“Safer, Smarter, Greener”

That’s how the world’s largest class society does business. It’s a winning formula.

DNV GL's headquarters in Hovik, Norway (file image)

Published Dec 7, 2019 12:04 AM by Tony Munoz

(Article originally published in Mar/Apr 2019 edition.)

It was way back in 1864 that a group of Norwegian insurance companies established Det Norske Veritas in Oslo to certify the safety of its growing merchant fleet and serve as a national alternative to foreign classification societies. Three years later, in Hamburg, a group of 600 shipowners, shipbuilders and insurers founded Germanischer Lloyd, its German counterpart.

For more than a century the two companies grew and prospered independently, expanding beyond maritime into new areas like electricity and power, machinery, risk management, oil and gas and, finally, renewables. They were friendly rivals, excelling in different but complementary areas, until one day it occurred to them that – in an increasingly competitive and changing world – perhaps combining the two organizations would be better than going it alone. 

“There were a lot of values that were either identical or very similar between the two societies,” says Knut Ørbeck-Nilssen, CEO of DNV GL – Maritime. “It was an orientation around quality and competence.” 

The idea of a merger was first discussed in 2006 and again in 2012 before taking effect on September 12, 2013, when DNV and GL became DNV GL. It was the first merger between two major class societies and, amazingly, the only one to date.  

“When we did this,” Ørbeck-Nilssen reflects, “we thought it would be quite natural that others follow our lead on the idea of leveraging scale. So far, nothing has happened, so we’ll just wait and see.”

Global Leader 

The merger created an industry giant and instantly catapulted DNV GL to the top of the list in terms of vessels and tonnage classed. Today, the combined organization has 20 percent of the world’s classed fleet and more than 2,500 surveyors working out of 189 stations in more than 100 countries. Among other distinctions, it boasts the lowest number of ships per surveyor – only 4.4 – of any of its competitors. 

“We are both the leading and largest class society,” says Ørbeck-Nilssen, “but that is not our main goal nor is it what our customers care about. We want to be perceived as leading when it comes to customer-centricity, quality and innovation, and delivering our classification services.” 

One way it does that is through DATE (Direct Access to Technical Experts), a technical help desk that leverages machine learning from five hubs to give customers 24/7 access to the right experts along with faster and more accurate solutions. Another is by dedicating five percent of annual group revenue to R&D, perhaps the highest percentage of any of its peers and a huge benefit to customers in terms of innovations and breakthroughs. 

In a fast-changing maritime world, the role of class has never been more important, says Ørbeck-Nilssen. As a trusted third party, DNV GL’s role is not simply to solve today’s problems but to look five and ten years down the road to anticipate tomorrow’s challenges – to be a safety net for its clients. Safeguarding life, property and the environment – that’s every class society’s mission – but to do it better DNV GL relies on a three-word mantra: “Safer, Smarter, Greener.”


Safety is the reason class societies exist and their primary responsibility. Developing rules to keep pace with changing times is fundamental to their mission. Today, however, safety is more complex because with environmental compliance and the digital revolution, new safety challenges need to be addressed.

To help ensure a safe and consistent implementation of IMO’s 2020 sulfur cap, for example, DNV GL is committed to sharing information and making relevant tools available to customers including a recently introduced Web-based tool for the easy generation of the IMO Ship Implementation Plan. Another DNV GL innovation is Hardware-in-the-Loop testing, which uses advanced simulator technology to verify the proper functioning of systems like scrubbers, reducing onboard commissioning time during installation and optimizing functionality. 

Furthermore, the company offers an array of solutions designed to make the digital transition safe. Among these are cyber security notations; dynamic barrier management, and establishing standards for sensor-based and auto-remote shipping.


The digital revolution has transformed shipping and challenged the status quo of class. Ships today have become sophisticated sensor hubs and data generators, producing and transmitting information from anywhere, often in real time, while advances in satellite communications have improved connectivity and allowed for massive increases in the volume of data transferred at ever-lower cost. 

New cloud-based technologies like big data platforms and “digital twin” technologies are having a dramatic effect on how shipping manages information and how vessels and their components are designed, built and tested.

All of this means new opportunities for DNV GL and customers alike.

The My Services portal offers customers a single access point for all of DNV GL’s digital tools. The Smart Service Booking tool simplifies survey booking, fitting inspections into customers’ schedules while saving on time and costs. To provide worldwide access to class documentation, the company introduced electronic class and statutory certificates for its entire fleet, serving all flags, in 2018.

The latest innovation and an industry-first are remote surveys. Since March 2019, all DNV GL-classed vessels are able to utilize remote surveys through the company’s Veracity digital platform. This means that in some cases a DNV GL surveyor will not be required to travel to the vessel anymore. Instead, by using an online connection or video-streaming link, a dedicated team of remote surveyors can provide support to vessels anywhere in the world with documentation, images, video and input provided by the customer and crew.

“We are running the remote surveys through our popular DATE hubs,” Ørbeck-Nilssen explains. “This gives us consistency in how the surveys are handled, exceptional quality levels, and the ability to offer round-the-clock service anywhere in the world.”


Decarbonization and sustainability have become all the rage these days, and for good reason. To ensure a healthy planet for future generations, we must protect the environment and change the way we do things. Shipping has a big role to play in the transition to a decarbonized, more sustainable world.

Last year the IMO adopted a greenhouse gas (GHG) strategy to reduce total GHG emissions from ships by 50 percent in 2050 compared to 2008 levels and average carbon intensity (CO2 per ton-mile) by 40 percent in 2030 and 70 percent in 2050. Achieving such goals means the world’s fleet must rely on a broader range of fuels and adopt novel propulsion solutions and energy efficiency measures – a daunting challenge.

In response, DNV GL worked with Cargill and the non-governmental organization Rainmaking to help launch the global “CO2 Challenge.” Its aim is to search for and implement new technologies capable of reducing a ship’s gross carbon dioxide emissions by 10 percent or more. In addition, the company’s Maritime Advisory teams work with clients on how best to meet upcoming regulations, select the right fuel or hybrid option and configure vessel design and machinery placement to maximize efficiency.

Of more immediate concern, of course, is IMO’s 2020 regulation, and here DNV GL has taken the lead in providing guidance through its Alternative Fuels Insight (AFI) platform, an Alternative Fuels White Paper, LNG risk assessments, bunkering procedures, scrubber advisories and more. 

“Should you go with scrubber technology or with LNG as fuel or with other alternatives,” asks Ørbeck-Nilssen. “This is a very hot topic in the industry right now, which is why we give clients as much information as possible about the different alternatives and how you can best meet the regulatory requirements.”          

Managing Change

The biggest challenge is managing change, says Ørbeck-Nilssen. The company is already firmly established as a thought leader and innovator – not to mention its industry-leading size and scale – and is pioneering the transition to a much more digital class or what Ørbeck-Nilssen terms the “modernizing class” process.

“As the rate of change accelerates, we need to keep pace,” he says, “and we need people who are flexible and can adapt to changing circumstances. Even though we emphasize technology and innovation in our operations, it’s still very much a people business and about staying close to employees and customers. That’s why I travel so much and spend so much of my time on the road. I need to be close to the people.”

When asked what kind of leader he is, Ørbeck-Nilssen leaves no doubt: “Leadership to me is very much about setting the course, inspiring the people in the company, defining what the future holds and how we can really advance on that journey going forward. It’s about identifying the best strategic options for DNV GL. That’s really the focus of what I do. I’m not into micromanagement. When you’re running an international operation, the people in charge know much better how things can be implemented in China, say, than I do.”

It looks from here like the company is in good hands. “Safer, Smarter, Greener.” It’s a winning formula! – MarEx 

Tony Munoz is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Maritime Executive.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.