For the past 40 years -- basically, ever since the modern environmental movement got under way -- Americans have been asked to accept a false choice that pits environmental sustainability against economic growth. If we take vigorous steps to scrub our skies or purify our waters, goes this generally accepted reasoning, we'll pile on burdensome business costs and prevent the creation of much-needed bread-and-butter jobs.

The Port of Seattle refuses to buy into this proposition, and we've worked hard to show that environmental activism and economic well-being are compatible and essential in prosperous and progressive communities everywhere.

In the process, we've developed one of the cleanest and most energy efficient ports in North America, a green gateway with the lowest carbon footprint for goods traveling between Asia and the Midwest.  

We've also tried to harness the power of the market to help create a more sustainable world; hopefully, we've encouraged our customers on both sides of the Pacific Ocean to implement environmentally sustainable practices throughout their business operations, too.  

But the most important lesson we've imparted is that America's ports can generate legions of clean, green jobs at a time when the public is struggling with a painful and lingering downturn.

Employment and the Environment

Indeed, the Port of Seattle has supported more than 200,000 family-wage jobs, generated nearly $18 billion in business revenues, delivered close to $900 million in annual state and local tax revenues, and invested $54 million to help small businesses at the same time that we've reduced emissions, removed contaminated sediment, restored shoreline, and created parks and wetlands.

And we've improved the Seattle region's economic and environmental quality of life during one of the most challenging and deficit-ridden fiscal periods in recent memory.

Innovative Sustainability

In fact, despite the persistent downturn, the Port of Seattle, in partnership with our terminal operators, retrofitted and electrified nearly 200 pieces of cargo handling equipment to reduce noxious particulate matter by 25-50 percent.

We also set strict mandatory benchmarks for truck emissions that must be met starting in 2011, and we implemented a financial incentive program for truckers who need to retrofit their vehicles or upgrade to newer, cleaner models. As a result of this program, nearly 150 older and more polluting trucks have been scrapped since November, and the number of vehicles that are unfriendly to the environment is decreasing rapidly.

In addition, we instituted a significant and far-reaching pilot program designed to replace aging creosote-treated wood pilings with low-maintenance pilings made of recycled materials that resist corrosion and are impervious to marine borers.

And we're providing incentives for ships -- cargo and cruise -- to use cleaner fuels. We believe that this policy will lower diesel particulate emissions from container ships by 60 percent and sulfur dioxide by at least 80 percent. Our At Berth Clean (ABC) Fuels program already reduced dangerous emissions by 68 metric tons last year.

The Port of Seattle also provides clean shore power for cruise ships docked at Smith Cove Terminal, our newest cruise facility. We were the first U.S. port to plug in two cruise vessels at once in an effort to reduce emissions; today, 40 percent of all cruise ships in our waters utilize our shore power capability, making a significant contribution to cleaner skies while they are at berth.

Trade, Not a Trade-Off

None of these sweeping environmental initiatives has gotten in the way of growth, despite the intense problems and increasing pressures that the badly battered economy presents.

And, even in the midst of a severe economic crisis, the Port of Seattle has been able to make significant capital investments in local infrastructure and clean-air projects.

Overall volume is down, but the port still managed to increase its export shipments by 6 percent in 2009. And this strong performance has reinforced a solid overall track record. In 2007, for example, the port moved approximately 22 million metric tons of cargo -- including nearly $40 billion in two-way trade with China, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Taiwan. This is encouraging news, especially in view of current efforts by the White House to stimulate job growth through the promotion of U.S. exports.

The Port of Seattle's 30-year trading relationship with China is particularly robust. Our trade with China has more than tripled over the past decade, and it now accounts for approximately 40 percent of our total trading volume. More importantly, though, we have begun the Dalian Eco-Partnership, a substantive agreement that we believe will lead to a valuable exchange of information and best practices between China and Seattle.

Global Leader

This trans-Pacific respect for the environment is one of the main reasons why Asian companies increasingly ship their goods to the Port of Seattle. These enterprises appreciate our deeply held environmental commitment and they know that they can meet ever-increasing global sustainability standards by working with us.

Seattle is also the closest U.S. port to Asia, and that means less fuel burned -- and fewer emissions released. A recent study showed, for instance, that when the Port of Seattle helps unload and transfer an 8,500-container ship's cargo to rail transport on the Shanghai-to-Chicago route, carbon emissions are 41 percent lower. The emissions reduction is still significant -- 31 percent -- when a 12,500-container ship's cargo is unloaded and transferred at the Port of Seattle in between Shanghai and Chicago. Looking at the bigger picture, the latest research also indicates that shipping cargo by sea and rail generates lower carbon emissions than cargo that travels exclusively on water to the same destinations.

Demonstrating an economic and environmental edge is critical and could prove to be a financial game-changer as the Port of Seattle increasingly competes against foreign rivals like Canada, which is investing heavily in its British Columbia ports, Mexico, which is building a mega-port on its west coast, and Panama, which is widening the Panama Canal so larger ships can use ports on the country's Gulf Coast and East Coast.

Solid Growth Engines

With extended economic uncertainty forecast for the remainder of 2010, ports all across the country must live up to their potential and become solid growth engines that help drive an improved standard of living in struggling communities from coast to coast.

We're trying to do our part at the Port of Seattle by leveraging our clear-cut environmental advantage and creating as many clean, green jobs as possible.  And, in the end, our simple yet substantial goal is to benefit both the economy and the environment -- because we can do right by both.



Tay Yoshitani is the CEO of the Port of Seattle.