Alastair Fischbacher, chief executive of the Sustainable Shipping Initiative, casts his crystal ball.
In an increasingly dynamic and volatile world experiencing climate change, rising demand for limited resources and growing hyperconnectivity, the way we work is being constantly redefined. The Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI) has been focusing on identifying emerging big innovation ideas that may have a long-term impact on the shipping supply chain. The major driver behind this is to ensure that the industry, while faced with immediate concerns, is able to respond nimbly to future changes. Other developments we have been exploring include future fuels, advances in new eco-ship technology and emerging economic drivers for ‘zero fuel cost’ ships for low-GDP economies.
Developed in partnership with Forum for the Future through its Futures Centre, the report focuses on detecting early signs of change through scanning trends in the macro environment and evaluating how the innovations that are largely outside of or adjacent to shipping could have an impact on the shipping supply chain.
Among the 15 developments highlighted in the report, three unifying themes emerged from the analysis. These are:
· Who will govern the oceans?
· Will we recognise the future captains of the sea?
· What will be the nature of our cargo?
It is important that we begin to answer these questions. Despite the immediate challenges facing shipping, to ensure that the industry is robust, dynamic and profitable in the future, we need to step back and evaluate how global innovations could have an impact on the sector. Big changes are on the horizon and the shipping industry will be better placed to adapt and embrace the opportunities that emerge.
Ocean governance, for instance, is a such multi-faceted issue where there are several strong signals emerging. One aspect is the wide-reaching impact of human activity in the marine ecosystem, particularly within the current context of emerging issues such as vessel quieting and underwater noise regulation. Growing scrutiny of geoengineering as ocean acidification rates rise to unprecedented levels is also likely to increase. We must also consider the increasing interest in seabed mining, which could become major game-changer, not just for the maritime industry, but for redefining the sourcing and sustainability of natural resources. Despite polarised views on its feasibility as a sustainable source of natural resources, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) has granted 19 exploration licenses to date, and the first commercial deep-sea mining project, by Nautilus Minerals in Papua New Guinea, is expected to start operations within the next five years. Such initiatives are already driving debate around the ownership rights and regulatory developments of the oceans.
As with all sectors, shipping will have to manage the changing demands on its leaders both at sea and onshore. In addition to the pressures of the digital era in terms of demonstrating transparency and accountability for both company and personal actions, changes in how shareholder value are measured, such as divestment campaigns around fossil fuels, could require executives to live up to different performance expectations. If emerging factors, including remote-controlled vessels, 4D printing and the greater automation of repetitive operations in shipyards, are scaled, they could have a dramatic impact on the roles of those working within the industry.
How the nature of manufacturing evolves over the next decade and beyond will have a dramatic impact on the production and transportation of cargo. For example, the mainstream adoption of additive manufacturing and the development of new materials such as nanomaterials, will fundamentally challenge current manufacturing practices and locations. Combined with increased efforts to ‘close the loop’ on production through reverse logistics, supply chains will become increasingly complex, which the shipping industry will need to respond to in terms of services and infrastructure.
The SSI will continue to monitor how these signals of change take shape within their different contexts as well identifying other signs that develop. Yet we cannot do this alone and actively encourage those within and beyond the industry to help us ‘test’ these assumptions. Ultimately, it is always tempting to focus on the pressures at hand, but looking up and seeing what’s on the horizon is a chance to embrace new opportunities and thrive in the face of change.