Focus on the Mediterranean
This report offers a new perspective on the analysis of the relations between the sustainability of the ocean and the economy, with a novel focus on business organizations' awareness, strategies and innovative practices.
More specifically, this Report extends the traditional boundaries of analysis in order to include not only the direct, but also the indirect pressures determined by production and consumption activities on marine and coastal ecosystems, highlighting the contribution that innovation, both technological and organizational, can bring to the development of more sustainable production and consumption models.
The analysis is based on primary and secondary data and information, collected, analyzed and elaborated through qualitative and quantitative research methods: more than 50 companies, startups, business associations and NGOs were interviewed, and the quantitative survey analysis is based on 170+ valid responses, from companies belonging to 13 industrial sectors, both ocean and non-ocean related. On aggregate, the sample represents companies with a total turnover of almost €1 trillion, with companies headquartered in Italy accounting for 15% of the Italian GDP.
The Mediterranean region is home to some of the world's oldest cultures and it has been traditionally recognized as a crossroad of marine routes, biota and civilizations.
It represents an international biodiversity hotspot with many unique species and natural resources, and delivers also significant economic benefits, with estimated annual revenues of €386 billion, €205 billion of Gross Value Added, and 4.8 million jobs.
Preserving the health of marine and coastal ecosystems is paramount due to the many irreplaceable benefits provided by the sea, and the fact that a healthy marine environment is a habitat in which businesses can develop and thrive. Human activities exert pressures on the Mediterranean Sea.
Pressures occur through direct interaction with the marine environment: seafloor integrity is endangered by trawler fishing, grounding and anchoring, while contaminants, in the form of hydrocarbons leaks, biocides and other chemical substances, are directly discharged or spilled into the sea.
On the other hand, indirect pressures occur through indirect interaction with the marine environment: pollution and contaminants, including heavy metals or plastics and microplastics, indirectly reach the sea through land-based sources of discharge, or atmospheric deposition. All industries exercise pressures on marine and coastal ecosystems. Indeed, evidence suggests that the pressures exerted by land-based activities exceed those of direct ocean industries.
According to our analysis, companies are on average aware of 35% of their industry's potential pressures on marine and coastal ecosystems.
The most acknowledged issues are those targeted by extensive campaigns and social movements (e.g. marine litter and, by extension, contaminants), while awareness of indirect pressures or less "mainstream" problems (e.g. over-exploitation of marine resources or effects on biodiversity) is more limited, and often accompanied by misinterpretation.
Several issues, in fact, are not properly identified. Within the ocean sectors, many companies do not recognize their influence on hydrographical conditions (e.g. changes in currents, waves, or turbidity of waters and coastal environment), while others are unaware of the pressures on seafloor integrity (e.g. determined by trawler fishing). Outside the ocean sectors, similar misalignments are registered, sometimes based on a presumed misinterpretation of the different issues.
On average, companies deploy mitigating activities on the large majority of the pressures that they acknowledge, although there are cases in which awareness does not imply response. The analysis suggests that, besides unlocking "awareness", thus ensuring that companies are aware of the actual pressures produced by their industries or by their specific activities on marine and coastal ecosystems, a second key element is unlocking the related "actions". Through this second unlocking, companies acknowledging the existence of some form of pressure on marine ecosystems, respond with specific actions (e.g. adoption of sustainable technologies, or participation in multi-stakeholder initiatives) to eliminate or reduce these pressures.
According to our analysis, 34% of the companies in our sample are simultaneously aware and active (sustainability leaders), while 44% are not aware, and not active (laggards). The remaining 22% is equally divided between aware but inactive (locked-in), and unaware but active (concerned). In order to tackle the problem of ocean and marine ecosystem sustainability, it is necessary to unlock both awareness and activation.
Sustainability leaders are more aware and active than other companies, and their attention to marine sustainability is mainly driven by ethical and strategic motivations.
On average, sustainability leaders recognize 72% of their pressures on marine and coastal ecosystems and are active on 78% of the relevant pressures. Although representing about 1/3 of the sample, sustainability leaders can be found in most industries, both ocean (e.g. maritime transport, ports & warehousing, shipbuilding & repair) and non-ocean related sectors (e.g. energy, utilities, textile & apparel, chemicals, food & beverages).
When we look at the focus of the efforts deployed to mitigate the pressures on marine and coastal ecosystems, sustainability leaders are 3.6 times more likely than other companies to address contaminants issues, and almost 3 times more responsive to tackling marine litter. In addition, they are more active in targeting many other issues such as biodiversity, introduction of energy in the sea, over-exploitation of marine resources.
Beyond these distinctive features, sustainability leaders reveal other specific characteristics. They appear, in fact, more concerned about their business responsibilities, and they are also more likely to adopt technological innovation and to develop organizational initiatives aimed at mitigating their pressures on marine and coastal ecosystems (e.g. reduction of GHG emissions, waste and wastewater management, adoption of circular economy models, or extending product life cycles).
Several clusters of technologies have been identified with regard to the ocean challenges. The following 3 clusters appear to be capable of bringing higher benefits:
Organizational initiatives (voluntary sustainability standards, codes of conduct and self-regulation; assessment and measurement initiatives; knowledge platforms and partnerships) complement technological innovation, as they contribute to creating more favorable conditions for developing, sharing, and adopting new and more sustainable solutions.
Our analysis shows that many technologies to tackle sustainability challenges can benefit from the development of innovation networks linking the different business organizations and stakeholders. Collaboration is a key enabler both for identifying technological solutions capable of addressing ocean issues, and fostering the adoption and diffusion of cleaner technologies.
The possibility of changing course, preventing or at least mitigating the pressures on marine and coastal ecosystems is real, and business is expected to play a fundamental role in the transition to an economy where ocean and non-ocean-based activities operate in balance with the long-term capacity of the marine environment to regenerate, safeguarding the potential for usage and activities by current and future generations.
However, awareness is not widespread in all sectors and among all companies (awareness unlocking), and there are cases in which the attention to the issues is not followed by coherent business responses (activation unlocking).
We believe that unlocking these two aspects is key for a journey towards ocean sustainability.
The following actions are suggested: