We met up with Roger Holm, President, Marine Business & EVP, Wärtsilä, to discuss the company’s role in making SEA20 possible, and the enabling factors and obstacles on the way to fully realising the initiative’s objectives.  


How would you describe the journey Wärtsilä has taken from a solution provider and technology company to a promoter of broader societal objectives as part of the SEA20 initiative? 


One of the starting points was when we reformulated our company purpose a couple of years ago to “enabling sustainable societies with smart technology”. This, of course, fits well with the transitional process of rethinking the marine ecosystem. Another aspect is that we examined the entire shipping community, including port operations, and discovered the fact that even though shipping is by far the most environmentally friendly way to transport goods, it has not been recognised as a sustainable industry.  


Also, when looking at the marine ecosystem and its various stakeholders from a broader perspective, we concluded that in order to make the industry more efficient and make use of new technologies for cutting down emissions, we need much more connectivity and information flows, and the breaking down of isolated silos, for example, in the operations of cities, ports and shipping companies. This, in turn, requires more collaboration and dialogue, which we have aimed to enable by supporting the idea of bringing forward-looking maritime cities and other stakeholders together.  


Why should the general public, and not just maritime stakeholders, be interested in such a movement? 


Firstly, around 90 per cent of the world’s trade is carried by sea, so even though you may not be aware of it, shipping affects all our lives. And in every future scenario, the importance of shipping is increasing as volumes are expected to grow continually towards 2050. At the same time, maritime transport is responsible for about 2.5 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, so as part of the efforts to combat climate change, we also need to look at shipping in a totally different way. In practice, this means reducing fuel consumption and emissions by applying new technologies and changing the way the industry operates and interacts, which will also make shipping safer.  


What developments do you see taking place within the maritime sector that will advance the transition towards a smarter ecosystem? 


It’s a step-by-step process, and we will, for example, see certain data flows connecting vessels with ports, removing unnecessary hurry. For example, running at full speed to reach a port, and then having to wait a few days before docking is a complete waste of energy. We should be able to adapt the way we use energy on board to arrive at the right time, and also according to, for instance, changing weather conditions. The vessel is not a separate entity but should be examined in connection to where it needs to be at different points in time. Greater connectivity, not only digitally but across all industry verticals and operations in the entire logistic chain, could potentially offer huge benefits to the industry.  


What are the obstacles to achieving more connectivity and efficient flows of data? 


The ownership and confidentiality of data and its perceived business value can cause obstacles, but I believe the situation will change when the benefits are considered larger than the risk involved in sharing. Another part of the problem is that there is no standard way of sharing data, for example, between vessels A and B and ports C and D, so that it would actually help with port operations. Sharing data is valuable only when you can do smart things with it. 


The first step is to utilise data on board the vessel, which is already partly possible, for example, in optimising the route by connecting to the cloud. Next, the key is to be able to connect the smart vessel to smart port data, because then you can unlock a great deal of value in the smart marine ecosystem.  


How crucial is the role of port authorities, or what kind of collaboration do you consider necessary to make this happen? 


In the big picture, it’s about the role of ports in cities and a question of city planning. That is also our reasoning behind SEA20 – to include the most progressive cities and people in the discussion. There is no single silver bullet solution, and whatever we do, we should do it in a way that looks at the total picture globally. Isolated solutions are very seldom efficient or able to offer added value. 


You could, of course, debate whether cities are the right discussion forum, but our view is that major maritime cities are, almost by default, interested in their ports and that the maritime ecosystem is of huge importance to them. That’s why we wanted to start the dialogue close to where concrete actions are most likely to take place.  


What do you hope to see as achievements in the near future, or what could be an encouraging sign of SEA20 being on the right track? 


I think it’s already a great starting point that cities are investing their time in driving this forward and sharing our thinking. Many initiatives are being developed in various directions, and if the discussion about, for example, the role of ports in the cities of the future, and connecting smart vessels to the ports is driven by our member cities, we have reached our goal. 


Basically, the main message I would emphasise is how lowering costs, removing inefficiencies and reducing emissions will benefit all parties – vessels and ports, and the cities and their citizens. Together we can make a significant environmental impact with even small changes. The reason this hasn’t happened yet is because of the various separate silos present in the diverse ecosystem that need to be broken down. Ultimately, the aim is to enable a sustainable future that we can all be proud of – together.