Ports lie close to urban areas, which are the most sensitive to the effects of port activities (air quality, improvements in coastal waters, noise pollution, congestion caused by mobility, etc.), and need to ensure the future growth of the business and the area of the port precinct in built-up zones in which there is great competition for usage of space. All of these factors have led large ports to improve their environmental behaviour and to devote attention to environmental problems arising from their activity.

However, ports are facing new challenges in an increasingly globalised context: changes in the importance of key trade routes, increasing competition between ports to attract new traffic and handle more goods, plus the need to increase the effectiveness of the goods transport chain; and all of these factors affect ports significantly.

Meanwhile, the shipping industry must also adapt very quickly to new environmental regulations applicable to vessels, particularly to the stringent emission limits for gaseous and particulate pollutants in compliance with Annex VI of the MARPOL agreement.

For all of these reasons, ports must adapt to this new business environment and these new environmental regulations by improving the efficiency and effectiveness of their services and activities (paperless port, more streamlined port services, etc.), increasing draughts to serve new and bigger vessels, providing additional areas for logistics activities, taking advantage of new developments in information technology to modernise their services and activities and, ultimately, setting themselves apart from other ports by modernising their operations using two tools: the smart port and the sustainable port. 

In the final analysis, committing to the sustainability of ports is essential to guarantee the fit between port and city and to ensure future growth of such infrastructures, but also to help to modernise and set themselves apart from other ports in the context of increasingly globalised worldwide trade.