• International Journal of Technology (IJTech)
  • Vol 12, No 5 (2021)

Foresight-driven Approach to Support the Proactive Adaptation of Future Sustainability Related Regulatory Frameworks: European Port Cluster Study

Foresight-driven Approach to Support the Proactive Adaptation of Future Sustainability Related Regulatory Frameworks: European Port Cluster Study

Title: Foresight-driven Approach to Support the Proactive Adaptation of Future Sustainability Related Regulatory Frameworks: European Port Cluster Study
Harri Pyykkö, Ville Hinkka, Tuomo Uotila, Rosa Palmgren

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Cite this article as:
Pyykkö, H., Hinkka, V., Uotila, T., Palmgren, R., 2021. Foresight-driven Approach to Support the Proactive Adaptation of Future Sustainability Related Regulatory Frameworks: European Port Cluster Study. International Journal of Technology. Volume 12(5), pp. 914-924

Harri Pyykkö VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd., FI-02044 Espoo, Finland
Ville Hinkka VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd., FI-02044 Espoo, Finland
Tuomo Uotila LUT University, FI-15210 Lahti, Finland
Rosa Palmgren VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd., FI-02044 Espoo, Finland
Email to Corresponding Author

Foresight-driven Approach to Support the Proactive Adaptation of Future Sustainability Related Regulatory Frameworks: European Port Cluster Study

Seaports (hereafter “ports”) within the European Union are facing increasingly restrictive regulation in the near future from various sources driven by climate change prevention and public opinion supporting “green” values. Ports are complex hubs for maritime transportation systems and global supply chains, as well as an integral part of critical national infrastructures. However, they are also significant individual sources of harmful emissions, and their involvement is crucial to reducing transportation-related environmental impacts. To meet future regulatory requirements, stakeholders will need to find ways to align their policies accordingly and create long-term pathways toward these ambitious targets. The empirical case study presented in this paper among European Port Cluster (EPC) stakeholders distinctly reflects the mounting importance of environmental policies and the need for further preparative measures for meeting future demands. This paper emphasizes the intensified impact of forthcoming regulation on existing business models in the EPC and contributes a foresight-based framework to approaching this issue systematically. The adoption of future-oriented regulation is a non-linear, potentially disruptive, and complex foresight process that requires each stakeholder to formulate their own strategic pathway toward a target-seeking scenario. Changing direction from the status quo toward sustainability also requires a strong commitment beyond mere regulatory compliance.

Backcasting; Emissions; Port; Regulation; Sustainability


Seaborne transportation is a vitally important part of global trade, and within the European Union (EU) region, there are up to 1,200 active seaports (hereafter “ports”; ENISA, 2019). As ports handle more than 80% of global trade, they are also considered a critical national infrastructure (UNCTAD, 2018). However, globally, significant amounts of harmful emissions caused by port operations, as well as by vessels, trucks, and trains visiting the ports, create air pollution and jeopardize the well-being of nearby inhabitants. In addition, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are accelerating climate change (UNEP, 2021). An extensive sustainability survey of 36 ports in North America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific (Hossain et al., 2021) concluded that European ports are slightly ahead in terms of sustainability progress, but that there is an urgent need for rapid improvement in adopting actions that address climate change.

Climate change and related environmental challenges have been identified as the most essential megatrends that predominantly affect the future development of all freight transportation systems (Maraš et al., 2019). There is already extensive empirical research data available (e.g., Oeder et al., 2015) that demonstrate how harmful fossil fuels are to public health and the environment when used within the port infrastructure (PI).

The business-as-usual approach in the European Port Cluster (EPC) is evidently not a sufficient pathway (Laffineur, 2012), and a growing body of scholars (e.g., Bjerkan and Seter, 2019; Berawi, 2021) are highlighting the requirement for diverse research and new initiatives to support actions toward sustainability. Operational activities within the PI have traditionally been considered very energy-intensive (Pavlic et al., 2014). Moreover, improved energy efficiency is considered a vital effort toward the mitigation of port emissions, which requires large-scale investments in new and more state-of-the-art equipment (Ganda, 2019), as well as the utilization of alternative energy sources (Pavlic et al., 2014). Table 1 summarizes the complexity of governing emission sources with respect to multiple different stakeholders operating within the PI and coastal areas. Each stakeholder has a certain influence on the overall emissions occurring within the PI, and their combined emission mitigation efforts define the overall results (Lai et al., 2013).

Although regulation is recognized as a strong driver of sustainability transition (ST), there are also major hindrances, such as organizational path dependencies (e.g., Teece et al., 1997) and various lock-in effects (Markard et al., 2012), resulting primarily from the high capital intensity distinctive of transport systems (Bernardino et al., 2015). Table 1 shows how regulation related to ports developed between 2013 and 2021 in the EU. In 2021, the EU set a target of making the continent carbon-neutral by 2050 and cutting CO2 emissions by 55% by 2030 compared with the levels in 1990. However, the trend leading to this decision was already visible in other regulations since 2013. In theory, this extensive timeframe allowed actors to adjust their existing business models to meet the upcoming regulatory requirements of carbon neutrality several years before the actual decision was made in 2021. However, the research literature (e.g., Banerjee, 2001) proposes that due to the complexity of the topic, regulation often does not have direct causal impacts and can result in inadvertent outcomes despite the original purpose (Soria-Lara and Banister, 2018).

Table 1 Regulatory framework applicable within the port cluster in the EU

Regulatory Initiative



As a part of its “Ports: an engine for growth” report, the European Commission suggested that ports become more active in improving the environmental image of waterborne transport by implementing an infrastructure-charging system that favors vessels fulfilling predefined environmental standards.


European Commission, 2013

According to the circular economy approach, waste can be turned into a resource by reusing, repairing, refurbishing, and recycling existing materials and products.


European Commission, 2014

European Commission has invited the member states and the European maritime industry to work together toward the long-term objective of “zero waste, zero emissions” in maritime transport.


European Commission, 2016

The EU strives to minimize its dependence on oil and to mitigate the environmental impacts of transport.


European Commission, 2017

EU and its member states to become a carbon-neutral region by 2050, including a target of 55% minimum reduction in GHG emissions by 2030.


European Commission, 2020

The European Green Deal regulatory framework has been approved. The program’s objective is for the continent to become carbon-neutral by 2050.


European Commission, 2021

ST toward more sustainable port operations is a complex, potentially disruptive, and long-term process that requires new policies and innovative solutions (Pavlic et al., 2014), in addition to the ability of each involved stakeholder to plan ahead (Schrettle et al., 2014). However, there is evidence (e.g., Becker and Caldwell, 2015) that some notable decisions regarding sustainability within the port domain are still driven by short-term economic benefits rather than focusing on long-term planning toward sustainability and the future requirements of port operations. Hence, the use of foresight methods to formulate future scenarios has been recognized as a workable conceptual tool to systematically approach this issue (Berawi, 2016; Yashin et al., 2020). Foresight activities can also be utilized to provide decision-makers with information about different scenarios and to potentially visualize how passive approaches are in conflict with predominant insights about the future (McDonald et al., 2018). The objective of this paper is two-fold: (1) to analyze empirical survey results and research literature findings in order to reflect the findings against the upcoming regulatory framework; and (2) to review, align, and contextualize the most suitable foresight method in order to formulate a process framework model that would develop long-term sustainability-related regulatory adoption in the EPC. 


        Based on the empirical survey and research literature findings, it is evident that the organizations within EPC need to accelerate their sustainability efforts in order to meet the upcoming regulatory framework. Due to the complexity and non-linear mechanisms involved, ambitious emission reduction goals can be achieved in a sustainable way only with long-term strategic planning and a proactive approach. This paper presented a contextualized backcasting-based foresight framework using a target-seeking approach as a novel conceptual contribution to tackle this complex issue. This paper further suggests that once EPC stakeholders implement sustainability governance-related tools similar to FRAP as a rigid part of their future strategies, they will support the generation of ST roadmaps and improve the identification of potential investment needs and major obstacles in advance.


        The authors wish to acknowledge the “COREALIS” project, which has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 768994. The content reflects solely the authors’ view, and the EU is not responsible for any use of the information it contains.


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