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Port Metro Vancouver’s ‘EcoAction’ handed out $1.1-million in discounts last year.Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

British billionaire Sir Richard Branson says the global shipping industry should take notice and emulate two B.C. ports offering discounted harbour dues to owners of fuel-efficient vessels.

Port Metro Vancouver and the Prince Rupert Port Authority have environmental programs based on an "A-to-G rating" system for assessing ships' greenhouse gas emissions. Ships rated A are deemed the most efficient and those graded G are judged the worst offenders for emitting greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide.

The system was developed by marine consulting firm RightShip and the Carbon War Room, a not-for-profit group founded in 2009 by Sir Richard, who said he has been concerned for years about heat-trapping carbon dioxide wreaking havoc on the Earth's climate.

Port Metro Vancouver began using the A-to-G rating system last year to determine which ships qualify for discounts. The Port of Prince Rupert jumped aboard on Jan. 1 this year with its own financial incentives based on the ratings for "clean" ships.

"These Canadian ports are the very first ports in the world to work with us on this, and it's just great," Sir Richard said in an interview. "We can now use this as an example and roll it out around the rest of the world. Delighted that Canada is leading the way."

It is important to "encourage shipping owners to make sure that they upgrade their ships," Sir Richard said. Ports, shipowners and retailers that charter vessels all have roles to play in influencing which ships are used to transport their goods, he said.

"We're trying to get retailers to make sure they use clean ships to transport their goods," he said. "And we're then trying to get ports to give people who invest in clean ships some benefits for that."

The Carbon War Room has an array of projects, including seeking to turn the Caribbean into a "carbon neutral zone" over the next 10 years. Its goal is to get industries known for polluting, such as the shipping and airline sectors, to embrace new business models and advances in technology to help fight climate change.

"We're working with island states, with airlines, with shipping, with cities," said Sir Richard, who is preparing to play host to a meeting of Caribbean political leaders at his private home in the British Virgin Islands. "It's working out practical solutions to overcome the problems of the amount of carbon dioxide that goes into the atmosphere."

Duncan Wilson, vice-president of corporate social responsibility at Port Metro Vancouver, said his organization has dubbed its initiative "EcoAction," which takes cleaner fuels, improved engine technology and other factors into account. The discounts amounted to $1.1-million last year at Port Metro Vancouver, representing roughly 10 per cent of revenue from deep-sea harbour dues.

Michael Gurney, manager of corporate communications at the Prince Rupert Port Authority, said his group's "Green Wave" program is forecast to provide $100,000 in discounts in 2014. The northwestern B.C. port collected $1.5-million in harbour dues last year.

Representatives from both B.C. ports will be among more than 1,500 delegates at the Cargo Logistics Canada conference this week in Vancouver.

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