Sustainable environmental management in smaller ports

Impact Area: Maritime Industry

Institution: Plymouth University Business School

Leading Academic: Professor John Dinwoodie, Dr Sarah Tuck and Dr James Benhin



Environmental regulations threaten commercial operations in many smaller ports. This impact case study profiles research to build the capacity of smaller ports to perform economically and grow more sustainably through interfacing the knowledge and skills of social scientists with managers. Research empowered Falmouth Harbour Commissioners (FHC) to ensure sustainable anchoring, bunkering and ballast water exchange operations in Falmouth Bay by redefining environmental management as a business process and transforming stakeholder management.

This research was based on a Knowledge Transfer Partnership award (KTP007098) funded by Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and Falmouth Harbour Commissioners (FHC). This facilitated the appointment of a Marine Sustainable Developments Officer (MSDO) who developed a Port Sustainability Management System (PSMS) and stakeholder management framework to ensure systematic collation and analysis of fragmented data. This partnership ensured sustainable operations and safeguarded commercial revenue streams, helping to create two new jobs for marine pilots. A later CUC-ESF studentship award (ESF11200NCO5) investigated processes which underpin implementation in Europe’s largest port industry.


This research has been undertaken by Professor John Dinwoodie, Dr Sarah Tuck and Dr James Benhin of Plymouth University. Professor John Dinwoodie specialises in maritime logistics and his research interests include port management and sustainable environmental management. Sarah Tuck is a specialist in maritime business with interests in small ports and stakeholder engagement. James Benhin specialises in environmental economics and investigated the regional economic impacts of maritime operations. Research in marine sustainability has typically featured particular scientific processes and environmental sustainability initiatives have focused on larger ports. Popular methodologies which aim to build quantitative models concerned with port efficiency or competitiveness have limited relevance for smaller ports.

Our research initially deployed a case study strategy to investigate the processes of environmental management. FHC oversee maritime operations in a very environmentally sensitive setting, within a business context which incorporates the UK’s largest offshore marine bunkering operation. Within Falmouth Bay routine maritime operations include anchoring and bunkering. The impacts on specialist habitats have rarely been reported.


Benefits and impacts

Instrumental Impact


  • Research prompted wider dissemination of more information spanning corporate social responsibilities and sustainability doubling the value of editorial coverage, creation of a stakeholder management system, and inter-port meetings to discuss best practice.
  • The MSDO role, now commercially funded and embedded within FHC, provides specialist advice and information which reduces external consultancy fees, increases publicity, reduces advertising costs, enhances stakeholder contact, constructive relationships with environmental interest groups, disseminates specialist environmental awareness training and materials for harbour users and guide students.
  • The Port Sustainability Management System (PSMS) clarified understanding and documentation of management processes and empowered FHC to ensure compliance, engage proactively with legislators and environmental interest groups, and contribute to good practice.
  • The PSMS is being further used to investigate implementation issues throughout smaller ports in Cornwall and Devon.