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Environmental Certifications: Towards a More Responsible Marine Shipping Industry

5 minute read

Overview of the environmental standards and certification programs aimed at encouraging ship owners and operators, industry providers and port authorities to adopt sustainable practices and reduce their environmental footprint.

As with any other mode of transportation, commercial vessels have environmental effects, including causing water and air pollution, creating underwater noise and introducing invasive species.

In response, the marine shipping industry has adopted standards and certification programs aimed at encouraging ship owners and operators, industry providers and port authorities to adopt more sustainable practices in order to reduce their environmental footprint. Using marine fuels with a lower sulphur content, reducing the sources of noise generated by marine activities, and implementing plans to reduce residual materials are a few examples.

This article provides an overview of the standards and environmental certifications that the marine shipping industry is using.

Environmental Standards

Energy Efficiency Index

The Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) was established by the International Maritime Organization in order to promote the use of more energy efficient equipment and engines on board vessels and thereby reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The EEDI aims at promoting innovation and continuous improvement of all vessel components that impact the ship’s energy efficiency at the design stage. Since 2013, new vessels must be designed to meet the minimum level of energy efficiency per kilometre of capacity – e.g. ton/kilometre – set out by the EEDI for the various types of vessels. It is expected that the energy efficiency levels established by the Index will be reviewed and gradually tightened every five years.

ISO 14001

Developed by the International Organization for Standardization, the ISO 14001 environmental standard sets out the criteria for environmental management systems within organizations. The ISO 14001 standard encourages organizations to proactively manage their environmental impact. To comply with the standard and be eligible for the ISO 14001 certification, interested organizations must meet certain criteria, including having a management system and an environmental policy, as well as a list of the potential environmental impacts of their operations.

For example, a ship operator who wishes to obtain the ISO 14001 certification should, among other things, identify the significant risks and environmental impacts associated with the loading and unloading activities of its ships and set concrete targets in order to reduce those risks. Once these requirements are met, participants must submit to a compliance audit, at the end of which they receive the ISO 14001 certification.

In the marine shipping industry, classification societies – independent organizations responsible for applying technical shipbuilding standards, for monitoring maintenance activities and for conducting compliance inspections – can issue the ISO 14001 certification to shipping companies who meet the eligibility criteria.

Since adopting the ISO 14001 standard shows a certain level of diligence in improving environmental performance, it is sometimes a prerequisite for obtaining environmental certifications in the marine shipping industry.

Voluntary Environmental Certification Programs

Green Marine

Green Marine is a North American voluntary environmental certification program based on the principle of continual improvement. To become certified, participants must implement practices and technologies that improve their environmental performance. Fourteen indicators are used to assess participants’ performance, including greenhouse gas emissions, underwater noise, dry bulk handling, prevention of leaks and spills, environmental leadership, and community relations. Currently, over 145 participants – ship owners, marine terminals, St. Lawrence Seaway corporations, shipyards, and ports, including all 17 Canadian Port Authorities – are certified by Green Marine. Participants benchmark their annual environmental performance, have their results verified by an accredited external verifier every two years, and agree to publish their annual results to earn their Green Marine Certification.

Environmental Ship Index

The Environmental Ship Index assesses the environmental performance of ships based on their level of polluting emissions, especially nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulphur oxides (SOx). The index ranks the 50 cleanest ships – those who emit the least amounts of NOx and SOx – by giving them an overall score for environmental performance. In Canada, the Prince Rupert and Vancouver Fraser Port Authorities reward ships listed on the Environmental Ship Index with reduced port fees.

Green Award

Green Award is an environmental incentive program designed for marine companies, industry service providers and port authorities. Through an audit of the operational policies and procedures, Green Award certifies leading companies and ships whose practices surpass industry standards. The Green Award certification is valid for a period of three years, after which participants and their practices are reassessed. At the moment, more than 250 ships, 40 marine companies and 35 incentive providers – including the Sept-Îles, Montreal, Prince Rupert and Vancouver Fraser port authorities – hold the Green Award certification.

Clean Shipping Index

The Clean Shipping Index is a global environmental classification index that assesses the performance of ships based on five parameters: sulphur oxide (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, suspended particles emissions, environmental toxicity, water pollution and residual materials management. Participants are ranked through a comprehensive digital survey. Some twenty shipping companies are currently listed on the Clean Shipping Index. In Canada, ships listed on the Clean Shipping Index benefit from a reduction on their harbour fees at the ports of Prince Rupert and Vancouver.


RightShip is an organization that helps marine industry stakeholders manage the environmental risk associated with their operations. Among others, RightShip ranks ships based on their greenhouse gas emissions. This comparative ranking encourages industry stakeholders to improve their environmental index, while helping users of commercial marine shipping services make more responsible choices.

Clean Cargo

Clean Cargo is an initiative aimed at reducing the environmental impact of the transportation of goods worldwide, and at promoting sustainable marine transportation. More than 60 marine companies – container carriers, cargo shippers, and others – for whom reducing their environmental footprint is a priority, take part in this initiative. Members work together on various sustainability projects and share best practices in this area. Clean Cargo also collects data on the emissions of container carriers in order to better assess their environmental impact.

Benefits and Value of Environmental Certifications in the Marine Shipping Industry

Environmental certifications and badges help improve the global environmental performance of the commercial marine shipping industry and raise awareness among its stakeholders. By using clear indicators and incentives such as reduced port fees, environmental certification programs make it easier for shipowners, port authorities, marine service providers, shipyards and others to implement more sustainable practices and technologies.

Furthermore, at a time when consumers are increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of commerce, earning environmental certifications allows stakeholders of the marine shipping sector to meet the increasing demand for more sustainable commercial transportation options. By providing the information required to make more sustainable choices, environmental certification programs help make responsible supply more accessible to businesses who use or who wish to use marine shipping as part of their commercial activities.


Learn More About

Marine shipping in Canada

Commercial shipping acts and conventions


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