Environmental shipping barriers examined in three-year project

Copenhagen Business School and its Centre for Shipping Economics and Innovation is currently examining the many commercial, technical, and organizational barriers standing in the way of an effective environmental effort among shipping companies. Associate professor René Taudal Poulsen, with financial backing from The Danish Maritime Fund, investigates the issue in cooperation with The Danish Shipowners’ Association, The Danish Maritime Authority and manufacturing companies such as MAN Diesel.

Photo: Maersk Line

The environmental barriers are placed high on the EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard’s agenda. The day before yesterday, Hedegaard told ShippingWatch that the many barriers act as a brake block to effective environmental efforts made by shipping companies. The EU wishes to have identified and removed the barriers which cost bunkers and money and cause pollution.

Knowledge and tools

René Taudal Poulsen has been working for six months on his three-year project, but already he has gotten an impression of what action must be taken:

“The purpose of the project is to gain more knowledge of the barriers as well as creating the tools that can be used to remove them. Even though many shipping companies have begun to consider energy efficiency as a deciding competitive factor, there is still a lack of knowledge on the subject. Take for instance a Danish company chartering a foreign container ship. It is difficult for the company to see how efficient the ship is and how much it impacts the environment. Even though Danish companies would like to present their environmental reports openly, many of their competitors are not doing this. The lack of common standards for environmental reports makes it hard for transportation customers to compare the companies’ environmental footprint, and therefore the customers cannot reward the most energy efficient and environmentally friendly companies,” says René Taudal Poulsen.

Split incentives

Connie Hedegaard points to the so-called “split incentives” as yet another barrier, meaning that different actors in the industry or even within the same company can hold different interests that do not necessarily concern energy efficiency. As a response, René Taudal Poulsen offers:

“An example of that could be an owner of ships who does not feel an immediate incentive to make environmental improvements if the charter-rate which the ship can gain does not reflect the ship’s energy efficiency or if the ship cannot reach a better sales price when it eventually sold on the second hand market.”


In general, René Taudal Poulsen views the environmental improvements as win-win cases since fuel costs are currently weighing down the budgets of companies while at the same time, politicians and the EU are demanding cleaner air.

“A lot has happened among the shipping companies and much more will have happened once my project is completed in three years. A completely different attitude towards environmental issues is already under way. Today companies are hiring environmental engineers which can help them improving the industry’s environmental efforts. We are seeing an entirely new development in the shipping companies’ recruitment policies which bears witness to a will to change within the industry.

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