Looking at the next 25 years

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J.A.A.J. (Jan) Fransen
Executive Director of Green Award Foundation

Looking at the next 25 years

Mr. Jan Fransen, tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up and what attracted you to the maritime industry?

The little town Hoek van Holland in the Netherlands is the place where I grew up and reside nowadays. Hoek van Holland, at that time a kind of “pilot town”, is located at the entrance to the Port of Rotterdam. Certainly it was the maritime atmosphere that inspired me. Already at the age of 4 I fell in deep love with oceangoing ships. At that time, my grandmother gave me a picture of the Holland America Line transatlantic passenger vessel “ss Nieuw Amsterdam”. That was the spark igniting my career in the Maritime Industry. In my free time hours from elementary- and high school you could find me somewhere along the river and breakwaters observing ships arriving and leaving the Port of Rotterdam.

What was your journey like till the position in the Green Award?

After finalizing my study at the Nautical Academy in Vlissingen I spent for about 12 years at sea and sailed on different types of Dutch flagged vessels.

With pain in my heart I felt obliged to stop my career at sea due to dramatic shrinking of the Dutch flagged fleet and obligation to my family. My last voyage was on a panamax dry bulker empty from Sakaide, Japan to Buenos Aires, Argentina for a cargo of grain destined for Europe. Finally the port of call appeared to be Rotterdam!  Internally I always told myself I would not stop sailing prior rounding Cape Horn or passing the Straits of Magellan. And guess what: we made our passage plan around Cape Horn and finally passed through Magellan due to charterer constraints. A perfect final voyage without realizing it since the company became bankrupt on arrival in Rotterdam.

Off course I wanted to remain active in the Maritime Industry. In a transition period I worked  for the Dutch government and was involved with vessel traffic management on the river Schelde and from that position I managed to “get on board” with the Port of Rotterdam. Initially I was involved with VTS for the North Sea and Europoort area, as well as certain harbor master tasks. Location: Traffic Center Hoek van Holland! Later in my position as, let us say, casualty officer, dealing with permits, nautical related problems and casualties for the entire port area, I was asked by the COO of the Port of Rotterdam to join two other colleagues and developing a system that would motivate for safer and cleaner ocean going shipping. In fact, developing such a program was part of a larger target as conducted by the Rotterdam municipality and the Port of Rotterdam. Making the port area cleaner and safer together with the industry as well as improve the water quality of the rivers passing the port area. An enormous and ambitious assignment to be dealt with and which ultimately worked out rather successful.

In 1992, with the other colleagues, the path towards the present Green Award program was set. Apart from our own ideas we gathered input from multiple stakeholders and contracted Det Norske Veritas (nowadays DNVGL) as a consultant to help us in developing the present program. In 1994 the Green Award Foundation was founded and initially I served as certification manager and was involved with auditing the respective shipping companies and applicable vessels as well. In 2005 I was appointed as Executive Director.

Enlighten us about the Green Award Foundation – The vision, the mission, the objectives.

Green Award Foundation is an organisation that has been solidly linked to the international shipping industry as well as ports and other organisations linked to shipping worldwide. Later, the program was broadened to the inland shipping sector, especially with the focus on Western – / Northern – Europe.

The core vision has always been to continue improving shipping to reach the highest standards in environmental and safety performance. This has been done by running a non-profit certification scheme for ships to assess these performances and ultimately recognise and motivate those participants to remain responsible.

Please imagine, this has been going for 26+ years! However, we try not to take things for granted and are aware that this has only been possible due to the robust governance we have always had, the committed Incentive Providers, and not to mention the parties that have been supporting our philosophy behind the scenes, which we have learnt that there are many.

With all that being said, the critical issue is where we go from here. I would like to say that in the most ideal universe, making an organisation like Green Award redundant could be the ultimate objective. However, there are always champions and followers in any kind of community or industry, just like there are always cheaters as well. What I believe that is very important is the mentality to improve. If you are a champion, continue to be a champion by leading others. If you are a follower, you are safe as long as you keep following. If you are a cheater, it is never too late to improve but the mind-set needs to change! We are also not perfect, but by using this philosophy we follow our course with the ambition to also help others to continuously improve in shipping.

the culture

Our organisational culture might be best described as “quite unique”. We certainly need to keep it professional considering the industry positioning we have, but we try to keep the informality and the freedom. When these are achieved on top of the professionalism, this is when I believe the true potential of human capital comes out.

Diversity in the organisation is also an emphasis that I try to keep in the Foundation. When looking at our office in Rotterdam and our boards, I can say that the diversity is evident. I believe that this enriches us as a team and opens up our minds to getting more inspiration. However, similar to our program itself, each one of us in our organisation also needs to aim for continuous improvement. Without this, we stand still, which means we fall behind.

Describe us Green Award in numbers – Numbers of vessels, ports, incentive providers.

Through its history, Green Award has become a truly international organisation, which is what makes our program so solid.

We are happy to announce that we currently have 1,000 ships (as of 24/02/2020) in our certification program with sea and inland ships combined. Please keep in mind, each and every one of these ships are physically verified onboard routinely.

Supporting these organisations with incentives are the over 140 organisations, which consists of 59 ports (37 sea ports and 30 inland ports combined) and 82 service providers and suppliers to ships.

Where is the biggest growth coming from?

In current times, we are likely facing one of the biggest environmental challenges in humanity. The attention to this, whether it is for economic or political objectives, it creates the demand in the industry for programs like Green Award.

As in the mission, our organisation recognises and motivates for ships to do better, using various means including auditing style, incentives, benchmarking, knowledge sharing, and premium branding. These core approaches of Green Award have not changed in our 26 year’s history and so again I believe us following our course is the biggest source of our growth.

What are the advantages and incentives for a shipping company or entity to join the membership of the Green Award Foundation?

Over all the years, we have learnt that all the participating entities have pride in being part of the Green Award Foundation network, whether that is being certified as a shipping company or taking a supporter and motivator role as an Incentive Provider. Becoming a part of the network shows that you are taking responsibility in shipping as implementers or willing to assist them as enablers for the others. This is likely the largest common motivating factor to participate.With that being said, I must also be honest. The other benefits also have great roles. For shipping companies to join, the incentive benefits provided by the Incentive Providers have large effects. We see these as big ignitors for one to decide to participate, thereafter they also learn the more qualitative advantages of joining, as mentioned before.

For non-shipping company organisations to join, I believe it is what our program represents that they are attracted to joining. We run a platform with a good cause for shipping and they want a platform to contribute to shipping in their own way they can, which lead to positive image for social responsibility and potentially leading to better business.

Any key strategic and operational initiatives you wish to announce in terms of the foundation’s future expansion.

One of the strategic moves we are shifting into is the more evident attention to the keyword “sustainability”. As our program has been running for quite a long time, we have hardly categorised our initiative as such at the beginning in 1994. Nonetheless, looking at environment, looking at safety, looking the human factor, contributing to this broadness in one way or another, I believe what we have been doing together with our stakeholders, staff and Boards, all this time can be seen as “sustainability”.

For this reason, by using our 25th year of existence as a good occasion for a turning point, we have made a conscious move to reflecting our own program to various international frameworks that motivate sustainability. One of those tools was the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), and we learnt that over 200 requirements from our sea and inland shipping programs are consistent to eleven goals, while Goals 17 and 11 are in fact also elaborating the actual existence of our Foundation.

With this study being done, I must be honest again that we are not done yet. I believe that it is irresponsible to use the UN SDGs merely as a marketing tool, which many entities do, but that it is our duty also to embed them into our program, so we clearly set targets and enable our certificate holders to contribute to the goals, and hence indirect contribution from the participating Incentive Providers. I would like to personally invite more entities to act on it, even by simply depending on Green Award to assist them with contributing to sustainability, because the time is flying!

Can you refer to your greatest achievements that actually added value to the scheme of the Green Award?

We have had many key milestones within the Foundation in recent years. When talking about growth, as a non-profit organisation, we talk more about how we continue to expand our initiative, which is to facilitate a platform to be used from the involved stakeholders.

In this context, in recent years, for the sea-going shipping sector, we have strong interests for the LPG carrier ship certification since its launch in 2016. On top of these, our certification scheme has also become available to more ship types, namely Offshore Supply Ships and Ro-Ro Cargo Ships, in which we expect a gradual uptake. Besides the inclusion of more ship types, we also continue to research so that our ship certification requirements remain above and beyond industry regulations. Amongst many other topics, one of the new topics we have recently introduced in our checklist is “Social Dimension & Sustainability”. This element not only addresses “anti-discrimination”, “anti-harassment”, “equal opportunity”, but also “gender equality”, which is an uprising topic also in the maritime industry. Our program is made to be able to benchmark these participating ships from each other on all these kinds of topics, so the participants can learn how they are performing and what they need to improve on.

In the inland shipping sector, which has now been running for 9 years, we have 2 ships that gained platinum labels. This is a label that ships can get when they show they sail zero emission as determined by our requirements. Besides this achievement, over a 6 years’ period, we have seen that over 41% of the inland certified ships have used our program to upgrade themselves in levels using our Bronze, Silver and Gold level system. This shows how our program is used as a motivational tool, while many ships have still not been in our program long enough to be assessed in such a way yet. We also need to keep in mind that in the Green Award program, remaining in the same level also means that the ships are doing more as the requirements are kept dynamic and facilitate continuous improvement. This year we experienced a significant interest from the European river cruise sector and already multiple river cruise vessels are undergoing their Green Award inspection.

Besides these achievements, the Incentive Providers supporting our initiative also continue to grow, which we are very thankful for. This growth is likely to continue in the coming period, which is an enormous added value to the scheme itself, as it motivates our shipping participants to improve further.

In a nutshell, I find that these can be named as perfect milestones from 2019, when we celebrated our 25th anniversary.

As an Executive Director, how would you describe your management style? What drives you – What is your passion?

Perhaps initially my management style was rather authoritarian, but nowadays it is more like conducting and exploring and creating consensus amongst the teams. Internal consensus is our path towards achievements. Also I like to explore the ambitions of the younger generation and see how those will contribute to new ideas. From the many meetings with stakeholders and individuals often new ideas do cross my mind. It is great when such ideas do motivate my colleagues exploring further on potential initiatives.

What excites you about your job?

Working in an international environment and meeting a colourful mix of people with different backgrounds and cultures do make this job very attractive and inspiring.

Sometimes it takes years to achieve certain goals, but achieving such a goal together with my excellent team mates is really very satisfying.

What kind of improvement, change or growth are you trying to enact at the foundation?

Continuing to convey our philosophy further is very critical for our Foundation. The more participants we have, the more impact we can aim for together. We have seen a steady growth through the years and would like to continue having more impact using the similar methodology.

In order to continue this sustainable growth, the increase of our network globally is one of the key factors. We have reached where we are now using this strategy and aim to continue likewise. This is why we continue our talks worldwide (within our capacity) and always remain open to whoever reaches out to us. Our platform is voluntary, independent and non-profit, and it is available for the ones that seek to be connected to it.

I have experienced that this methodology ensures the highest commitment from the stakeholders we have in our network, and hence I believe this will continue to lead us to a healthy growth of the Foundation.

What is your opinion regarding the global sulphur cap 2020?

Personally, I am happy to see that we, as the shipping industry, have finally reached this milestone. This industry is enormous, which affects a really unimaginable scale of business and economics for such regulation to enter into force. I certainly understand that these things to this scale take time, but due to the environmental or sustainability challenges we have going on, we need to speed up collectively.

To put things into perspective, when I was involved in the setup of Green Award Foundation, we were already discussing sulphur content of fuel of 0.1%. To think that we have not even reached that point globally in the past 26+ years, is when I raise my concerns.

So, I see the new sulphur cap as merely the starting point. The next phase is the robust enforcement not only from the shipping side but also from the fuel supplier side. Then firm verification measures to check if compliant, led by firm punishment measures if in breech, which then becomes also the responsibility of the authorities. And we still have a very long way to go until the ECAs (Emission Control Areas) are no longer called ECAs anymore.

Speaking about this, I would also like to take this opportunity to mention that many people may have been emphasising slightly too much on air emissions for quite sometime. Of course this is also of utmost importance, but we need to keep a broader perspective on it. There are many other topics that need attention from water pollution to waste and garbage handling, as well as protection of the workforce and their competence. Although I understand that it is difficult to assess, we need to keep in mind what the net balance of all our initiatives could be to truly address sustainability.

My aim is certainly not to point fingers at for example the shipping industry, but again I stress that we all have our own fair share to address these issues for all humanity.  What I always say is we need to make these efforts as “business as usual” by all of us for all of us.

Do you feel proud to represent the values and principles of the Green Award Foundation?

What can I say….., yes I do feel very privileged that I am allowed to work for the Foundation. It was from day one that the values and principles of the Foundation caught me. Especially observing the interesting audit results and the follow up by the respective shipping companies does show the added value of this program to the industry and planet. Yes, same like my colleagues, we have pride in performing our job.

Do you cooperate and coordinate with other shipping associations in order to promote a common voice in the regulatory bodies and maritime authorities?

For the Foundation, it has never been our objective to promote our voice to the regulatory bodies or maritime authorities. We see our role as being enablers to assist the implementers, and we do this for a specific niche sector, which are the ultimate frontrunners in the industry. This is why we aim for and target the above and beyond regulations in broad aspects of sustainability in shipping.

This does not mean we do not cooperate or coordinate with other shipping associations, however. If you look at our Board and Board of Experts, they are our governing bodies that we report to in order to consult in which direction the Foundation needs to be facing continuously. The members in these boards are from the so-called shipping associations where they have large voices in the regulatory bodies and maritime authorities.

Do you travel much?

Travelling is part of the job, in many cases personal contact is the only way to achieving certain goals. Off course, it is without saying; all of us are trying to utilize modern means of communication as much as possible. So yes, especially in the past years I was bound to travel a lot in order to gain interest for our program from our stakeholders.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time? For what I know you are a reader.

Yes, indeed I do like reading; recently I read the book “Doggerland” written by Ben Smith. One of my contacts brought it to my attention. Apart from the interaction between an older and young man it also is about a vision of the future. The future described after the success of wind farms whilst a further sea level rise is imminent.

After being rather active with dinghy sailing, I nowadays try to spend more time with my relatives and friends. Apart from that, I love making long walks in nature and explore areas that are relatively unknown for me.

What is your vision for Green Award? Where do you see it in five years?

As I was involved in the setup of the Foundation I may be slightly biased, but I truly believe that enormous potential remains in the Foundation itself and the program we are running. I must say, we have passed the test of the first 25 years, so I look at the next 25 years.

With these endless potentials I see Green Award would be able to sustain its positioning as a leading ship certification and incentive program for the shipping industry, in whatever shape it may be in the future. One critical difference that will likely be evident is its global outreach, which will likely be even further. The shipping industry is large and the world is also large with enough room for improvement for all of us.

When that time comes, I see Green Award being an entity that facilitates not only the champions but also others, so a broader range of audiences can make conscious choices to improve further by use of Green Award’s platform.

What is your biggest challenge right now?

As mentioned earlier, Green Award is also not perfect even if we are the ones telling others to continuously improve. There are big challenges for the Foundation as well, but at the same time I see that these lead to big opportunities ahead.

The Foundation is in a very stable position when it comes to the stability of the organisation. However, as many entities share, workload does continue to be one of the major challenges we have. This is also due to the large interest we are gaining from the external stakeholders, which is definitely a luxury issue.

One of the very key factors that I personally would emphasise on tackling this is the human capital. Having the right human capital, coordinating them appropriately and working together towards our goal as one, is a priceless tool I think we can get, leading to endless potentials for the Foundation. This is something that I am personally working on, but perhaps it will remain an everlasting challenge as the Foundation continues to evolve.

Any final message to share with our readers.

The champions can remain champions, and the followers can remain followers. Continuous improvement is something we can do, but the gap between the two should not grow continuously. Let’s not wait!