The global shipping community was back in town last month for London International Shipping Week, the third time this biennial event has been held and now firmly established as a favourite on the international calendar.
The themes that dominated LISW 2019 may not have been new, but the tone of the conversations this year felt different. More engaged, more focused on solutions and definitely higher up the agenda. Across a range of issues, we could hear the gears shifting.
Getting serious about decarbonisation
On shipping’s carbon challenge, the penny has dropped. 12 months ago, too much of the debate on climate impact was still taking place under the umbrella of CSR. Here at LISW, it appears to be occupying a prominent position on the boardroom agenda – perhaps as THE defining issue for the next decade. We heard a range of viewpoints from senior industry leaders who are finally getting serious on decarbonisation and actively exploring the decarbonisation pathways that their fleets and their sectors need to pursue.
With the IMO under pressure to provide greater regulatory and practical support, we’re also seeing the emergence of a ‘coalition of the willing’ mentality; mirroring the collaborative approach adopted by cities, regional governments and corporations that recognise the need to move faster than progress-by-consensus will allow. LISW’s ICS event heard a proposal for a $20 billion carbon fund to support the transition to zero-emission fuels, as well as predictions of a doubling of freight rates to deliver the funding required. The enormity of the undertaking – and the consequences – may be staggering, but at least it is now being confronted with greater immediacy.
I’m not sure anyone at LISW wanted another week of crystal-ball gazing on that digitalisation may deliver for us. Happily, the debate took a step forward, mirroring the growing digital maturity across the industry with a focus on meaningful solutions – whether that is BLOC’s BunkerTrace initiative, utilising synthetic DNA tracers, e-BDNs and blockchain records of data and transactions to deliver digital and physical traceability in the marine fuel supply chain, or welfare charities adding digital tools to their day-to-day support services for seafarers.
Not that the conversation is over. Far from it. We’re still a long way from understanding how global supply chain operations will evolve in the face of the digital integration of cargo movement that extends far beyond shipping. But at least we’re seeing more of a ‘digital as normal’ attitude, rather than still being seen as a brave new frontier.
Shipping has always been a people business. But until recently, we haven’t stopped to ask, ‘which people?’ and ‘what about everyone else?’ The drive to do much better when it comes to diversity was central at LISW this year, with a number of events dedicated to supporting the cause of gender equality in shipping. Anecdotally, the speaker and panel line-ups at LISW’s events also appeared more diverse and representative this year – and yes, this matters.
Of course, diversity is about more than just gender. This critical point was the topic of the LISW event hosted by the Diversity Study Group, at which they issued a rallying call for greater diversity and inclusion in all forms, as well as the benefits of diverse workplaces and as the importance of diversity to shipping’s Gen-Z workforce. The emergence of a new generation of shipping leaders will help to drive progress on this important issue.
Brand and Reputation
BLUE has always been a cheerleader for the power of brand and reputation and, dare we say, shipping’s more enlightened organisations have shared our belief in the pivotal importance of understanding your purpose as an organisation, the story you want to tell, and how you wish to be perceived by your stakeholders. We revisited this topic at our own panel discussion at LISW. Entitled Dispelling Myths: Brand, Reputation, PR and Marketing in Shipping, the fact that we had a lengthy waitlist for this event seems to suggest the penny has dropped!
With a panel of speakers that included Cargill and V.Group, as well as leading mainstream PR consultancy, Golin from outside shipping, we explored the myths that need to be dispelled about what PR, communications and marketing can and can’t achieve. At a time when the industry is under growing external scrutiny, when so many sectors are increasingly commoditised, and when the fight to attract and retain talent is keenly fought, shipping organisations are waking up to the fact that brand and reputation matter more than ever within and beyond shipping. If events like LISW are to succeed to telling shipping’s story to the wider world, then its leading players need to make sure they are ready.
Roll on LISW 2021
Facing up to decarbonisation. Digital maturity. Delivering diversity. Investing in brand. LISW 2019 signalled a step-change on the issues that will shape shipping for the next decade. Much of the hard work may still be to come, but emerging from a long week of debate and discussion in London is a picture of an industry ready – and for the most part willing – to grapple with the tough questions.
BLUE – Director