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"Port of Firsts": Leading the Way in Maritime Sustainability

April 29, 2021

During 2020, when much of the world slowed down, the Port of Seattle forged ahead with our commitment to protecting the region’s natural environment and supporting communities near Port operations. 

This was only natural for a “Port of Firsts,” driven to implement and execute environmental initiatives with equal parts ambition and innovation. 

Environmental firsts

Port firsts

Last year we also became the first port to join the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification, a collective of governments and global organizations dedicated to combating ocean acidification and other climate-ocean impacts. Why is being first important? Action fosters change and leadership inspires others to follow. We’re proud to set an example for ports and maritime organizations around the world. 

Maritime activity contributes to climate change, so it’s critical that we take action to reduce our carbon footprint to avoid long-term economic, social, and environment impacts associated with the climate crisis. 

Featured 2020 Maritime environmental projects

Charting the Course to Zero

Terminal 91 aerial

In 2020 the Port completed a renewal of the Northwest Ports Clean Air Strategy, a collaborative effort of the Port of Seattle, Port of Tacoma, Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, and Northwest Seaport Alliance. The Strategy sets a bold vision to phase out emissions from seaport-related activities by 2050. And the associated action plan outlines how the Port will reduce air pollutants and carbon emissions to 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. It includes the Port’s first ever comprehensive maritime climate change and air quality action plan, and a sustainable fleet plan. All plans will be adopted by the Port Commission in 2021. 

Solar at the Port


In 2020, the Port expanded solar production by installing two new solar arrays at the Central and South Customer Service Facilities at Shilshole Bay Marina. The new arrays add an estimated annual solar production capacity of 47,000kWh to the existing arrays at the Port’s Pier 69 Headquarters and Fishermen’s Terminal, bringing the total solar production potential to over 183,000kWh of carbon-free electricity. Read more about the Port’s solar projects.

Quiet Sound – reducing underwater noise

 Photo credit: Miles Ritter, Creative Commons
Photo credit: Miles Ritter, Creative Commons

The Quiet Sound program aims to reduce adverse effects of acoustic and physical disturbance from large commercial vessels on Southern Resident orcas throughout their range in Washington State. The Port of Seattle, along with industry, non-profit, tribal, and other governmental partners initiated the “Quiet Sound” planning team. Over the course of the year, the planning team worked on developing an underwater noise-reduction program in Puget Sound. The Washington State legislature recently approved funding to the newly formed program for the next two years, which will enable Maritime Blue to launch the program this fiscal year.

In 2021 the Port of Seattle was named a leader in environmental stewardship by the Washington Public Ports Association.

Restoring habitat in the Duwamish River

Duwamish park restore

The Port broke ground on developing the Duwamish River People’s Park and Shoreline Habitat. This project will construct a 13-acre habitation restoration area, improve 2,050 linear feet of public access shoreline, and provide more complex wildlife habitat. The construction team often worked nights to take advantage of low tides. Almost 20 years in the making, the project is expected to be completed in 2021.

Green jobs in the Duwamish Valley

habitat restoration

The Port successfully launched the Duwamish River Green Jobs program in partnership with DIRT Corps, Duwamish Tribal Services, ECOSS, Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition, and SM Watts Consulting. This innovative program recruits local residents to receive training in environmental issues and be employed to conduct habitat maintenance activities that are critical for the success of our restoration projects.

Learn more about maritime environmental initiatives:

A plan for environmental justice

The Port is committed to leading equitable outcomes for all communities, through policies and practices that ensure racial, social, economic, and environmental justice. To respond to this call to action, the environmental department formed an internal group to support individual employee awareness and growth; improve our practices and policies; and improve the equity of environmental services to our community by bringing a focused emphasis on equity, diversity, inclusion, and environmental justice.

In 2020 the environmental team partnered with the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion to develop the Equity Index, a mapping tool that provides a geographic representation of how different communities experience environmental pollutants and various socioeconomic factors (e.g. housing cost, transportation, livable wage jobs, etc.). The tool can help focus and prioritize environmental programs and investments in areas where environmental health disparities exist. 

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