Blue is the new green: how companies can protect the ocean

The well-being of our planet and our economy is based on the health of the ocean. Businesses need to protect it from overfishing, pollution, habitat loss and climate change. In recent years, organizations including the World Bank, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the United Nations and the US Economic Development Administration have been exploring the development of sustainable business opportunities that support the “blue economy” in sectors such as shipping, fishing, aquaculture, tourism and energy production. Crucially, these initiatives focus on the renewable use of ocean resources and the preservation of the health of marine and coastal ecosystems.

Humanity will be in dire straits if we fail to find a way to responsibly manage this essential natural resource.

Businesses must recognize the importance of the blue economy, recognize the dangers of exploiting the ocean and admit that it is our duty to protect it at all costs. We are interconnected by blue oceans and not divided by political borders. Our efforts must be multi-jurisdictional. They should cross sectors and international borders, drawing from the deep well of knowledge through government, academia, science and business communities.

The U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy recently announced funding for research projects that have the potential to make a difference on a large scale, including technologies that turn spontaneous ocean motion into energy, and the Oceanographic Institute Woods Hole announced its Vision 2030 commitment to advance ocean science for the global good.

Meanwhile, thanks to a grant from the US Department of Energy, Hull is working with Aegis Technology Inc. to develop a tide turbine system that can power charging stations for electric vehicles and boats. Resolute Marine Energy researchers focus on using wave power as fuel for autonomous underwater vehicles and desalination systems. Littoral Power Systems of New Bedford uses water currents and a capture system to collect plastic debris in rivers before they enter the oceans.

And recently, UMass Amherst released the results of its Phase 1 study on the North Shore Blue Economy and a vision for the next decade, including sustainable fishing, offshore wind farms and growing a network that brings together the science of area life, marine sciences, and technology leaders to provide education, research and development for innovative opportunities. The New England Aquarium is collaborating with partners around the world to protect this delicate ecosystem, and its scientists advise some of the nation’s largest seafood companies on ways to improve the sustainability of commercial fishing.

We can make a difference by working together to invest in our largest global resource, setting standards and policies that protect the blue economy and addressing climate change.

While many investment efforts today are focused on green initiatives, business leaders should look at the economy and opportunities through a new lens. Take an active role in strengthening the blue economy by reinventing global supply chains that aim to protect this precious resource, aligning with local authorities to take a stand on pollution, illegal fishing and other upcoming issues such as designate marine protected areas and minimize ocean noise, while investing in programs and coalitions to support marine conservation.

The ocean is vast, but so is our power to make a difference.

Jane Steinmetz is the managing director of the Boston office of Ernst & Young LLP.

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