The State of Washington in the US aims to be home for the nation’s most sustainable maritime industry by 2050. Engaging all communities affected by Washington’s diverse maritime sector is seen as the key to change.

In our series of interviews with representatives from members of the SEA20 network, we spoke to Joshua Berger, Maritime Sector Lead, State of Washington, about his experiences on advancing a sustainable maritime strategy. Launched this January, the Washington Maritime Blue 2050 initiative is the first of its kind in the US to bolster innovations in the maritime sector that create jobs, protect the environment and ensure sustainability for the industry. The initiative is meant to build on Washington’s strengths as a global leader in maritime technology innovation and best practices.

“We are really proud of the work we have done so far, especially with engaging the various communities and stakeholders impacted by the maritime industry. In Washington’s view, social acceptance from the entire community is essential if we are to create a shared vision,” Berger says.

In order to achieve the goals of, for example, switching to clean energy sources that will affect the air quality in ports, and finding ways to increase safety and alleviate congestion, all stakeholders and social groups need to commit to a common view.


An aging workforce

Berger notes that while the communities most affected by the maritime industry in Washington are people with lower incomes and people of colour, the industry, on the other hand, tends to be perceived as dominated by middle-aged white males. There is clearly a need to make the maritime industry more appealing to younger people.  

“We are just now starting to pay attention to engaging younger employees. Currently, the average age for male employees in the maritime sector is 54 years. We operate the largest ferry system in the US, and around 75% of captains, mates and the upper level maintenance crew of our ferries, and 55% of our chief system engineers, will be able to retire in the next five years,” Berger says.

He adds that it is important to acknowledge how people have different value sets that affect their decision making, and that this is also connected to gaining investments into the industry. Ideas into action Washington’s diverse and interdependent maritime includes the sectors of commercial fishing and seafood; recreational boating and sport fishing; shipping and cargo handling; shipbuilding, repair and maintenance; passenger ferries; military and defense; ocean science technologies; and maritime support businesses. Berger says that the broad range of stakeholders has been one of the biggest challenges of the strategy work.

“In addition, we brought our environmental community, Native American tribal leadership, youth organisations, under-represented communities and labour organisations together to develop the initiative. And at the same time, we formed an implementation organisation to take the strategy forward,” Berger says, adding that it is important that the members and leadership of such an organisation reflect all the communities affected by the maritime industry.

“This is really a pragmatic way of looking at things. We need to see that the ideas are also implemented in practice. Engaging everyone in this work is where we have to start if we are planning to make a true Oceanic Awakening,” he concludes.