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How Port of Aarhus shapes sustainability with Acadal

Explore how Port of Aarhus is using the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) as a vessel and how they seek to empower people to help build their SDG roadmap and distribute ownership of their Must-Win-Battle.

In 2019, a new strategy was conveyed within Port of Aarhus with Sustainability as one of the Must Win Battles. The ambition: to become the most sustainable port in the Baltic Sea area.

One of the tools to achieve this was to deploy the UN Sustainable Development Goals into the organization in new ways – one of them being the Acadal platform.

Anne Zachariassen, COO at Port of Aarhus, on the work with the SDG’s:

“The reason we chose to work with the UN SDG’s, is that they’re well known and have become a common framework. They give us the structure to communicate internally as well as towards our customers and the public how we contribute to sustainability. We want sustainability to be in our core DNA, and we use the SDG’s as a vessel to achieve this. To succeed, we need our people to understand and claim ownership of the SDG’s.”

Anne Zachariassen, COO at Port of Aarhus

Distributing ownership of such a hard challenge is something Anne has dealt with before:

“Back in the days with CSR reporting or UN global compact, it was hard to get people excited about it, but focusing on specific SDG’s and our contribution to them, and why that is, helps us a lot. We want it to be something that has a place in the company instead of just a paragraph on the website.”

The next step is also clear to Anne: “We have done well in communicating it and telling the world about our ambition, and now the next part of the mission kicks in: Now we have to deliver on it as well.”

Aligning leadership and strategy

The first job was to get everyone aligned on the SDG’s: “When we discussed the different SDG’s in our 4-man leadership team, we pointed in every direction. So I knew that, if we didn’t have the same understanding of the SDG’s in our small team, then it would be hard if not impossible to get it into the organization.”

Anne wanted to get a clear understanding of how to roll out such a big thing as the SDG’s, as well as how people in the organization would receive it.

“Acadal and Niras had a pretty convincing case of how we should go about it, so we agreed and began the process”.

To facilitate the process, Port of Aarhus used the Acadal partner, Niras, a large danish engineering consultancy with profound experience concerning the SDG’s.

Søren Hageman Christensen, Senior Vice President at Niras, says about the proces: “Anne was really smart about taking a small step to begin with: to learn from the experience and get to know how the people reacted on the challenge of the SDG’s. The goal was to involve people and extract as much input as possible to learn from the process.”

The process of picking the goals

Any SDG process begins by choosing which SDG’s you want to contribute to. Port of Aarhus did this at a workshop for the executive-level, the leaders, and some of the sustainability ambassadors already in the organization.

Workshop at Port of Aarhus

Søren Hageman Christensen was leading the process: “The leadership was ambitious around sustainability, with goals such as becoming Co2 neutral in 2030 and building infrastructure that encourages sustainability for the customer.”

Because the vision and goals were already in place, the process of picking the SDG’s was very effective: “We hosted a 1-day workshop with the team and picked the SDG’s that would have most impact on the vision and the world”, says Søren.

Port of Aarhus chose the following five SDG’s to pursue:

Acadal as the vehicle to align people and create ownership

“Providing ownership to the people that can really make a difference is crucial. Not just concerning the SDG’s, but in all must-win-battles” says Søren.

He then continues: “And aligned with Anne’s thoughts on learning, we set out to involve people early in building tactics around executing on SDG #7.”

The challenge: “Which projects can we initiate to meet SDG #7 in the short and the long term?”

Nine people were invited onto the Acadal platform to solve this Challenge. 20 modules, 5 tasks and 2 workshops during the span of 4 weeks.

The Sprint looked like this:

Each week we went through new video content and tasks that needed to be completed within that week. Here is some of the content and the tasks the team faced:

Week 1:
Video: Presentation of the strategy.
Assignment: Personal reflection on the strategy and sustainability.

Week 2:
Video: What is SDG #7 about?
Assignment: Identify Opportunities and challenges concerning SDG #7.

Week 3:
Video: What is Impact Assessment?
Assignment: How to place sustainability in context of the value chain at Port of Aarhus.

Week 4:
Video: Kalundborg Symbiosis (case)
Assignment: Which ideas of our own can we draw from this example? Create at least three.

“What we wanted to achieve was to give people new knowledge and inspire them on how they could put that into action in their daily job. They all have different perspectives, coming from different backgrounds and skillsets. Blending learning with diversity often sparks creativity” says Søren. “And by letting people develop ideas on how to execute we build the feeling of ownership that is needed to make it happen.”

91 ideas and better internal knowledge

The 9-man team created nothing less than 91 ideas and 104 insights on how to work with SDG #7 at Port of Aarhus. 

“It was awesome to see our people starting to execute and come up with ideas on how to solve this,” says Anne. “Some of the ideas are really great – and there are also some bad ones, but that’s okay. It’s a part of the progress we are going through as an organization.”

From the 91 ideas, some quite ambitious ideas surfaced, and much creativity went into them. Anne says: “I think we got some ideas we wouldn’t have had on a traditional workshop. People were not afraid to speak up, because the structure of the Sprint allows people to contribute on their terms and not while everyone is listening — a kind of out-of-the-box effect.”

One of the more creative ideas came from Karsten, who works as a Business Developer at the port.

“The new knowledge inspired me to come up with the idea of planting a forest of seaweed at the bottom of all our submerged real estate. Seaweed works like trees, but don’t occupy valuable real estate at land. That would spring-leap us towards our goal of being Co2 Natural in 2030.”

Picking out the better ideas

The 4-week process ended with a workshop where all the participants were together to rate and discuss the best ideas.

“The team enjoyed being together and seeing the result of the process,” says Anne. “Standing together and looking at all these ideas and picking out what we should focus on was a great experience, which helped build ownership”.

Workshop with the employees

Next step in the learning curve

The goal was to learn from the process and figure out how the organization would react on the work-form. The outcome did that and much more.

“We are learning to work like this, giving people access to deliver a free form of input, and it requires some trial and error,” says Anne. “I can see a lot of perspective in the method and the setup, but we were a bit too ambitious in our first go.”

“Sustainability is a complex topic, so narrowing it down even further is definitely a lesson learned. Also, setting better expectations around time-usage and idea-generation would produce an even greater result for us” says Anne as she reflects on the experience of having highly engaged employees in the process.

Is Port of Aarhus going to use Acadal again? “It is a great way to work and involve our people. Now we are ready to take the next step and use Acadal to create business cases from the ideas we selected, and then begin to roll these out in the organization,” says Anne. “And this time around, we know how to get even more value out of letting our people drive the process.”

About Port of Aarhus

Port of Aarhus is Denmarks biggest port, measured on containers and bulk. It also graces 2.500.000 million ferry passengers every year and more than 150 companies and their 10.000 employees have their offices at the ground. Port of Aarhus has around 200 employees.

Visit aarhushavn.dk

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