Seattle port chief sees green

It’s one thing to see green, it may still be another to act so.

Fred

SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER
http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/business/322693_port06.html

Agency aims to be energy, financially efficient

Last updated July 5, 2007 9:13 p.m. PT

By KRISTEN MILLARES BOLT
P-I REPORTER

The Port of Seattle’s new goal is to be the cleanest, greenest and most energy-efficient port in the U.S., said its chief executive, Tay Yoshitani, who believes the move will help the port market itself to its customers and keep in good stead with the community.

But he said that goal alone will not be enough to distinguish the Port of Seattle — whose expansion days are drawing to a close in a time when ports from Mexico to Canada are growing as quickly as possible to attract Asian trade.

In the most significant reorganization of the port since its post-9/11 downsizing, Yoshitani is tightening the port’s focus on financial health and in the process disentangling real estate ventures from its seaport and airport operations.

“The first observation I made coming here is that we have real estate projects scattered throughout the organization and various programs in the airport,” Yoshitani said Thursday of his decision to create a Port of Seattle real estate division. “On the maritime side, there are a couple of projects that I think are outside of the core maritime business, which I would characterize as containers and cruise.”

Marinas do not fall into the “core business” category, he said, though they are on the water, and neither does Fishermen’s Terminal, though he later called it an essential part of the Seattle economy and culture.

Within the real estate division will be projects that he termed either real estate development, such as the port’s 99-acre North Bay project, or property management, such as the marinas and Fishermen’s Terminal. Land acquired in and around the airport will also be managed through the new division.

But it is in the seaport that the change could have the most effect: Lumping real estate in with the container and cruise terminals has resulted in a clotted balance sheet and dispersed focus.

“I really liked how he carved out things,” Commissioner Bob Edwards said. “It will make the seaport financials a lot more transparent, and easier to compare the ‘big ship’ seaport operations with other ports.”

At the airport, Yoshitani’s focus on controlling expenses is aimed at keeping the cost per enplanement low enough to keep the airlines happy and settled at Sea-Tac.

And he has committed the port to finding a way to make money on its cruise business, for which the port continues to be deep in the hole while its private business partners reap the profits.

“The cruise business in not making money, but it has the potential to be a very big part of this port,” Yoshitani said, positing a longer cruise season and more cross marketing.

Mirroring a move he made as chief of the Port of Oakland, Yoshitani said he would create an office of social responsibility to consolidate and improve the various programs already in place.

Portwide, Yoshitani is planning fiscal responsibility in the same way as many households do: by tightening the belt if less money comes in.

“It is difficult to totally control revenue … but we can control our expenses,” Yoshitani said. “Without that, our entire financial program falls apart.”

Part of that drive toward better financial performance can be achieved through smarter use of environmental resources, the cornerstone of Yoshitani’s aim to become the greenest port in the U.S.

“I want to use this as a centerpiece for how we compete, and for our goals and strategic planning to revolve around it,” Yoshitani said.

His idea is a rough outline which now needs to be filled with details such as how and when and how much.

In perhaps the clearest indication of his “empower the people” leadership style, Yoshitani is asking for answers to those questions from the bottom of his organization up — and is sending an open call to port business partners and the local community for input as well.

The great ideas, he said, come from the trenches.

Commission President John Creighton, who set environmental stewardship as one of his top priorities when he ascended to that office, said the changes to the port’s priorities can “be accomplished in a change of mindset” brought about by the new chief, now four months into the job. But the devil is in the details, as he and other commissioners and port watchers noted.

“We are going to have to get beyond the historical organizational caution that we have,” Creighton said.

In an industry newly sensitive to the communities they serve, what the Port of Seattle is doing may be more necessary than innovative, said Paul Bingham, the principal of global trade and transportation for Global Insight, an economic and financial analysis company.

“The industry has tended to be more reactive than proactive, and only recently have port boards and executives realized that it could be used as a competitive advantage.”

“The real lesson in the port community is that they look down the coast at L.A./Long Beach and make sure (they) never get in the same position where their ability to expand is compromised: Anything they do is more time consuming and expensive because of the opposition of community activists.”

The port is in a unique position, as the nexus between private businesses and the public, to be a leader on the issue, Bingham said.

The port will shape the way it measures its performance and markets itself to make its goal a reality, Yoshitani said, offering as an example that the port will be seeking LEED-certification (a measure of environmentally friendly design) for its North Bay developments.

The port will be watched closely. Environmentalists such as Fred Felleman, a consultant for the non-profit Friends of the Earth, have a laundry list of environmental issues that the port has trumpeted only to shy away when it came time to implement changes. “I see great progress occurring, but I am looking for the public verification — the accountability that allows the public to be assured that the talk is met with action.”

P-I reporter Kristen Millares Bolt can be reached at 206-448-8142 or kristenbolt@seattlepi.com.

© 1998-2007 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

~ by fredfelleman on July 6, 2007.

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