The Evolving Meaning of Sustainability

The Evolving Meaning of Sustainability

The Evolving Meaning of Sustainability


By Capt. Chandran Mahalinggam, Senior HSSEQ Superintendent


Sustainability is defined through the following interconnected domains – environmental, economic, and social which is based on the principles of systems thinking. Modern use of the term “sustainability” is difficult to define precisely as it covers a vast scope. Originally, “sustainability” meant only such use of natural and renewable resources where people can continue to rely on the fruits of their labour in the longer term. Nowadays it is slowly evolving towards a safety path – governance, health, and safety.

Every organization develops its own sustainability development goals. Though it is still considered as an early stage for the maritime business, it’s better to be late than never. For Thome, sustainability is meant more on placing importance on the safety and development of its teams, operations, and business conduct during this dynamically changing situation. The pandemic has further increased the initiative with unforeseen challenges ahead.

Good governance within the organization defines a clear definition and structure on sustainability policy. This includes setting a long-term vision, tactical actions, and goals. There also needs to be a commitment towards the system and process, driven by the executive management team to set an example to the employees.

Selling the idea of sustainability is not an easy task as it seems. It is something new in the marine industry. Policy and practice need to be adaptable with the involvement of management as the primary criteria. It needs to be ingrained within the planned scope
and applied to every aspect of employees’ working lives which includes the setting of goals for continuous improvements.

Digitalization plays a major role in establishing a safety perspective towards achieving the sustainability goal. Introduction to new technology and techniques improves an organisation’s view and direction. This includes sustainability practices.

Talent and career development is an area which improves with digitalization. Thome introduced a new online Learning Management System (“LMS”) to improve employees’ training skills. This development will give an overview for the respective line managers of their team members’ learning requirements, history, and progress against the training plans. Employees can submit training proposals through the Employee Self-Service Portal.

Crew resource – digitalized operations leveraged through an integrated system give management the agility they require to address new challenges and demands post-COVID-19. Many of the employees had to adapt to remote working – to collaborate more effectively. Meetings, video conferencing, and seminars are arranged online with crew members. Modules related to human elements and mental wellbeing are shared with crew members and employees which are followed up with short discussions and face to face interaction sessions in order to create awareness. The idea within this initiative is to be engaged and stay connected with crew members.

Investing in intelligent solutions and employees is one of the keynotes. This allows employees to familiarize themselves and integrate with the system to make it possible to work smarter. Digitalization also elevates safety operational performance. Examples such as weather awareness – SPOS. By delivering views of weather data, which bring greater awareness to flexible and responsive operations, makes things safer.

In shipping, managing fatigue within the seafarer and crew resource are important challenges that affect organisations’ sustainability performance. Software such as DNVGL Navigator & ISF Watchkeeper were innovated as part of a global solution for work rest hour compliance, where it can be monitored from the office in real-time. Though it’s not a bullet-proof solution, it is one of the best mitigation ideas if it complies with current rules and regulations.

Crisis management – The ongoing COVID-19 crisis is an example of a crisis management situation which no one expected. Our Business Continuity Plan (BCP) was implemented as part of the TMS and was strategized to function effectively within the limitations set during the ongoing pandemic restrictions. Even in a crisis, it is business as usual. Crisis team members meet up on online platforms to discuss and solve the crisis rather than face to face sessions.

Safety is an important part in developing sustainability and its performance. To achieve the target and goals, management must define the company’s long-term purpose, educate and train its employees on knowledge and competence. It must also ensure individuals receive proper training and practice and make every individual a sustainability champion by encouraging healthy competition among the employees.

For most of the shipping community, this is a practice. Some organizations have started doing it but not articulating it; in other words, they’re going to have to literally practice doing it, get better at it and gain more experience with it over time. Be responsible and place great emphasis in providing a safe work environment and connecting everyone through social activity to achieve the idea of sustainability.