Firms fail to report impact on the seas

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Norway is a major shipping, seafood and offshore nation, yet the vast majority of its maritime businesses fail to chart or report their own impact on the seas. The firms’ lack of consideration for the seas may embarrass their own government, which has launched an international effort to address maritime pollution.

Far too many maritime firms in Norway don’t pay enough  attention to their impact on the seas. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

Just as Prime Minister Erna Solberg was speaking at the UN in New York this week about threats against the oceans and the importance of caring for them, newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported on a new survey by consulting firm PwC. It showed that only 17 of Norway’s 100 largest companies mentioned the UN’s sustainability goals regarding marine ecosystems in their annual reports. Only three of the 100 Norwegian firms set any quantitative goals to improve their own environmental impact on the seas they use in their operations.

“That’s our main criticism of the big Norwegian companies,” Magnus Young of PwC told DN. “Very few of them measure their impact on the seas. That’s worthy of criticism, given that 30 of the 100 biggest firms operate in maritime-related businesses, either within seafood, shipping or oil and gas.”

Young said the low level of consciousness about the seas was palpable in a country like Norway that otherwise views itself as a major maritime nation. The apparent lack of regard for the seas was also remarkable, not least when Prime Minister Solberg has been stressing how the threat level “currently facing the oceans is unprecedented. Loss of biodiversity, marine pollution, climate change and over-exploitation of marine resources are just some of the challenges.”

For the full text of Solberg’s speech at Norway’s “Ocean Wave” reception in New York this week, which was also attended by Crown Prince Haakon, click here (external link to the government’s own website). 

PwC didn’t want to publicly embarrass the companies failing to address climate- or environmental impact by identifying them by name. Young noted that some of the companies do a good job at measuring their own impact on the seas in terms, for example, of how they handle waste, water consumption or how they discharge sewage.

“But within the seafood industry and fish-farming, there was little attention paid to this, and even less among shipping firms,” Young said. He conceded that the lack of a clear standard for reporting poses a challenge, but he claimed that the fish-farming industry seemed to have a “defensive” attitude towards its own impact on the seas. Fish-farming (called oppdrett in Norwegian) is regularly criticized and unwanted in many areas, especially because of accidental release of farmed fish into the wild.

“I think it can help to be more open about their impact,” Young told DN. “They could contribute towards generating more confidence.” He rejected any claims that only large, profitable companies have the finances or capacity to pay attention to maritime sustainability. Most salmon farming operations, meanwhile, have been highly profitable but hardly any filed sustainability reports.

The Norwegian-Swedish car-carrier firm Wallenius Wilhelmsen was among the few that PwC cited as doing a good job of reporting its maritime impact and paying attention to sustainability. PHOTO: Wallenius Wilhelmsen/Wikipedia

PwC was impressed, however, with at least one major Norwegian-Swedish shipping company, the car-carrier business of Wallenius Wilhelmsen. It transports automobiles in large vessels around the world and reported on its emissions from vessels, how the company scrapes its ships, about the water used for ballast, how their vessels’ hulls are maintained and how they dispose of waste from the ships. Wallenius Wilhelmsen was also praised for its specific reports tied to carbon emissions from the company’s operations.

“We get many more inquiries from investors and banks about these things, interest has exploded,” Carine Møller Mortensen, communications chief for Wallenius Wilhelmsen, told DN. “Now the banks want to include climate risk in their financial reporting on us.”

Other shipping companies have received negative attention tied to how they sell or scrap old ships, which too often wind up “beached” in poor countries. Wallenius Wilhelmsen, meanwhile, is engaged in an international cooperation aimed at securing responsible recycling of old vessels through the Ship Recycling Transparency Initiative.

“Openness about ship recycling allows all responsible players including customers, investors and banks to make well-informed decisions about whether they want to be connected to companies that recycle in a responsible manner,” Mortensen told DN, instead of supporting practice “that has frightening human and environmental consequences.”

Solberg claimed that safeguarding the oceans for future generations “is a matter of global urgency.” Norway will be sponsoring a string of events around the world to heighten consciousness around saving the seas, starting at home when the foreign ministry hosts another “Our Ocean Conference” next month.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund