How can shipping become more sustainable

14 April 2020

Container shipping has an enormous environmental impact. According to the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), global shipping is responsible for about 3% of global carbon dioxide emissions—by 2050, it may account for an astonishing 17% as trade grows in volume and scale. With globalisation entrenched and demand for international products only growing, shipping could have a catastrophic impact unless action is taken now.


Demanding better

The customers and financiers themselves have a role to play. Banks, insurers and other organisations are increasingly open to the idea of ensuring their long-term investments—container ships have lifespans in excess of 25 years—are compatible with green targets and decarbonisation, and therefore futureproofed. They can help drive change by making their investments contingent on assurances that ships keep to strict environmental standards.

Furthermore, customers of freight and shipping companies, from retailers to governments, have a responsibility to demand better environmental standards from their clients and partners, and commit themselves to a reduction in the carbon dioxide output of their shipping and logistics operations. For many organisations, the positive impact this has on their brand reputation is reason enough.


Technological solutions

Technology is at the heart of the drive towards sustainable shipping. Firms are developing greener fuel solutions—particularly a shift away from heavy fuel oils to natural gas and biofuels—battery systems and ship electrification to reduce the carbon impact of shipping; ships can also make use of exhaust gas recirculation to recirculate a portion of gas emissions back into the engine, or scrubbers that remove dangerous particulates.

Meanwhile, systems like telematics can measure, send and receive information about the movement, speed and performance of vehicles in order to optimise it for better fuel efficiency. This means operators can make smart decisions about the speed and route of their ships, taking into account various external factors like weather. Sensors and big data are a big part of this, and as these become more sophisticated, operators will be able to make—and indeed automate—even better decisions.


Changing infrastructure and ship design

Smart ports play a big role, too. This intelligent infrastructure significantly lowers turnaround times, meaning ships spend less time out at sea waiting for spaces to open up, which in turn has big consequences for carbon emissions.

Furthermore, shipping firms should adopt eco-efficient ship designs that facilitate better energy usage and improve aerodynamism for greater fuel efficiency. This could mean better-designed engines, propellers and hulls, as well as biocide-free paint that keeps hulls free of marine organisms and improves fuel efficiency by an astonishing 9%. This can be paired with sustainability best practice like slow steaming, deliberately slowing a ship to reduce its emissions.


Learn more at Intermodal Asia 2020

Intermodal Asia hosts an extensive programme of expertise and thought leadership. Sustainability is a key theme running throughout, with separate conference streams dedicated to “Smart & Sustainable Ports & Terminals”, “China Container Industry Sustainable Development Forum” and the new technologies, solutions and ideas promoting and shaping sustainable shipping. Tickets are free, and with this level of expertise contained under one roof, essential.