The Breaking Waves conference in Helsinki was arranged as a side event of Slush in December 2018, to explore the digital future of shipping and maritime logistics. Amid the melting pot of ideas, innovations, and new business concepts which comprised the event, SEA20 raised compelling discussion topics and advanced the conversation. We spoke to Risto Erkki Juhani Penttilä – CEO of the first pan-Nordic think tank Nordic West Office, which operates SEA20 – about the topical issues at play.



What are your thoughts on climate change mitigation? It’s a beast of a challenge that we are all facing, together! How best to tackle the no. 1 threat to the global economy?   


"We tackle it through cooperation and technology. Regulation is a part of it, but it is more important that we have cooperation between players, companies, cities, states, the EU. But really, I believe that technology will solve this. But for technology to solve it, we need cooperation between different players."


We all know that shipping needs to play its part in the war against climate change and to transition to zero-emission operations. But, there seems to be a sense of paralysis in terms of how to get started. Significant investment is needed. In your opinion, how best to incentivise rapid change in this respect?


"The different players need to realise that they can achieve much more by cooperating. If they are on their own, they are going to be hit by regulations… if they move forward together and show the way to sustainability together, then they will have a much smoother ride as businesses and we have a much better future in terms of climate. Cooperation between ports, cities and companies is the key."   




Risto E.J. Penttilä



BREXIT is, of course, a major talking point at the moment. Dr Liam Fox (British Secretary of State for International Trade) recently launched ‘UK Ports for International Trade’ Campaign – to promote free trade as a key driver for growth and prosperity in marine cities. Alexander Stubb found this contradictory, considering the process the UK is shortly to undergo. What are your thoughts on this?   


"Well, it’s not only BREXIT, it is about trade wars, economic nationalism. It seems that there are a lot of clouds in the sky that are preventing us from seeing the benefits of free trade. It is hugely important that marine cities form a common voice defending free trade. And yes, it is important to keep Britain onboard. You can’t think of the history of the world without great maritime cities and free trade. And you can’t think of the future of the world without thinking of maritime cities and freedom of trade.  


What I believe Dr Fox and Alex have in common here are their recognition that we live in an age threatened by division and polarisation among the few true focal points of global economic influence, and that alliances – whether among ports in one country or port cities around the world – are an urgent necessity. The time for such alliances is now. We need a common voice from cities defending free trade despite these turbulences that we are living in."  


How could that common voice take form?   


"I'm optimistic that it will take many forms, but I’m proud to say that SEA20 offers one of them."


Cities seem to be the new nexus of political power. Is this the way forward?    


"The more we move in to a technology-driven world, and I believe we are going to be there very soon, the slower the reactions from international regulatory agencies and states are going to be. Cities are going to be quicker and if they cooperate with ports and with companies they can have a greater impact than states and have a voice in the global debates."


Marine cities grew in accordance with the importance that society placed on their ports. But today, there seems to be a disconnect between consumers and shipping, as a means for receiving their goods. Ports and maritime have a bad reputation which seems unfair. How can we better connect the citizen with its port?   


"I think the relationship needs some work! What we need to make clear is that in terms of the three big challenges. Ports, cities and companies can produce results and they are trade, sustainability and modern urban planning. We have to start speaking about maritime cities as engines of progress in the world, rather than obstacles to people getting what they want. Because that is what they are."


How do you feel about SEA20 and what is your ultimate vision to come out of this movement and network?    


"My ultimate vision is for the great maritime cities of the world to have a common voice that pushes forward the agenda of sustainability, the agenda of modern urban planning and the agenda of free trade."