Port Esbjerg is one of Denmark’s biggest industrial ports, with around 200 companies operating in the area. As part of Nordic Ports for a Sustainable Future, the port has a clear focus on becoming greener and aims to lead the field in improved maritime sustainability. To discuss this and much more, we met with Port Director Dennis Jul Pedersen for an interview.
For those who are not familiar with Port Esbjerg – can you tell a little about the port?
Port Esbjerg is one of the largest ports in Denmark and is located on the west coast of Jutland. We have about 200 different businesses operating in the port area – many of them within the energy sector. The port, not just Esbjerg but ports in general, has gone from executing mainly a logistics' function to also becoming important business clusters. This puts us in a very good position to build and influence collaboration across sectors, for example, when it comes to the green shift and sustainability.
You’re on an exciting innovation journey, where also EGGS is involved – can you tell us about that?
Yes, we have an intense focus on becoming greener, which is where we’ve also worked together with EGGS on several projects. For example, one project where you helped design a more sustainable waste sorting system at the port for all the ships that dock there. This was quite a challenge as we had to design a system that works for a heterogeneous group of users with varying backgrounds in terms of language, nationality, and culture. The visual aspect of the information design and the service was essential here. On a higher level, we’ve also worked together with designing collaboration between the many stakeholders and businesses present at the port. It needs to be said that the innovative part in this isn’t the technical part of things. What is required to become greener isn't primarily technology but genuine collaboration. We know that to reach our goal of becoming greener, the whole ecosystem that the port consists of needs to cooperate and strive in the same direction. EGGS has helped us in this by visualising the goal and designing the collaboration together with representatives from the many companies in the port.
It needs to be said that the innovative part in this isn’t the technical part of things. What is needed in order to become greener isn’t primarily technology, but genuine collaboration.Dennis Jul Pedersen, CEO, Port Esbjerg
Do you have any tips on what other ports – or organisations in general - that wish to work with innovation should think about?
Yes, from my own experience, it's crucial to be able to visualize where you're going. What the goal is, what you're trying to accomplish and how you're planning on getting there. When you see it drawn up, instead of just written in words, it gives you a much clearer vision. It avoids misinterpretations and helps put everyone on the same page.
Any pitfalls that can be avoided?
There is a combination of things that you need to be careful with. It's essential that you don't skip the step of identifying all the stakeholders and carefully designing a good collaboration form. If you don’t get this right, you will have great difficulties moving forward. The mapping of the stakeholders also needs to be detailed enough to identify early adopters and people who can be ambassadors for the upcoming change. You'll need them when you implement later on. If you don't have this identified and clear, you risk running into problems when trying to implement the innovation or solution you've put effort into developing.
What made you chose to work with designers and EGGS specifically?
It was the first time working with designers, and it happened after an introduction by Ulla Sommerfelt (EGGS’ CEO). In general, the maritime world and ports are very traditional and conservative, making it challenging to innovate. I got a very good impression of Ulla presenting EGGS and what you can do. I was also very inspired by her TEDx Talk and felt there was an approach to culture, collaboration, and innovation that could be valuable to us.
What has the experience of working with an external design and innovation team been like?
It has been positive, but it has also been challenging. There's a cultural difference between the design world and the maritime’ world. We come from a quite down-to-earth, non-academic universe, while the design and innovation professionals have a different background. Also, it’s a challenge to have so many stakeholders working together, with 200 organisations making up the companies in the port. There are many different ‘languages’ and cultures that have to meet and understand each other. But that’s what I think that EGGS has been able to help us with. Your strong suit is precisely this – helping different parties speak the same language and understand each other and where they’re headed.
What challenges do you see for the future in the ports and logistics industries? And for Esbjerg specifically?
There have always been, and always will be, significant political interests in ports. Both because of their geographic location, which is often in or nearby bigger cities, and because of their role in supply chains. This is a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity to influence. And in Denmark and Scandinavia, and many other parts of the world, there's a great political interest and pressure to move towards greener industries. This includes the ports. The big challenge in this is that it involves so many stakeholders. Not only the many businesses operating in the ports but also the community where it operates, regulations, and political interests.
And what opportunities do you see?
The green shift is an opportunity in itself. It’s positive for the environment, for people but also for business. Going green means saving energy and costs, which in the end benefits companies. I also see the fact that there are many initiatives for greater collaboration in the industry. Both between individual stakeholders but also between different ports and even between countries. The collaboration between the Nordics is one example. This offers many chances to contribute to solving many problems within the SDGs, not only the green shift. For instance, it can help generate new jobs or improve safety in the ports and related environments. I think that there's a chance to show that there are things that are more - or just as – important for businesses than making a hefty profit.
Denmark has a strong legacy within maritime and ports. How do you see the industry development in Denmark?
Yes, I believe that Denmark, compared to many other countries, has an advantage in that we already have legislation in place for a green shift. The opinion within the industry and in society at large is already very much aligned with going green, so to speak. Succeeding with this requires know-how, resources, and research. I believe we have the capacity in Denmark to continue to be leading in the green shift and in innovation in the port industries. But it presumes that we keep investing in it.
I believe we have the capacity in Denmark to continue to be leading in the green shift and in innovation in the port industries. But it presumes that we keep investing in it.Dennis Jul Pedersen, CEO, Port Esbjerg
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