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  • Writer's pictureKatreena Sarmiento

Green Shipping: What it is & Why is it important

Updated: Jul 5

Since the steamship was first invented in the 19th century, seaborne trade has been the foundation of the worldwide economy. Nowadays, 90% of global trade is transported by sea. Despite it being largely overlooked by most civilians, it is our society’s lifeblood.

However, the shipping industry can present environmental liabilities as it consumes 300 million tons of fuel annually. Nearly 3% of global CO2 emissions come from this industry alone. Compared to road transportation’s whopping 17%, this might seem like a smaller number.

Still, there are ways to further reduce the shipping sector’s impact. Climate change is in full effect, and every single action from individuals, corporations, organizations, and governments matters.

The good news is that the shipping sector is aware of its ability to change its impact on the environment, and they’re more than willing to take the lead. In fact, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) aims to cut the sector's overall greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2050.

Enter green shipping.

What Is Green Shipping?

Green shipping advocates using more environmentally friendly methods to enforce emission control and contribute to more effective voyage planning, port management, and equipment management.

The shipping industry as a whole—including the regulators, port authorities, and communities—must put up a tremendous amount of effort to move this forward.

Today, the phrase "green shipping" is often used as a blanket term to refer to the transition shipping businesses are making towards environmentally friendly and sustainable methods.

It may sound like a marketing tool to attract customers, but it truly is more than that. Green shipping is important because it

  1. Reduces shipping inefficiencies through logistical and operational streamlining

  2. Improves fuel efficiency per trip per transport

  3. Gives businesses a selection of methods that generate fewer carbon emissions

  4. Uses alternative fuels and energy sources for transportation

  5. Uses recommended driving best practices for fuel efficiency, etc.

What Are The Green Solutions Implemented By Shipping Companies Nowadays?

Some strategies shipping companies are currently using to successfully attain their sustainability goals and contribute to fighting climate change are:

1. Environmentally-Safe Ports

Around the world, several ports are taking steps to adopt green technologies, improve sustainability, and lower their carbon footprint. Progressive container terminals are taking the lead when it comes to environmental stewardship by reducing the release of effluents, pollutants, and trash while conserving resources like water and energy.

Some other initiatives shipping companies have implemented to achieve carbon neutrality include adopting hybrid technology and switching to rubber tyred gantry cranes. Another notable development is the reduction, reuse, and recycling of the resources used in terminal operations.

2. Improvements To Fuel Oil

For more than half a century now, the majority of the marine industry's seagoing vessels have been powered by heavy fuel oil (HFO).

This kind of gasoline is readily available and affordable, but it's also quite "dirty" because it contains a lot of sulfur and other contaminants. However, as a result of laws put in place by the IMO, owners and operators of the global commercial marine fleet are now required to switch to gasoline or alternative fuel with a far reduced sulfur content.

One of these is liquefied natural gas or LNG. Using it as a fuel will significantly lower SOx and NOx and reduce CO2 by 20%. Green hydrogen is also an alternative fuel, as it uses hydro and wind to create clean, renewable energy.

3. Fuel Optimization Systems

Another welcome addition to the maritime industry’s growing list of remarkable solutions is sophisticated fuel optimization systems.

These systems are designed to collect data from numerous sensors on the ship as well as from embedded trackers and satellites. They can then analyze the data and make recommendations regarding optimal economy, thereby reducing fuel usage.

4. Eco-Friendly Shipping Technologies

More and more innovative green technologies have been created in the hopes of significantly minimizing any negative effects the shipping industry may have on the environment at large.

These include much more efficient engines and better water cooling systems that will significantly reduce a ship’s impact on the environment. Additionally, shipbuilders are now outfitting vessels with integrated solar panels that would save a significant amount of fuel and thereby minimize harmful emissions.

Furthermore, innovative propellers have the capacity to save a significant amount of fuel. The speed injector is another revolutionary innovation that increases efficiency at greater speeds.

5. Ballast Water Management

When carrying no cargo, large container ships use water as ballast to maintain their stability. It lessens stress on the hull, stabilizes the ship, aids in maneuvering, and enhances propulsion. The water pushed into the ballast serves the ship in many ways, but it also becomes a habitat for bacteria, germs, larvae, cysts, and other species.

When cargo is put into a ship, the water is drained out at the port, and the newly bred organisms enter the aquatic ecosystem as aliens, infecting it and posing risks.

The International Ballast Water Convention finally persuaded the IMO to regulate ballast water management after years of lobbying. As of September 2017, this applies to all ships, wherever they are in the world.

To adhere to the IMO's green shipping plan, Maersk selected Wärtsilä's Ballast Water Management System (BWMS) for three brand-new, 50,000 DWT tankers that were constructed in China. Using BWMS, the water is first filtered to remove silt and microorganisms. Then, it uses medium-pressure UV lamps or hypochlorite to disinfect it.

6. Reduce Empty Containers

In the shipping industry, it’s a known fact that every third container is transported empty. The thing is that this costs the shipping industry an annual loss of nearly $20 billion due to storage fees, handling fees, and low utilization charges.

With at least 6.4 million TEUs relocated per year, this amounts to 12,243,200 kg of CO2 solely in empty containers. While internal corporate inefficiencies account for 1/3 of the issue, trade imbalances account for 2/3 of it.

Enter companies like Container xChange. They connect 300+ container owners and users to avoid empty container moves. Carriers work together with other businesses, share their containers with them, and move them from surplus to deficit locations.

Moving Toward A More Sustainable Shipping Future

In an effort to offer their customers the most environmentally friendly shipping alternatives possible and comply with the IMO’s goals, shipping companies are making every effort to switch to green shipping techniques.

With the right methods and technologies, companies can ensure that their shipping operations are as effective as possible and minimize their environmental impacts.

For more insightful articles about sustainability, check out SDG Monitor’s blog!

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