An Interview with Hamburg Port Authority Lutz M. Birke


Lutz-BirkeCould you briefly describe your work as the managing authority of one of the biggest ports in the world?

Since 2005, the HPA has provided future-oriented port management from a single source and takes care of the Port of Hamburg’s security and efficiency. The HPA meets the port’s growing demands with intelligent and innovative solutions. Responsible for resource-saving and sustainable planning and execution of the port’s infrastructure measures, the HPA is also the point of contact for questions regarding waterside and landside infrastructure, the security and efficiency of ship traffic, the dock railway, and economic conditions in the port. Further, it safeguards the port’s interests at a national and international level. The challenge for the future is to continue the path of digitalization of the port set by the smartPORT initiative and to implement the respective Projects.

How do you define sustainability in your own work?

To make the Port of Hamburg “greener” and more prosperous – that is the challenge we are facing. Avoiding emissions is a key concern of the HPA. Our own shipping fleet has been operating on sulphur-free fuels since 2009. In addition, both our own and most of the public jetties and wharves for inland waterway carriers, ferries and other service vessels in the port are equipped with shore power plugs. Solar energy and geothermal energy also play a part. Niedernfelder Ufer is home to the HPA’s state-of-the-art building that houses offices and social meeting rooms and incorporates the latest in energy efficient designs. Sustainability plays an increasingly bigger role in our daily working practices and forms an integral part of our objectives. This approach requires the courage to change practices and the commitment of everyone involved. This is the only way the HPA can meet its corporate and social responsibilities as a port operating across regions.

HPA also wants to be a role model for a sustainable port industry.

How will the smartPORT initiative help making the Hamburg Port more sustainable?

The HPA has set itself the objective of developing the Port of Hamburg to the smartPORT in the next few years. smartPORT is more than just a word, it is a long-term strategy. “Smart” refers to the intelligent exchange of information to increase the quality and efficiency of the port as an important link in the supply chain – taking account of both economic and ecological aspects. A special focus of the strategy lies on smart solutions for infrastructure, traffic flows and trade flows in the Port of Hamburg.

More efficient traffic and trade flows will reduce emissions and air pollutants, which is also consistent with the aims of the smartPORT energy concept – a key element of our smartPORT philosophy.

Thanks to the growing cooperation with other ports and institutions, we are also able to come up with new sustainable ideas and implement them in practice.


Can you give any recommendations to port authorities in developing countries on how to manage a port sustainably?

For one thing, realize how important sustainability is compared to just being a “Green Port”. Only the triad of ecology, economy and social subjects will be successful in the end.

And for another thing, involve your relevant stakeholder in your planning and strategies. That will make it easier to work together later on.

My third recommendation is to use the power of digitalization instead of expensive infrastructure expansion. It can help to manage the existing infrastructure in an effective manner. One example for my last recommendation is our projects smartPORT logistics, which substantially contributes to making our vision of smartPORT a reality. In pilot operations, HPA and its project partners were able to increase the productivity by more than 12 percent due to the use of smartPORT logistics. In future all modes of transport will be coordinated to improve the flow of information and, ultimately, traffic flows. Ships will communicate directly with the operating staff at the bridge control stations. Depending on how far away the ship is and how fast it is approaching, an operator will open the bridge just in time and raise the bascules just as high as necessary. Thus the times the bridge is raised will be available long before the ship actually arrives so that the information can be transmitted to the mobile end devices of drivers in the port who intend to cross the bridge. Drivers can then adjust their route accordingly. In pilot operations, we were able to increase the productivity by more than 12 per cent due to the use of smartPORT logistics.


Which challenges or hurdles do you recognize while implementing sustainable infrastructure projects?

It will only be possible to use the full potential of our projects, if all stakeholders join. That is a challenge.We are aware that there are always skeptics especially in innovative projects such as smartPORT logistics (SPL). Therefore, it is important for us to present projects and their benefits for everyone involved clearly. The more people participate, the more we can tap the full potential for the port.


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