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Paul Holthus

President and CEO, World Ocean Council

Posted 9/17/2015 3:34:16 PM

Paul Holthus

By Greg Trauthwein

Paul Holthus is the founding president and chief executive officer of the World Ocean Council (WOC) an organization which brings together the diverse ocean business community to collaborate on stewardship of the seas. Holthus was in New York to speak at the United Nations at its annual ocean discussion, and he spent some time at our New York HQ to discuss pressing matters of the day in regards to the ocean and the ocean industries at large.

Can you tell us a bit about your meeting at the United Nations?
The U.N. has an annual briefing for governments on ocean issues that has been going for 16 years, but industry hasn’t usually been well represented. As the World Ocean Council has become recognized as the comprehensive connecting point for the international maritime industries to these kind of global processes, we were invited to give the business perspective in the opening panel with the governments. This year there’s a U.N. process for creating “Sustainable Development Goals”, the next generation of the big, broad, global targets for development. One of the goals is on the ocean, and people have realized, ‘We need to be talking to industry about sustainable development.’ 

So let’s start from the beginning: The World Ocean Council. What is your mission? What do you do?
The WOC brings together the diverse ocean business community, which includes shipping, fishing, oil and gas, aquaculture, offshore renewables, seabed mining, and more, as well as supporting industries, such as shipbuilding and marine technologies. Our mission is to get the leadership companies from the diverse, global, ocean industries thinking about their long term relationship, role and responsibility with regard to ocean health, science and stewardship - what we call “Corporate Ocean Responsibility”. We are facilitating collaboration amongst these companies to address the risks and opportunities affecting the future of ocean business operations.

From your perspective, what’s the driver?
The driver is the fact that many of the sustainability-related issues, such as environmental impacts, are multi-industry in nature or their implications. So, for example, look at the marine sound issue, such as the possible impacts of sound on marine mammals, or the issue of biofouling and the transfer of invasive species. These are not just shipping issues. They are issues for the oil and gas industry, as well for many other sectors. No single company, much less one sector, can solve those problems because they’re interconnected. We need a critical mass of the whole range of companies working on these issues to address them. So we are creating a means for a collective effort by ocean-user industries that lead to business benefits through synergies, economies of scale and strength in numbers. 

Tell us a bit about the membership of WOC.
The WOC is a multi-industry “leadership alliance”. So it’s about getting these different industries together to tackle shared, cross-sectoral issues. The different sectors live in different silos, but within each of the sectors there are companies – big and small –that think more about the ocean sustainability challenges. We have more than 80 members now, a mix of some of the biggest shipping and oil and gas companies in the world and other large companies from seabed mining, fishing and other sectors, as well as many medium and small enterprises. The WOC continues to grow steadily as more companies join and more participate in our network, which has over 34,000 ocean industry stakeholders.

How did you personally get involved in this?
I’ve been working on international ocean environmental issues all of my career, became more and more interested in the business of ocean use. I came from a marine science background way back, but I was always more interested in the human use and management of the ocean. It became clear that if we’re really going to tackle ocean sustainability issues, the business community has got to lead the way.

As I was getting to know the many good, smart people in good, smart companies that care about the ocean, I saw that there was a need and opportunity to connect them with each other, particularly across the sectors. As we began creating this global ‘ocean business community’ that became the WOC, many companies expressed their interest in building an ocean industry leadership organization that was a bridge between the group and governments, intergovernmental bodies and the environment community.

So what are your biggest challenges today?
People’s top priority is running their business. We want to help companies to ensure the success of their business by helping them realize and address the risks that ocean sustainability issues create to future operations. We are working to help shape the ocean sustainability agenda and turn possible threats into opportunities. For example, with the marine spatial planning that is going on in many parts of the world, there is a potential upside if industry gets involved early in a constructive way that helps shape how the ocean zoning is developed and implemented.

As an organization, how do you address those challenges?
We are creating the means for companies to collaborate for the good of business - and the good of the ocean - that has not existed before. A prime example is our “Smart Ocean-Smart Industries” program which builds on the concept of ‘ships of opportunity.’ There are 50,000 plus merchant vessels and another 1.3 million fishing boats out there, not to mention thousands of oil platforms, aquaculture facilities, wind farms, etc. These have the potential to host instruments that collect data to better understand the ocean and improve safety and sustainability. We are working to compliment the ocean observation programs at NOAA and others around the world by creating a systematic, comprehensive effort to engage companies in collecting data. Companies like Maersk, which is co-chairing the WOC working group on Smart Ocean-Smart Industries, are essentially saying, ‘Look, we could do a lot more to possibly host instrumentation and collect data if someone made it easier for us to get involved.’

It’s a matter of ‘match-making’ between the scientists and interested companies to host instrumentation that can collect data. This is one of the most cost-efficient ways to better understand ocean, weather and climate conditions and trends. More and better data from ocean areas can lead to better modeling and forecasting, which leads to better safety and sustainability. So there’s a virtuous circle here that is a real win-win for the ocean business community. 

So is WOC doing this from the stratosphere, or digging in and getting dirty?
We’re asking scientists to “Tell us, what are the priority areas of ocean, which parameters and variables do you need more data on to improve your modeling; what’s the instrumentation available, what are the operations, maintenance issues and costs”. Then we are reaching out to the ocean business community and saying, for example, ‘In the southern ocean, the science community is telling us there’s a significant gap in data because it’s so expensive to get their regularly with scientific vessels and there is so little commercial activity down there”. But, there are more cruise ships traversing the area, as well as fishing boats from New Zealand and Australia, for example. If we had instrumentation on those vessels, we could help the scientists understand what’s going on in the Southern Ocean, which is important to understanding weather and climate, as well as for improving forecasting, which will be directly and immediately valuable for the companies with vessels operating in the area . It’s a matter of building those connections and creating the collaboration.

So what’s ‘in it’ for the marine technology community?
In relation to marine technology, the “Smart Ocean - Smart Industries” program creates a much bigger market for the people who build the sensors and other instruments. Instead of selling solely to the world’s scientific vessels, you could have a huge market even with a small percentage of the merchant fleet hosting instruments, perhaps many thousands of instruments. This kind of market opportunity can then drive innovation, for example, for making the equipment and sensors smaller, making them more efficient, making them easier to use.

So can you point to an example or two of how you have connected those dots in the real world?
One of the areas where we have been successful concerns the Arctic. As you know there is a lot of concern from governments and the environment community about industry Arctic interests and the difficult, operating conditions and sensitive environment.

Based on the interest of World Ocean Council members, we pulled together shipping, fishing, oil and gas, tourism and mining companies a couple of years ago for a first-ever multi-industry Arctic business leadership workshop to get the companies talking to each other across the sectors about shared Arctic challenges and opportunities and creating a business community interface with the Arctic Council. Going back a few years before that workshop, when Sweden began chairing the Arctic Council, so I showed up to meet with the Arctic Ambassador in Stockholm, Sweden, essentially saying, “WOC has this group of companies that wants to help build a constructive, proactive relationship with governments and other concerned people about industry interests in the Arctic.” 

And their response?
Simple. It was “Great! Developing a more active working relationship with the private sector has been a priority for the Arctic Council.” WOC came back a few months later with a delegation of oil and gas, shipping, and other industry folks, and they said, “You know, the World Ocean Council is the first entity that’s actually delivered on creating this kind of coordinated Arctic industry interface with the Arctic Council.”

We had that first workshop in Rejkavik, Iceland and the following day we had the first ever informal ‘business dialog’ between industry and Arctic Council, via their Sustainable Development Working Group. That effort sparked a process of engaging the business community, connecting the diverse business community, and then connecting business with the governments through their intergovernmental body. 

It’s a big world, it’s a big ocean. Prioritization is, I assume, one of your major challenges. So if you had to prioritize the ocean issues, what would be the top three, and how is the World Ocean Council participating to be a part of that solution?
First I would say it’s creating this business presence and input into ocean policy, governance and planning. This is playing out at all different levels, such as the U.N., the Arctic Council, national marine planning efforts. WOC convened the first-ever Business Forum on Ocean Policy and Planning here in New York in September 2014. We are working to make sure the business community is informed and aware of where ocean management regulations, policy and planning are being developed and already moving forward, usually with a lot of input from everyone except the ocean business community.

A second priority area is a series of cross-cutting, operational environmental issues that need to be addressed on an international, multi-industry scale. These include marine sound, as I mentioned, and issues such as bio-fouling and the transfer of invasive species, which is also not just a shipping issue, as there are oil rigs fishing boats, dredging equipment, etc., moving around the world.

Another major operational issue we are getting asked by our members to address is marine waste and the need for adequate port reception facilities. For example, there are new regulations for the sweeping and the washing of bulk carriers carrying mining products that mandate the testing residues to determine if they’re harmful to the marine environment. And so that begs the questions: “Are the testing facilities available? How do the testing facilities work? How much do they cost? How much time does it take? Are the reception facilities available?

So you have this well-intended regulation, and then you have an industry operating in this big gap between intention and reality. And you have reputable companies that want to do the right thing, but there are a whole series of conditions to sort out to make it possible to comply.

Is that it for the challenges?
A third priority I would emphasize is the need and opportunity to engage vessels and platforms in data collection. We’re really working hard to move forward with the “Smart Ocean-Smart Industries” program as a positive, win-win situation for industry. We encourage companies that are interested in participating in data collection to get in contact with us.

When you look at the broad scope of the businesses that serve the ocean industry, how do they view ocean issues today versus only a few years ago? Have attitudes changed, and if so, how?
Yes, I would say that attitudes are continuing to change. It is a mix of the regulatory and societal pressures that have really forced people to think and act. There are companies that will get out in front, others that will comply as the rules show up and others will be say, “Let’s just keep our head down and hope that this issue goes away.” Our focus is finding the leadership companies, the ones that really see the business value of identifying and addressing an issue early on. I think another aspect of the attitude change is the concept of corporate responsibility, particularly for the bigger companies. It’s not about writing a check, it’s about focusing on the effects of company policies, practices and operations, and determining the best thing to do for business and for the ocean. 

And you’re starting to see this done?
Yes we are. Smart, leadership companies are connecting with each other and with the science and technology, the safety aspects and the business drivers for responsible business. There is huge, fruitful ground here for really tackling the ocean sustainability challenges affecting the future of ocean business and that’s what we’re trying to do through the WOC. A key time and place where this all comes together is at the two-yearly WOC “Sustainable Ocean Summit” (SOS), the next of which is in Singapore, November 9-11, 2015.

(As published in the June 2015 edition of Maritime Reporter & Engineering News - http://magazines.marinelink.com/Magazines/MaritimeReporter)