Green Award – Certification for Maritime and Inland Waterway Vessels

Context of Transport Climate Action

In recent years, the environmental and safety performance of shipping has gained attention from ship operators, port authorities and local and national governments. However, the increasing amount of regulatory requirements of individual ports on emissions and safety, creates complexities for ship operators and can have a negative impact on the competitive position of the port. A voluntary system in which ships receive a financial benefit for complying to certain environmental standards, is considered to be a better alternative.

In the Green Award project, ships with a low level of emissions (both greenhouse gasses and other) and a high safety level are certified. Ships with a Green Award certificate have various financial and non-financial benefits. Most notably, they receive a discount off their port dues at large ports in 12 countries: Belgium, Canada, Germany, Gibraltar, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Oman, Portugal, South Africa. Furthermore, additional discounts for services and products are offered by some private companies.

Green Award certifications are available for both maritime and inland navigation vessels.


The Green Award procedure is carried out by the Bureau Green Award. This is the executive body of the independent, non-profit Green Award Foundation. The certification procedure consists of an audit of the office of the operator (to verify procedures and processes) and an audit of each individual ship applying for certification. Amongst others, the assessment focuses on crew, operational, environmental and managerial elements. The audit looks at operational aspects and vessel characteristics such as:
• attention to new energy saving technologies
• the benefits for clean engines
• more emphasis on safety
• separating the requirements into 2 parts: engines and additional items

The ship owner or operator can take the initiative to apply for a Green Award certificate. The Bureau then reviews documents which are presented by the ship owner, and performs an audit at the ship owner/managers’ office. The audit is repeated every three years and establishes conformity between management procedures and management practices, as well as conformity of management procedures with Green Award requirements. Furthermore, a survey of the vessel takes place to determine if the procedures are implemented correctly. If the Green Award requirements are met the ship will be certified. The Certificate is valid for three years, during which annual check-ups of the seagoing vessels are carried out.


The Green Awards originated in the port of Rotterdam in 1994. Both the Port Authority and the municipality of Rotterdam were considering different options for increasing the environmental and safety performance of seagoing vessels visiting the port. Instead of tightening the port regulations, the parties involved decided to provide an incentive by giving a discount on the port dues based on a voluntary participation.

To make the certification more attractive to shipowners and operators, the Green Award Foundation was established. The foundation broadened the initiative to include more ports and currently the initiative is applied in ports in 12 countries.

In recent years, the maritime initiative was broadened to inland navigation. The main focus of this initiative is to reduce the emission of air pollutants such as NOx and PM10. CO2 will be added this year. For inland navigation a separate certification procedure was developed that was more suitable for its specific characteristics. Furthermore, three levels of compliance were developed (bronze, silver and gold) to stimulate the uptake of innovations (such as alternative fuels), but also to make ‘greening’ of the fleet attractive to older vessels.


  • About 750 vessels currently have been awarded with a green award certificate (about 250 seagoing vessels and 500 inland vessels). These vessels comply to strict environmental levels.
  • Ports in 12 countries are participating, making it a global initiative.
  • Discounts on port dues vary between 3% to 23%, reducing the operational expenses of shipping companies.
  • Ship owners consider the discount as an attractive financial benefit. Furthermore, they perceive that complying to the green awards make them well positioned to comply with future regulations set out by different regulatory bodies such as the European Commission or IMO. Lastly, they use the certification as a marketing tool to position themselves better in the charter market.

Potential for scaling up

Scaling up the Green Award initiative is possible both by increasing the number of participating vessels and ports. For vessels, it is especially attractive to implement certification if applied to new-build vessels.

An important boost to the Green Award could be given by involving cargo owners or shippers in the initiative. If these stakeholders include compliance to the green award in their sustainability strategy, more operators or cargo forwarders would see the benefit of joining the scheme.

The Green Award shows that when setting up a voluntary certification procedure for the logistics industry, it is considered to be very important to involve industry specialists and to communicate often and directly with companies involved. Direct communication by people that can relate to issues from entrepreneurs can help when developing the certification procedure and lower the threshold for companies to comply with the procedures.

Selected references



Belgium, Canada, Germany, Gibraltar, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Oman, Portugal, South Africa






Global, Mitigation, Freight, shipping, Finance, Policy, Awareness


Green awards Foundation


Jan Fransen

"Corporate social responsibility is a joint effort by public and private stakeholders. The Green Awards is gives shape to this effort"
-Jan Fransen, Executive Director, Green Award Foundation