Port Sustainability as a Service: The Design of Bespoke Service Level Agreements (SLAs) to Improve Operational Efficiency at Harbours by Prioritising Social Satisfaction

Cathryn Peoples, Adrian Moore, Nektarios Georgalas

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The maritime industry is a complex ecosystem which is important to manage carefully given the role it plays in handling global trade. Effective operation at a port is dependent on a timely passage of goods, involving multiple competing objectives, one of which is sustainability. Unsurprisingly, given the extent of a port's operations, it is a significant contributor of emissions. A port is a physically demanding industry in which to work, and any degradation in workforce productivity can have a detrimental effect on the port's effective running. Slow operations, combined with dependencies between port stakeholders, can further amplify unsustainability. There are some efforts to explore the digitalization of ports, including the creation of green and smart ports. However, there is general widespread resistance to the introduction of technology in this domain. There are therefore a number of areas in which to make technical contributions to improve the efficiency of port operations. In this paper, we propose using the satisfaction of staff at a port to influence the efficiency of its operations. In recognition of widespread low staff morale at ports in general, we recognize that staff become dissatisfied as operations move out of their control and the resulting consequences of interruptions to performance can lead to disruptions unable to be rectified quickly or easily, with staff motivation remaining low. Once low and unmotivated, there is a possibility that motivation will remain low even for operations which staff are in control of, with a detrimental effect on the efficiency, and therefore sustainability of the port. We believe that measuring and improving the satisfaction of staff for the efficiency it can bring will be possible through the roll-out of sensors supporting an Internet of Things (IoT) architecture across a port. With satisfied staff, they are likely to be motivated to work in an efficient manner, which will carry through to situations when unexpected circumstances outside their control occur. It is therefore through increased IoT use that port sustainability will be supported in our proposal. Enabling this, staff efficiency and satisfaction can be tracked using a connected service made available using Service Level Agreements (SLAs). The cost of the service and subsequent extent to which staff can be monitored and managed for sustainability objectives can be agreed with a service provider in advance. When staff are satisfied, the port will be operated to sustain low costs. When staff satisfaction begins to decline, however, operation will become focused on the performance of the port to identify where bottlenecks exist in inefficient operations and staff output. While simultaneously managing both cost and performance through the satisfaction of staff, the goal is an overall positive contribution to a port's efficiency and sustainability.
Original languageEnglish
Article number928994
JournalFrontiers in Sustainability
Early online date16 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished online - 16 Jun 2022


  • Sustainability
  • autonomy
  • Internet of Things (IoT)
  • maritime industry
  • port
  • sensor-driven operations
  • Service Level Agreement (SLA)
  • sustainability


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