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Proposing a framework to assess the performance of sustainability assessment and reporting in seaports
Seaports are major transport hubs of the global economy. Their activities however pose negative impacts on the environment, the social, and the economic dimensions of sustainability. A number of ports have started to assess and report their sustainability efforts; however, the main focus has been on environmental issues and there is only limited information on the actual coverage of sustainability issues and the performance of port activities. A systematic and critical review of assessment approaches was conducted, including research-based, expert-based, and bespoke port-based approaches. The data was analysed using the Grounded Theory´s Constant Comparative analysis. This helped the authors to categorise the various indicators, recognise interlinking issues, and compare them with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) guidelines. The findings show a great variety and discrepancies in applicability and dimensions of the assessment approaches. This paper proposes a comprehensive and holistic sustainability assessment framework for seaports that goes beyond the traditional boundaries of a port authority and takes the port system into account. The categories of the GRI were modified and expanded for the environmental, economic, and social dimensions. Two new assessment categories “port system” and “interlinking issues” were developed. The framework was combined with the graphical assessment of sustainability performance (GRASP) tool that has been developed by one of the authors to facilitate the longitudinal comparison of sustainability efforts and the benchmarking against other ports. The framework has been tested against the sustainability reports of 23 seaports that follow the GRI guidelines. From each port the oldest and latest report was assessed in regards to indicator coverage and performance. The findings show that while there is a good coverage of the economic, environmental and social dimension, the coverage of information regarding interlinking issues and the port system is low and performance varies between reports. The new assessment framework expands the sustainability assessment literature on seaports and helps ports to better report their sustainability efforts and assess their performance. This research shows that assessment and reporting is no just to look at isolated pieces of information, but should be designed to enable ports to assess relevant information about their progress towards sustainability, their coverage, and their performance to help them move towards sustainability. The research highlights the need to strengthen the holistic perspective and a systems understanding of seaports.