VIII. Sustainability Issues for the Decarbonization of Shipping: Policies, Priorities, and Processes

This special session will address the institutional underpinnings for sustainability in the maritime supply chain with a special focus of shipping's decarbonization. Challenges to sustainable maritime transport span a broad range of issues, with a strong nexus between energy decarbonization, air emissions and GHGs as well as the persistent transport infrastructure gap and investment needs and related implications for access and connectivity (UNCTAD, 2015; Benamara et al., 2019). The decarbonization of shipping requires significant advances in material and energy efficiency, sustainable sourcing, optimization of ship operations, and development and diffusion of alternative marine propulsion and sustainable fuels, but decarbonization cannot be seen in isolation from other sustainability issues, as such issues are often interlinking and interdependent. 

There is great uncertainty about what to consider as sustainability issues, how to conceptualize them, and how to relate them to narrower goals (such as, energy decarbonization). The obscurity of issues and goals is reflected in the varying levels of sustainability responses and performance of companies as well as in unclear and sometimes inconsistent regulation and institutions governing progress towards a sustainable maritime supply chain. The conceptual ambiguity around sustainable development also generates issues of construct validity, which may impede fundamental progress in sustainability research (Salas-Zapata and Ortiz-Muñoz, 2019).

Achieving a common understanding of what sustainable development entails for the global shipping industry, including how to balance environmental impact and economic and social development in the process towards decarbonization, is key for devising suitable policies by companies (e.g., Veleva and Ellenbecker, 2001) and proper implementation and measurement by regulators (ICSU/ISSC, 2015). This special session aims to stimulate debate on the challenges of conceptualizing sustainability issues for the decarbonization of shipping, creating sustainability principles and criteria guiding human action, and avoiding uneven progress in the multiple dimensions of sustainability. We invite conceptual and empirical work in the area, including sub-topics such as:

  • Sustainability issues, principles and criteria for alternative marine propulsion
  • Sustainability performance, measurement and reporting
  • Intergovernmental policy processes, stakeholder involvement
  • Institutional forces and logics for promoting decarbonization, including regulatory incentives
  • Implementing sustainability in companies: Goal conflict and organizational learning
  • Sustainability strategies in companies


Dr. Henrik Sornn-Friese

Copenhagen Business School & Singapore Management University 


  • Benamara, H., Hoffmann, J., and Youssef, F. (2019). Maritime Transport: The Sustainability Imperative. In Psaraftis, H. N. (ed.), Sustainable Shipping. A Cross-Disciplinary View. Springer (chapter 1, pp. 1-31).
  • ICSU/ISSC (2015): Review of the Sustainable Development Goals:The Science Perspective. Paris: International Council for Science (ICSU).
  • Salas-Zapata, W. A., and Ortiz-Muñoz, S. M. (2019). Analysis of meanings of the concept of sustainability. Sustainable Development, 27(1), 153–161.
  • UNCTAD (2015). Investing in Sustainable Development Goals – Action Plan for Private Investments in SDGs. Geneva: United Nations. 
  • Veleva, V., and Ellenbecker, M. (2001) Indicators of sustainable production: framework and methodology. Journal of Cleaner Production, 9(6), pp. 519-549.