Sir Bransons Climate Challenge to Sea Cargo Shippers- Carbon Accounting Successes & New Tools

7 Dec

In prior posts I have discussed the importance of transportation and logistics as critical elements in anchoring a sustainable supply chain (see separate posts here and here).  Last week I discussed the key linkages between supply chain sustainability and climate change.   No comes a bit of encouraging news from the Cancun Climate Summit (COP16), still in progress through this week.  A free internet database was announced over the weekend, the focus of which will list the energy efficiency of almost every ocean-going vessel, in a scheme designed to reduce shipping emissions by nearly 25%.  This effort is important not only because it recognizes shipping and transport as a backbone” of commerce, but because of the value of transparency in enhancing supply chain efficiencies.

“By eco-labelling clean and dirty ships, we hope to change the mindset in shipping and begin making gigaton-scale reductions in emissions,” said Peter Boyd, director of Carbon War Room.  The Carbon War Room was a co-founded by Sir Richard Branson.  Using publicly available data on the engine size and CO2 emissions of nearly 60,000 ships, exporters and importers, as well as holidaymakers on cruises, will be able to choose between ships that run on cleaner fuels and have other technologies designed to reduce environmental “loads”.

The initiative, called Shippingefficiency.org, rates ships on a scale from A to G in a similar fashion to ratings given to fridges or washing machines. According to the site, the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) ratings for an individual ship are calculated by assessing the values for that ship to overall average values for all ships of that type (e.g. bulk carriers) and to other ships of a similar size within this type. It will “allow supermarkets, oil and mining companies, food importers, retailers and manufacturers” to specify that their goods are sent from point to point by the least polluting ships.

The “Dirt” on Sea Shipping…

The shipping industry has been challenged for decades to find ways to efficiently deliver the majority of goods from point of manufacture to point of use.   Ocean transport carries more than 90 percent of the world’s traded goods and contributes between 3 percent and 4 percent of global emissions.  Shipping has been slow to address carbon emissions, choosing to focus on containment and control of other critical pollutants such as sulfur dioxide (SOx) and nitrogen oxides (NOx)[1]. According to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the UN body that governs shipping, the industry has an opportunity to make substantial money by reducing the first 250 million tons of its CO2e.[2]

Shipping has a number of inherent institutional issues that hamper demand for widely available fuel-efficient technologies.  For instance, the worlds shipping fleet has been driven for years by engines designed to burn the cheapest, dirtiest “bunker” fuel, passing on the cost. Nearly 15% of the world’s ships account for about half of all the industry emissions.  In addition, most shipping lines traditionally pass on most of the fuel costs to charterers, providing few incentives to build more efficient ships (often referred to as the “landlord and tenant scenario”).  In addition, shipyards worldwide always charge an often cost prohibitive premium to operators for new designs and technologies

Also, its shipping-attributed pollution can pose serious human and environmental health risks.  For instance, particulate matter emissions from ships have been reported to contribute to an estimated 60,000 premature deaths annually (with most deaths occurring near coastlines in Europe, East Asia, and South Asia), as reported in a 2007 study published in Environmental Science & Technology.

…and What the Industry is Doing About It

Mr. Branson’s announcement in Cancun adds another initiative to the increased attention being paid to the transport industry in managing pollutants, including greenhouse gas emissions. As I recently noted in a recent post on shipping and logistics, Inbound Logistics Magazine earlier this year released its Top 50 Green Partners listing earlier this year.  Eight of the companies and organizations listed were ocean carriers.  These appear to be true leaders in implementing improved operational practices designed to lower the environmental impact of their operations.

Also, back in the early 2000’s, the Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) launched the Clean Cargo Working Group (CCWG). The group consists of over 60% of the leading multinational manufacturers (shippers) and freight carriers and forwarders (carriers).  The group is dedicated to” integrating environmentally and socially responsible business principles into transportation management”.  Unlike the new EEDI rating, the CCWG methodology is the only existing standardized approach to calculate CO2 emissions for ocean going container vessels. The data is put in the form of emissions factors to enable shippers and liners calculate carbon emissions in a consistent manner.  This allows trade routes to be compared. In addition, the CCWG annually benchmarks member lines’ environmental performance, further increasing focus and reducing environmental footprint.

Other collaborative efforts that cover other transport modes include EPA’s SmartWay Transportation Partnership, Ecological Transport Information Tool, and the GreenShip Project.  Each of these and other transportation-focused groups have made strides in developing tools and methods for different parts of the sector.

Case Studies

Reducing emissions is technically feasible using current technology, and, in the case of efficiency measures to reduce fuel consumption, can contribute cost savings that make it economically attractive with appropriate financing of upfront costs. Of those emission reductions, the first approximate 25% of reductions could be achieved “profitability”, according to the IMO GHG Study.

Big Players Getting it Done: At a transportation conference convened this past summer by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Lee Kindberg of Maersk Lines (one of the top 50 Green Partners reported by Inbound Logistics) reported that “… vessels are becoming more energy efficient and reducing emission. This is due to technologies, operations, the speeds we operate at, and the vessel sizes as there definitely are economies of scale. …Since 2002 [Maersk] reduced our CO2 emissions per container per kilometer by 20% and set a goal of an additional reduction of 25% by 2020.  In addition Kindberg indicated that the company was switching to a distillate fuel instead of the heavy fuel oil, resulting in sulfur oxide emission reductions of 95%, particulate matter emission reductions by 86% and the NOx emissions reductions by 6% to 12% depending on the vessels.  Reducing ship speeds, reducing ship drag, or ballast water optimization and treatment systems has also increased ship efficiencies along with improvements in ship procedures, crew training and performance measurement using independent third party environmental certifications like ISO 14001.

The Little (Hybrid) Tug That Can: Major cargo seaports are also collaborating with companies to introduce new technology to comply with stricter air quality regulations.  The world’s first hybrid electric tugboat, Foss Maritime’s Carolyn Dorothy which works in Southern California’s San Pedro Bay at the Port of Long Beach, California, emits 73 percent less soot (tugs are known high soot contributors), 51 percent fewer nitrogen oxides and 27 percent less carbon dioxide than a standard tug of comparable size.  The tug also can claim improved fuel efficiency and a quieter operation, all contributing to a lower environmental footprint.

Conclusions/Food for Thought

This past weekend’s announcement at Cancun and the slew of industry cross-sector, multi-modal collaborations are encouraging.  Whether it’s sea shipping, air cargo, rail or road transport, all modes play a vital key to solving part of the climate change puzzle.  As Maersks Kindberg stated this year at the FHWA conference, “We have to keep in mind that it’s the total lifecycle footprint that matters. Transportation is often only a small part of the total …If you focus on improvements and actually incorporate the carbon impact into business decisions, you can actually make real progress on both and perhaps also improve your business.’

It’s clear that all the nodes of a supply chain (from design to manufacturing and from point of use to end of life) and all the modal components in between want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.  Businesses are stepping up to the challenge.

As we head into the final week of climate negotiations at Cancun, are the world’s climate negotiators up to the task?


[1]According to the Carbon War Room, the shipping industry is the largest emitter of NOx and is also one of the largest emitter of SOx.  It’s been estimated by the IMO that demand will increase, and CO2e emissions from ships will reach 18% of all manmade Greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 under “business as usual”.

[2] The IMO GHG Study 2009 estimates that eco-efficiency technologies could reduce CO2e emissions from shipping by between 25% and 75% with substantial monetary advantages.

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2 Responses to “Sir Bransons Climate Challenge to Sea Cargo Shippers- Carbon Accounting Successes & New Tools”

  1. Don Mitchel December 8, 2010 at 12:59 pm #

    Maybe if Mr. Branson went back on TV again offering prizes to go green, to the shipping industry they would decide to update emission in the same dry docking as they will need to install ballast water technology.

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