natural disasters in Australia is expected to more than double from $18 billion per year to over $39 billion per year

While we can’t prevent natural disasters, we can do a lot more to make infrastructure more resilient. Risk mitigation and criticality planning helps port authorities better prepare for natural disasters – both in how they respond to a disaster event and how they prevent soaring damage costs by providing disaster-resilient infrastructure ahead of time. 

So how do we deliver climate resilient and sustainable port infrastructure, whilst still remaining financially viable?

Setting realistic targets towards economically sustainable port infrastructure

The first step is to establish a standardised evaluation criterion for port economic sustainability. This KPI should be derived from the risk, condition, and cost-benefit rating of each predicted investment strategy for port capital works over a given lifecycle.

These investment strategies will allow asset custodians to understand the year-on-year condition and associated risk of the assets, as well as the cost-benefit ratio of each budget strategy. Leading to informed investment decisions by port infrastructure managers that consider and analyse economic sustainability.

We look at this in great detail in our white paper on an asset lifecycle approach to port infrastructure sustainability. The model predicts the port’s infrastructure condition and provides options for the capital works investment forecast for the given period (e.g. whole of asset lifecycle) based on the indicative available budget. 

The model also provides the optimised budget forecast to achieve or maintain a level of service while maximising benefit and minimising risk. In order to demonstrate the proposed approach, a commercially available predictive modelling tool is used to analyse and model data from the Port of Hobart, one of the key ports in Tasmania, managed by TasPorts.

Investing and using technology to maintain ports daily operations

Technology and innovation are critical in the switch to sustainable infrastructure.  For example, the Internet of things (IoT), drones and artificial intelligence (AI) are transforming infrastructure condition measurement. 

The sophisticated lifecycle models use condition data obtained from the intelligent measuring tools to predict the investment required to achieve a certain level of service or an assets performance within a defined annual budget over a whole life of the assets while minimising risk.

The more data we have to analyse, the more accurate our modelling will be in predicting how the asset is performing – technology is significantly improving this data collection process. 

However, there are challenges with regard to consistently measuring economic sustainability across various ports operations. Therefore, we need additional case studies to set a benchmarking platform to evaluate economic sustainability performance in Australia and worldwide.

Fast-growing innovative technologies are produced to transform the way infrastructure is designed, constructed, and financed. The new technology and demographic demand may even make certain types of infrastructure obsolete, as we are seeing in the Port of Rotterdam. 

Essentially, the Rotterdam Port Authority has a digital version (digital twin) of its port, giving it insights into how assets in the port operate and interact with one another, allowing it to undertake monitoring and evaluation of its operations in real-time. 

Making ports greener

Ports face huge environmental issues such as pollution from ships, transport traffic for the movement of goods, raw materials, and construction wastes. Because ports rely on the movement of large ships with varying cargo supplies, we need to start thinking about how we can make the entire logistics ecosystem greener. But that is a whole other discussion to unpack!  And something that the Port of Rotterdam has already started on with their plan to electrify their ports – transitioning to green and renewable energy sources.

Predicting the impact of climate change on structures over time

The impacts of climate change and the need for climate resilient infrastructure are undeniable, changing the predictability of future infrastructure needs as well as increasing the vulnerability of assets.

Asset managers can prepare for this by using enterprise asset management (EAM) technology to create a central hub of all their infrastructure data, including the condition, consumption, performance, and replacement value of every asset.

In a land of drought and flooding rains, Australians know that natural disasters come and go, but scientists are warning us to be prepared for that to happen more often.  Fortunately, with advancements in EAM and predictive modelling, asset custodians can connect the dots between their asset data to take a holistic, all-infrastructure approach to their resilience planning, allowing them to make smarter decisions ahead of a disaster, and faster decisions in the event of one.

Connecting the dots between environment and finance

In order to manage port sustainability, authorities need to develop measurable sustainability indicators.  While some assessment tools and scoreboards are developed to benchmark some of the sustainability indicators, most of the available indicators developed are based on the environmental measures such as water, air, noise, and soil pollution. 

Currently, there is no accepted standard KPI (key performance indicator) or measurement for port infrastructure sustainability that links the impact of the financial investment to infrastructure sustainability management. 

This needs to change if port operators and their related businesses are to remain viable, competitive, and profitable throughout the transition.

At its core, the primary goal of port sustainability is to reduce the port’s operating costs and enhance its environmental and social performance. As a result, ports that operate more sustainably are more likely to attract funding support from government, community, and private investors. 

It’s time to set a consistent economic performance measurement so that infrastructure sustainability and climate resilience becomes an automatic and critical investment consideration for all infrastructure sectors, including for port authorities.

Nicola Daaboul

Nicola is enthusiastic and passionate about the application of sustainable asset management practices within local government that achieve informed decisions to better serve our environment and the community, now and in the future. She is the APAC Director of Client Services for Brightly and has been there for more than 6 years following a career as an asset practitioner for local governments in Queensland and New South Wales. She has published papers and presented at national and international engineering conferences about leading excellence and innovation in this field. She holds various qualifications, including a Master of Infrastructure Engineering and Management. Nicola is well known and respected by the Australian Asset Management Community through her contributions to IPWEA and on the Board of the Asset Management Council. More by Nicola Daaboul

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