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Q&A: Inmarsat talks sustainability

Inmarsat networks operations center

Posted on April 26, 2022

For shipping to meet its environmental and sustainability targets, digitalization and connectivity are key. Mobile satellite communications leader Inmarsat provides that connectivity and has embarked on a $100 million expansion to ensure that it continues to meet shipping’s ever increasing demand for digital services. We asked the company to discuss its commitment to sustainability.

Can you begin by describing what sustainability means to Inmarsat, both broadly and in the context of the maritime industry?

At Inmarsat, we look at sustainability in two fundamental ways; our responsibility as an organization to protect the environment through sustainable operations and the responsible management of its resources both on the ground and in space, and the role we can play to support and drive sustainability in the industries we serve.

Accordingly, environmental leadership is at the heart of our business strategy, and we have executive and board-level champions committed to ambitious science-based targets. Our Sustainability Committee aims to drive ideas and innovation to reduce the environmental impact of our operations. We are developing employee engagement programs to ensure every member of the company is working towards the same environmental objectives and ensuring that sustainability is built into everything we do For example, the electricity for our new London office will be from a renewable energy supplier.

In the context of supporting sustainability in the shipping industry, through our high-speed maritime broadband service, Fleet Xpress, we facilitate performance monitoring by providing owners and operators with the bandwidth needed to collect, analyze and transfer significant volumes of vessel and machinery performance data. This enables them to operate their vessels in more efficient and sustainable manner.

Our Certified Application Providers (CAPs) use our Fleet Data API, part of the Fleet Xpress package, to help automate the data collection process and offer shipping companies the predictive analytics capabilities to reduce fuel consumption, improve decision-making and meet local and international environmental standards in real time. In addition, our Fleet Connect solution, also part of Fleet Xpress, gives CAPs dedicated bandwidth to deliver value-added digital services that directly target efficiency gains in areas such as fuel consumption, weather routing and voyage planning.

Inmarsat has discussed the importance of health and safety onboard. Can you talk about the role technology plays in bridging the gap between the two, and how this is essential to sustainability?

Inmarsat is a strong proponent for the importance of onboard health and safety and for the role that technology can play in protecting life at sea. In June 2020, we published the Welfare 2.0 report, emphasizing the value that data models capturing, storing and analyzing factors contributing to seafarer health, safety and welfare can have in shipping. Another Inmarsat-commissioned report puts the findings of Welfare 2.0 into practice. Published in August 2021, The Future of Maritime Safety draws on distress signals sent via the Inmarsat network between 2018 and 2020 to identify weak spots and solutions, allocate resources and measure progress towards enhanced safety.

Onboard connectivity is crucial not only for sending distress signals but also for allowing crew to access online services, which Inmarsat considers crucial to seafarer mental health and well-being. As well as keeping crew members entertained and in contact with friends and family, internet access can help them to address any physical or mental health issues with medical professionals via video consultation. Such a service is provided by Vikand, a member of Inmarsat’s CAP program, and facilitated by Inmarsat Fleet Connect bandwidth. Another Inmarsat CAP, Evitalz, provides a similar service, enabling the diagnosis of a patient’s vital signs to be sent to medical experts ashore, again via Fleet Connect, for further consultation.

Although maritime sustainability is typically discussed in relation to the environment, ‘sustainability’ is a broad term that, in the context of shipping, encompasses the protection of the seafarers whose hard work and expertise keep the industry in motion. Shipowners therefore deploy data analysis and digital applications to support not only environmental compliance but also onboard health and safety.

What are some of the harms of environmentally unsustainable fishing, specifically illegal and unreported fishing, and how does Inmarsat’s Fleet One vessel monitoring system address these challenges?

Illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing has no regard for sustainability or the protection of vulnerable marine life. It leads to overfishing and the disposal of large quantities of fishing gear at sea as illegal fishers attempt to avoid being caught. If left unchecked, IUU fishing will therefore threaten food security and result in the destruction of marine ecosystems, which are vital to the overall health of our planet. Inmarsat’s Fleet One Vessel Monitoring System, which is ideally suited to small vessels including fishing boats, supports electronic catch documentation and traceability (eCDT) to combat IUU fishing.

Can you talk a little about the importance of engaging with the entire value chain to set meaningful emissions reduction targets? How has Inmarsat worked with Carbon Intelligence to do so?

In our industry, we cannot completely eliminate emissions. Sending satellites into space and positioning them in the correct orbital slot requires rockets and fuel, while ensuring our partners’ terminals reach the client relies on the global supply chain. We have therefore worked with Carbon Intelligence to quantify emissions from our indirect (Scope 3) activities, which we have found to account for 97% of our total environmental footprint. In response to these findings, we have set a 90% reduction target for our Scope 3 emissions, becoming the first satellite operator to set such an ambitious goal.

We are already working towards this target by embedding sustainability into our supplier selection process. For example, for our next Inmarsat-6 satellite launch in 2023, we have chosen a launch provider, SpaceX, that offers reusable rockets. In addition, for I-6 F1, launched at the end of 2021, we chose a satellite system whose electric orbit-raising platform is powered by xenon, a noble gas with zero environmental impact on space. We have chosen the same system design for the forthcoming launches of our four owned satellites, I-6 F2 and GX7, 8 and 9.

Lastly, why does Inmarsat feel it is important for the maritime industry at large to prioritize sustainability, and what steps do you hope the industry takes to move in that direction? What will it take to achieve a zero-emission marine industry?

Although by no means the worst offender, the maritime industry is a significant contributor to total global greenhouse gas emissions and – like any sector, organization or individual – must play its part in preserving the future of the planet. Yet sustainability is more than just a moral issue; from a business perspective, shipping companies know that they simply cannot afford to carry on as normal. With new regulations emerging, and pressure from cargo owners and consumers growing, companies that act decisively on decarbonization will move ahead, while those that hesitate will be left behind. Ultimately, achieving a zero-emissions marine industry will rely on a combination of international and interdisciplinary collaboration, behavioral changes, fleet digitalization and a prolonged investment in clean propulsion solutions.

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