Maersk Line’s Head of Sustainability, Søren Stig Nielsen, joined a panel debate at the Copenhagen Business School (CBS) recently to discuss the big issues surrounding sustainability. The debate was chaired by Richard Quest, the international business journalist from news channel CNN.
“Sustainability? I’d rather stick pins in my eyes; it’s as relevant as yesterday’s newspaper, but they want you to believe that it’s important.” With these words, CNN journalist Richard Quest introduced the five-person panel who were to debate the importance of sustainability in today’s business environment in front of a 600-strong audience of CBS students.
Søren Stig Nielsen was joined by sustainability representatives from Vestas and Velux, as well as two professors from the Copenhagen Business School. Quest immediately cast Maersk Line as the ‘bad guy’, the big polluter with hundreds of container ships guzzling vast amounts of dirty bunker fuel. Nielsen was happy to take the bait, going on to describe Maersk Line’s role in improving the transportation supply chain and how shipping lines in general assist in the development of global trade: “90 % of world trade is moved through ocean transportation,” he explained.
Stricter regulations The first question in the debate was where does the responsibility lie for driving global sustainability: with governments, organisations, or the general public? There was much talk about the need for regulation, but Nielsen was adamant that organisations must also do their part.
“Companies need to step up where there is weak governance; at Maersk Line we’re actively pushing for stricter regulations,” he said.
Quest then challenged the panel by asking if they would maintain their sustainability principles when financial results were not optimal. Nielsen was able to point to Maersk Line’s slow steaming performance throughout the financial crisis; and also to today, where the 500-strong fleet continues to slow-steam despite pressure on results over the past few months.
Committed to sustainability “Our network is geared towards slow steaming. We are committed to sustainability, as the USD 2 billion investment in the new Triple-E ships [which reduce CO2 per container moved by 50 %] demonstrates. Sustainability is a way to make money; it’s a great opportunity and we need to make ourselves an attractive partner.”
The final challenge from Quest focused on the motive behind being sustainable: is it genuine, or is it an exercise in brand protection — an honest question to which Nielsen replied with equal honesty.
“Our brand is everything. That is why we do more and go beyond our competitors on sustainability,” he said.
Søren Stig Nielsen faced off against CNN's Richard Quest during a sustainability debate