Column

The bigger picture

A column by Hans Smits, CEO at the Port of Rotterdam Authority

In the nine or more years I have had the privilege of heading the Port of Rotterdam Authority, I have devoted a lot of my time to individual clients, projects and stakeholders. Naturally, I have always based my work on a vision of how the port and industrial complex should develop. To add weight to this, two years ago we worked with clients, public authorities and NGOs to create a long-term plan for the port: the Port Vision 2030.

But within the context of our shared vision, we work mainly on what you could call separate projects: the construction of Maasvlakte 2, modernising the vessel traffic services, allocating sites for tank storage, attracting biofuel production, investing in Portbase, lobbying for the construction of the third rail line in Germany, et cetera. In the past couple of years, the conclusion I have increasingly reached is that we must work in stages at the system level. At the moment, we focus primarily on growing what’s already there (expanding businesses) and increasing efficiency. Real growth, real development can be found in systematic leaps. That calls for cooperation with and between the business sector on a different scale, more multilaterally.

The first example of such a systematic leap is the Delta Plan on energy infrastructure that we recently made in conjunction with the Warmtebedrijf Rotterdam. Companies operating in the refining, chemical and energy sector allow their surplus heat to cool and be wasted, whilst a few kilometres away greenhouse horticulture and city heating need heat, so have to keep their boilers going. As an individual company, you can’t solve this wastage problem on your own. You lack the necessary scale. You can only do it if you are willing to act together to increase efficiency.

The second example concerns social innovation: working together in a new way. If the logistics sector used existing technology to exchange data on transport, efficiency could increase in leaps and bounds, costs would fall and, on top of that, the logistics sector would become even more sustainable. The technology is there, companies are applying it in their own operations, but too few attempts are made to find ways of exchanging data.

Everyday life is so busy that we are often caught up in individual projects, problems and issues. But if we look at what goes on in the port from a different perspective, from a greater distance, I can only conclude that, together, we should focus much more on changes at the system level. This is where the big opportunities lie. For society, but definitely also for companies which dare to take the lead. 

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