The maritime sector is experiencing a profound period of change. Operational, regulatory, macroeconomic and commercial pressures are all combining to create a perfect storm that is impacting the way we all operate.

Many of the shifts we are seeing hold the promise of a more efficient, more sustainable, less costly industry and some of these changes are necessary as we retool shipping to meet global challenges. Others shifts threaten to disrupt well-seated practices, understandings and relationships.

What is clear to me, is that every operator, owner, agent and supplier in the maritime sector is under scrutiny like never before. It is no longer sufficient to turn a profit. We are living in a time where what we stand for is as important as what we do. Whether we are working out how to deal with lower sulphur requirements for bunkers or how to handle growing compliance demands in areas like taxation, data privacy and health and safety, the looming question is: “Are we doing good while also doing well?”

Where’s the harm?

We are all in business to make a sustainable profit. That’s a given. Where the challenge lies now, and in the years to come, is in how we achieve that profit without doing harm. Or perhaps more accurately: how do we mitigate the harms that arise in the conduct of daily business? Every tonne of carbon released into the atmosphere adds to the damage. Every plastic wrapper washed into the ocean does the same. Every accident at work, every spillage, leakage, wrong calculation or non-compliance has a cost and makes us look bad. And ever-widening transparency in all maritime operations means our acts, good and bad, are visible to a watching world.

Operational, regulatory, macroeconomic and commercial pressures are impacting the way we all operate in the maritime sector. Photo: GAC

Nobody would believe me if I stood up and proclaimed some sort of corporate or commercial purity on behalf of GAC . We aim high but we remain a work in progress. Even so, at a practical level it is now important that we make our intentions clear; to set out exactly what we’re doing to mitigate harm and help make the world better, safer, cleaner and greener.

GAC is a member of the Green Award Foundation . It’s a non-profit that rewards owners and operators who set high HSSE standards. Our membership represents one way to stand for cleaner seas. Many GAC companies and individuals have also taken the Clean Seas pledge launched by the UN Environment in 2018. These won’t save the world, but they do tell the world where our values lie. More importantly, where those values are shared, sustainable business thrives.

Sustainable businesses work

Over in GAC UK, we take a broad view of sustainability. The term is usually associated with environmental and ecological issues but in the UK, it also includes having greater equality for women in management, greater equity, clarity and sharing of the journey the company is on, more unified and transparent performance measures, maternity/paternity leave. The list goes on. What we’ve observed over the past few years is that the package works. Despite the many challenges in the UK these days, we see a stable company workforce with a positive attitude. We have no trouble recruiting when needed and the general vibe around the company is one of positive resilience and readiness. This broad sustainability approach is rolling through other GAC operations around the world.


Bengt Ekstrand was appointed GAC Group president in January 2013 having previously held the position of Group vice president for Asia Pacific. Prior to that, he was regional director for the Middle East for six years. Bengt is responsible for ensuring that GAC is structurally and operationally fit and sustainable for the challenges in the 21st century. He also oversees the continuing growth of GAC’s five geographical regions. Under his leadership, GAC has been consistently recognised by industry for its professional ship agency services and innovations such as the eco-friendly hull cleaning technology, clinching numerous reputed accolades.

Fads and buzzwords

The final observation I would make is that standing for something more than just a profit is not complicated. Before we started talking about sustainability, we talked about more basic stuff like good and evil, right and wrong, true and false. These are the words that test your values and tell you where you stand. There are clear business rewards for standing up for what you stand for. I recommend it.