Today’s strategy lesson comes from the Port of Long Beach

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Some folks from the Port of Long Beach stopped by this afternoon as part of an East Coast PR kick. They threw some pretty interesting stats my way, including this one: over a 24-hour period, a single cargo ship sitting at Long Beach with its engines running throws off more emissions than all the passenger car traffic in the Los Angeles metro area.

It started to make sense why a few years ago Long Beach, the nation’s second largest port behind next-door neighbor L.A., decided to “go green.” These days, it bills itself as “Your Environmentally Friendly Port” and does things like pay carriers to use low-sulfur fuel and cut their engines near land. On October 1, it’s rolling out strict new emissions standards for the trucks that pick up and drop off cargo. To pay for that program, which includes the port helping to finance some 16,000 replacement trucks, there’s going to be a new fee of $35 per 20-foot shipping container.

I asked the Long Beach folks if that sort of imposition—er, initiative—didn’t drive away business. Maybe a little bit, they said, but where would most shippers go? L.A. is on the green bandwagon, too, and since half of the cargo that comes in through Long Beach stays in southern California (the second interesting stat they threw at me), did it really make sense to ship into Vancouver or Mexico and then have to drive all those TVs and end tables back to California?

What’s more valuable to them, they’ve decided, is staying ahead of enviro-loving lawmakers who are probably aware of things like how emissions from cargo ships compare to those from passenger cars. “You have to attack the future before it attacks you,” said James Hankla, one of the visiting port officials. It’s a classic strategy: take ownership of the issue and decide how to handle it before anyone else gets a chance. Pretty smart, I thought.