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QSL partners with Port of Montreal, Oceanex on green shipping corridor

Initiative looks to decarbonize one of Eastern Canada's top cargo transportation routes

The Bickerdike Terminal at the Port of Montreal. (Courtesy QSL)
The Bickerdike Terminal at the Port of Montreal. (Courtesy QSL)

Quebec-based QSL has joined forces with the Port of Montreal and Oceanex to create Canada's first green shipping corridor between Montreal and St. John's, N.L.

This initiative is intended to decarbonize one of the busiest shipping routes in Eastern Canada, handling nearly 500,000 tonnes of cargo (containerized and non-containerized) per year.

QSL is a key supply-chain player in port terminal operations, providing stevedoring, marine services, logistics and transport throughout North America and especially in the Eastern shipping zone between Quebec and Newfoundland.

"At QSL, we want to become a North American sustainability leader within our industry. Today's announcement alongside our longtime partners Oceanex and the Port of Montreal is a new step to formalize that vision," Robert Bellisle, president and CEO at QSL, said in a statement accompanying news of the partnership.

Timing of the announcement

The venture, announced on Dec. 4, came three days after Canadian Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez announced the federal government will invest $165.4 million toward establishment of the Green Shipping Corridor Program and would solicit proposals to take part in the initiative. 

"With the new Green Shipping Corridor Program, Canada is taking another step towards meeting its commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050. We can work together to establish green shipping corridors to decarbonize the marine sector along the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence Seaway, as well as Canada’s east and west coasts," Rodriguez said in a prepared statement.

The Ports of Montreal and St. John's are both served by QSL and Oceanex. Together with the Port of Montreal authority, the two shipping companies see their venture hastening the transition to a low-carbon future by reducing emissions in every phase of shipping operations.

"We are united in our determination to shape a sustainable shipping future, to achieve our ambitious targets and to positively impact on our environment and our industry," Geneviève Deschamps, interim president and CEO of the Port of Montreal, said in the December release.

A viable green alternative to road transport

According to federal government data, the transport sector accounts for 22 per cent of overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Canada. Road transport (cars, light- and heavy-duty trucks) accounts for 15 per cent of total carbon emissions.

Shipping is a far less carbon-intensive method of delivering freight than roads. Currently, shipping generates 80 per cent less emissions than trucks carrying freight between Quebec and Newfoundland.

During the coming decade, QSL, Oceanex and the Port of Montreal will work together to lower the carbon footprint by implementing direct electrification technologies and eventually shifting toward alternative fuels such as hydrogen. 

Based on recent studies, these measures could lower the carbon footprint of freight transport between the Port of Montreal and the Port of St. John's by 27,000 tonnes of diesel and 87,000 tonnes of GHG emissions per year.

Electrifying terminals, using telemetry to cut energy waste

In the meantime, QSL has already begun improving its energy efficiency by implementing state-of-the-art systems that monitor peak equipment usage and deliver accurate carbon emissions data that enable the company to quantify future reductions in CO2 emissions. 

QSL, headquartered in Quebec City, has been a trailblazer in the electrification of its shipping terminals. Beginning in 2009, the company became the first Canadian shipping outfit to install mobile conveyors in place of front-end loaders.

"Shipping is a much greener method of freight transportation. In the last few years, we've accelerated our electrification process and that has been a huge factor with respect to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions," Bellisle said in an interview with Sustainable Biz Canada.

"We've also introduced telemetry on all of our equipment. All of our forklifts, all of our loaders are now equipped with telemetry. By means of telemetry you can see when you're running idle, which means you can control the idle time, and de facto reduce the carbon emissions there, too."

Deploying telemetry enables QSL to identity areas where energy efficiency gains can be made. 

"We can now know where to swap equipment and, for example, not use a heavy 988 loader if we can use a smaller loader," Bellisle said. "By doing that we're we're burning less fuel and and we're optimizing our activities . . . So all of these tools are improving our efficiency. And there's both a green side and a cost efficiency aspect to our investments in this new technology."

Commitment to a sustainable future

QSL CEO Robert Bellisle. (Courtesy QSL)
QSL CEO Robert Bellisle. (Courtesy QSL)

Bellisle is a believer in sustainable development and has led decarbonization efforts at QSL since he took over in 2016 after previously serving as CEO of ArcelorMittal Long Carbon Central America.

He credits his family history with stirring his interest in shipping. 

"My family has a long heritage of piloting on the St. Lawrence. My father was a pilot, my grandfather, his brother and my dad's cousin," he said. "I've always been very close to, let's call it the waterfront. So for me, being part of QSL was kind of a full circle getting back into the marine sector."

His vision of a sustainable shipping sector was made clear when QSL participated in the United Nations Global Compact-Accenture CEO study on sustainability presented at the Davos World Economic Forum in January.

"Integrating sustainability and the principles of the United Nations Global Compact, to which we are a signatory, into our business model enables us in many ways to address the challenges posed by instability. For example, institutional investors and other stakeholders are now asking for reporting across the entire value chain. This wider reporting footprint is changing how we operate and view our business," Bellisle said in a statement accompanying the release of the study in Davos.

Sustainable development gaining maritime sector momentum

"We were also the first maritime Canadian company to sign the UN Global Compact in 2021," Bellisle said. 

"But what we're seeing now is that (sustainable development) is now gaining momentum across the entire maritime segment and that the major players are all starting to look at their carbon footprint. There are (important emissions reductions) to be had across the various handling modes, whether it be the actual ship transiting or whether it be a stevedore.

"So what we aim to achieve is to contribute to all those different areas in the space that we play, but also be part of that bigger picture."

Bellisle is also aware implementing a comprehensive low-carbon strategy is now de rigueur for most companies and of key concern to pension funds and other institutional investors with strict sustainable investment policies.

"Any institutional investor today is looking for (companies pursuing sustainability). I even remember a meeting with our lead bank about two years ago and their CEO came up to me and said, 'You know, Robert, you have to start thinking about ESG as a company because this is what (institutional investors) are looking for in the financial statements...'

"'And I told the banker, do you know who the first Canadian maritime company to sign the UN Global Compact is?'

Bellisle doesn't want his company to lose its leadership role.

"We're always trying to push the limits of being at the forefront of the sustainable effort and that's why all of our terminals are Green Marine-certified as a result of our electrification efforts," he said. "We've placed a green stamp on our operations, and we also want to make sure we're partnering with other companies that also have that green stamp."

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