Industry News

Opinion: A Sustainable Offshore Sector - Sprint or Relay Run?

If one topic is constantly in the media it’s climate change, and with the recent floods it’s a topic that’s coming worryingly close to home. Achieving the climate goals for 2030 may well require a sprint to the finish line, including for the offshore sector. Or would a relay run be more efficient? “We can’t get there alone; we must work together.”

On the main stage and behind the scenes, cooperation is rife in the offshore sector in areas such as decommissioning, education and, of course, sustainability. So, what’s our viewpoint? Not just the perspective of those of us in hardcore offshore, but also industries laterally involved like banking and engineering? What are the goals, actions and, the first topic raised by AYOP director Sylvia Boer, the professional visions on increasing sustainability?

Jan: “Private and professional are all the same to me. Sustainability revolves around reducing CO2 and improving air quality. But it also involves creating a biobased and circular industry in the Amsterdam port. In addition, I use my bicycle regularly and don’t fly too often. We encourage staff travelling less than 500 km to take the train and try to set a good example by implementing the use of hydrogen cars, for example.”’

Lilian: “I agree that the private and professional are interlinked and we must act responsibly in both. It’s our duty towards our children and to the rest of the world. At BK Ingenieurs we’re working hard to convince everyone of the importance of such an approach. We are clearly reaching our younger staff and hope that they can convince others – who are more focused on costs – to review their thinking.”

Daniëlle: “If you consider that we’re consuming 1.56 times more than what the planet can produce on a global level, it is obvious why things have to change. We try to contribute as individuals and as professionals – by providing clients with insights into their status, and what they can do to make their business and homes more sustainable. It is important to us how they deal with these issues.”

People in the offshore chain are pulling out all the stops to increase sustainability. Not only because they have to but because it creates opportunities. Are you involved in such projects?

Jan: “Absolutely. In the framework of CO2 reductions and improving air quality we’re working on the development of hydrogen stations and the production of H2 in the port region as part of a project with the market. We’re also clearing the way for biobased and circular industry wherever possible. In a general sense, you could say that we don’t focus on small, individual issues, instead looking at integrated projects that span the entire chain and are based on the demands from the market.”

“Sustainable business may seem more costly than traditional business, but it is just a matter of perspective.”

Does this sound familiar, Daniëlle?

Daniëlle: “The demand is certainly there, but there’s also the resistance in relation to costs. Sustainable business may seem more expensive than traditional business as linear business cases don’t include all the costs involved while circular business cases do. Once you understand that the differences are limited. Take the costs for cleaning up CO2 for example, which aren’t always included in our current business models by the parties that actually produce it. If they did their cost price would be very different and the gap between non-sustainable and sustainable business marginal. In fact, we must always carefully weigh actual costs against short- and long-term results.”

Lilian: “Indeed, costs are an inhibiting actor. BK Ingenieurs established a working group in which, mostly younger, staff – who already complement our company well – discuss what sustainability means to us and how we can and should translate its relevance to clients. They encourage ideas such as including circularity in our services as standard and that’s why we actively involve this passionate generation of employees. Our goal is to purposefully and effectively brainstorm about these topics – moving from objections to opportunities and chances. Change is needed and fast!”

It sounds like there are quite a few challenges to tackle. What would it take to remove the objections that remain?

Jan: “Bringing parties in contact with each other and stimulating cocreation is one of our main tasks. We don’t present ourselves as an operator, preferring to focus on our nautical expertise, access to the financial world and understanding of environmental regulations. This enables us to develop concrete projects in close cooperation with the market. For instance, we aim to further develop the hydrogen economy network with parties active in the field of production and infrastructure. But take note: we don’t push the market, we try to stimulate it instead. And, before I forget, a word on employment! Sustainable employment demands different things from people than traditional employment. An autonomous vessel is a good example; try to operate one without proper training! In this respect education is a challenge that is relevant to every company.”

Daniëlle: For us as a financial provider, the challenge lies in how best to handle the circular model. The focus in the linear economy is on historical figures, financing assets and profitability. The financing of a circular business case focuses on future cashflows, the financing of a service (platform), and the social and ecological impact. The risks of linear versus circular are essentially different. We use our Health Check on sustainability to assess where a company stands and where they need to take concrete action in the short and long term based on various measuring points. Sometimes this involves fairly simple measures such as electrification of the vehicle fleet but other measures are more far-reaching and require innovation before any steps can be taken at all.”

So it’s a matter of working together across the entire chain?

Jan: “There are actually two chains in offshore. If we zoom in on transport, we see that trucks ride around empty 40% of the time. And with regard to stocking platforms, you just can’t always bring something large back after delivering something large. That doesn’t mean no improvements can be realised in areas such as vessel sharing. For circularity it’s important to consider the entire supply chain. Consider the decommissioning of platforms and wind farms. A current challenge in this field involves the recycling of turbine blades which contain fibres and plastics that can’t be incinerated. It would be a waste, in fact. So, to recycle the material you need to seek out collaboration with parties who can help, look at available technologies, possible locations in the port, on and offshore partners, a party who wants to build a plant and one that will operate it. All the links must be taken onboard. You can imagine how much research this involves as well as qualities as a matchmaker and cocreator.”

Lilian: “It is essential that we remove any bottlenecks to the people with a direct interest in increased sustainability. Not just on an individual level but also in a broader, overarching context. Take decommissiong, for example, a sector in which we are seeing major developments. Then consider issues such as the storage, supply and removal of materials where major sustainability benefits can be achieved. In addition, BK Ingenieurs actively takes part in an AYOP initiative called DecomMissionBlue to decommission maritime and offshore installations like vessels and oil & gas installations in a sustainable and circular way in collaboration with various companies active in the North Sea Canal region. In this context, BK Ingenieurs is responsible for the asbestos material inventory and research into chrome6.

We have to actively seek each other out – this is already happening – and remove obstacles. And we must invest. We should stop thinking solely in terms of expensive or cheap: engage with the debate, listen and act from the perspective that sustainable business costs money. From there we need to work with passionate people who think in terms of opportunities. The time for talking has passed. It’s sad to realise that the energy transition was already being discussed some 20 years ago but it wasn’t seen as a priority and nobody took action. Even now, with the sword hanging above our heads, still not everyone is convinced. We have to work together. Sustainability isn’t a choice, it’s a must.”

“You can only spend money once, so you might as well do it as well as possible.”

Daniëlle: “We often support these types of processes, bringing various parties together and exploring their circular opportunities with regards to reducing their environmental impact while maintaining value and preserving the availability of resources. The focus is generally on aspects such as procurement, production and production locations, logistics, new business and revenue models, and circular design. If you take all stages of the lifecycle into account in the design phase, a product will last much longer. This is the essence of modular design and design for disassembly, for example, which revolves around the easy and cost-effective replacement and reuse of wear-sensitive parts. The choice of material is important as well: does it require scarce resources such as cobalt or magnesium or can it do without? Or consider lightweight construction in the framework of less material and energy usage, by using a 3D printer, for instance.

Regarding new business models, the increasing fluctuations in material prices and pressure on company footprints make offering ‘Product as a Service’ an attractive option. Manufacturers maintain ownership of their own products and can use them multiple times. This lifespan extension is economically interesting and reduces the footprint of the company involved. With respect to revenue models various options can result in sustainability benefits, such as pay-per-use, rental, sell/buy back, and lease. After these trajectories, every company goes home with a concrete, custom map of opportunities and clear collaboration agreements with chain partners.”

Looking ten years ahead, how do you think the sector will be doing in terms of sustainability?

Jan: “In ten years, I think we’ll be using more sustainable fuels and I hope the circular economy will have a firm foothold. I also expect smart shipping to have become common. Of course, legislation – which is often miles behind the developments – must help this along.”

Daniëlle: “Ideally we’ll have taken a significant step towards being planet-proof in ten years. The developments are going at an undeniably fast pace. At the same time, I believe increasing sustainability is an ongoing process and we’ll be facing new challenges in a decade’s time. This makes it all the more important to integrate sustainability within business management.”

Lilian: “Regarding offshore I prefer leaving predictions to the sector itself. In a broader sense, I think and hope that the streams which currently come via low-wage countries will have shifted, bringing more activities under in-house management and allowing companies to have a greater impact on issues like transport and CO2 emissions.”

What should AYOP’s role be in this regard?

Jan: “As a matchmaker I bring parties together, which is important in order to assess whether there’s a coalition of the willing. Parties are often too small to take on things individually, but that doesn’t mean there is not a mutual desire. Together with Port of Amsterdam, AYOP has already proven its value in this regard. Our challenges aren’t that different from those in your sector. I think there’s a good chance that our collaboration will eventually result in a new project, perhaps involving circular turbines, for example.”

Lilian: “Indeed, a role as a central hub, as a knowledge party that can gauge all interests well and bring companies and visions together on that basis… That’s a perfect role for AYOP.”

Daniëlle: “You are able to quickly identify challenges to sustainability in the sector. It may be a good idea to take even more initiative. Taking the bull by its horns at an early stage and proactively bringing companies together – insofar as you’re not doing so already!”

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