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An interview with Martin Crawford Brunt, CEO of Lookout Maritime

Q&A with Martin Crawford-Brunt, CEO of Lookout Maritime

Ahead of Spinnaker’s Maritime People and Culture Conference later this month, we sat down with panellist Martin Crawford-Brunt to discuss the growing tension between people, planet and profit in the maritime industry and how to ensure employees are engaged and invested in sustainability efforts

How does the growing tension between people, planet and profit affect the maritime industry? What are the positives and negatives you see today?

The maritime industry faces a growing and imminent obligation to reduce carbon emissions thanks to changing regulation and evolved expectations across the supply chain. A huge positive step forward has been that global bodies, governments and big business are aligned on this objective, and there is a clamour in the industry to be seen as being part of the solution. However, there is still little consensus on how this will be done in practice, how to make change quickly enough and who should pay.

There is a growing tension between people, planet and profit, as organisations seek to decarbonise while staying profitable and keeping their employees happy and engaged. Increasingly, there seems to be a disconnect between the shipping industry’s communicated ambition on emission reduction and the day-to-day reality of delivering this.

It can be dispiriting for organisations to discuss their plans for reducing emissions and then for people within the company to either see no visible change in practices or be left trying to implement change with limited tools at their disposal. This can lead to a lack of engagement as staff feel unsupported or even disillusioned by the disparity in headline decarbonisation mission statements and the reality of limited tangible progress.

What is needed to resolve/ improve this situation to increase engagement?

The danger is that organisations overreach in their eagerness to move forward and forget to bring their people along on the journey or disregard the implications for others. There is a widening gap between expectation and reality. To increase engagement, there needs to be clear communication between different stakeholders within the organisation. This may require uncomfortable conversations about how efforts to reduce emissions may change daily operations or how staff feel companies are not keeping to their word when it comes to decarbonisation. Honest and meaningful conversation can help bridge the gap between expectation and reality.

How can brave and honest leadership make a difference to the outcomes?

Finding practical solutions to these challenges requires brave and open leadership. We need to realise that pushing the risk and cost of decarbonisation onto the next guy in the chain solves nothing. In fact, this sort of action undermines trust and can damage relationships.

Brave and honest leadership can usher in a more collaborative culture that takes a wider perspective of acceptance towards intermediary alternatives and is needed now more than ever. Instead of waiting for tomorrow’s ‘perfect’ solutions, it’s important to understand what is possible to execute now and bring the entire organisation along for the journey. The maritime industry should not let great get in the way of good; small but incremental advances in optimisation should not be discarded just because they don’t solve the whole problem in one step.

What role does shipping play in improving energy and food security as well as prosperity for remote communities?

Shipping is a great enabler for trade, distribution of prosperity, resources, food and energy security. The difficulty with realigning priorities for decarbonisation is the knock-on impact this has on the global supply chain. Those living close to the breadline don’t have the same luxury of choice of many of us in the first world. Their situation will become even more pressing as the cost-of-living crisis spreads across the globe. We need an equitable solution, it can’t be that the large well-funded first world countries who set the agenda for the developing world. Change must be implemented responsibility in a way that protects remote communities and ensures they can still receive vital goods without it costing the earth in more ways than one. Shipping certainly has a key role to play in finding sustainable solutions for the future, but this must encompass people and wider societal impacts rather than solely focussing on the environment.

What practical examples have you seen implemented by shipping companies looking to increase their sustainability impact and staff engagement?

Simply put, the shipping industry can’t solve the environment question if it doesn’t bring its people along on the journey. Company values must align with employee engagement, and then supported by senior management.

Currently, there are no ready-made solutions for companies to follow. Instead, they must work in a structured way to find a path forward that works for them, meets their emission reductions targets, keeps their people engaged and ensures their operations continue. One successful example I have seen implemented is allowing employees to nominate a sustainability initiative that is then included as part of their annual review, with a few hours allocated to this activity each week. Although in accounting terms this added cost is measurable, one might argue that timesheets are not the best way to measure productivity. The increased engagement more than compensates for the cost, as engaged employees get more done.

Ultimately, shipping is a servant to global trade and while swift and decisive action is needed to tackle climate change, we must also be honest and realistic in our expectations.

Emissions will not immediately drop overnight thanks to one wonder solution; what is needed is a continuous focus on incremental improvement. Increased collaboration is critical, and organisations must also resist the urge to drop back into their various tribes if they are to achieve success. This will require joined up thinking that addresses the intersection of commercial and environmental concerns, as well as safeguarding staff engagement and shipping’s obligation to keep global trade afloat.

See Martin chair a panel on ESG at the Spinnaker Maritime People & Culture Conference on the 26th & 27th May 2022.  Full agenda and ticket information is available on Eventbrite

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