A new report on supply chain emissions is quantifying the environmental impact of the international shipping that delivers the world’s big-box consumer goods—data that is normally omitted from corporate and national net-zero accounting.
“These retail giants’ dirty ocean shipping is fuelling the climate crisis,” said lead author Madeline Rose, climate campaign director for Pacific Environment. She told Grist the research is intended to pressure retail companies to push their shipping partners toward greener alternatives.
Despite their integral role in global consumerism, shipping networks go largely unnoticed by the public and many countries leave them out of national emissions plans, writes GreenBiz. Without the public pressure that drives changes like the electrification of road transport, corporate retailers have not been motivated to push for similar changes in the shipping industry. The new report, titled “Shady Ships: Retail Giants Pollute Communities and Climate with Fossil-Fueled Ocean Shipping,” aims to bring shipping emissions to the forefront of the conversation.
“Major polluting companies are hiding from the public the true amount of pollution they produce from shady, fossil-fuelled ships,” the researchers say in their report’s top findings.
Emissions data for shipping networks are murky and difficult to quantify in part because the global supply chain is a vast, tangled web of cargo carriers and companies dispersed across many countries, Grist explains. However, industry practices also help obscure public knowledge. Although digitization has made some information more available, much of the material is just impossible to track. Researchers “could only verify emissions for one-fifth of shipments by the [companies they studied], owing to a lack of data and the companies’ use of shell companies and franchises.”
At some point, 80% of all retail products are transported as ocean cargo, Grist adds. And each of the global shipping fleet’s 50,000 merchant vessels is powered by fossil fuels. All told, the shipping industry accounts for 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
“The researchers behind the analysis have concluded that 15 major U.S. companies, including Ikea, Target, Walmart, Amazon, Home Depot, Nike, and Samsung, produced roughly 12.7 million tonnes of CO2 through their shipping freight emissions in 2019, roughly equivalent to the annual emissions of three coal-fired power plants,” writes GreenBiz.
Pacific Environment is now appealing directly to major retailers to shift to greener shipping alternatives and pledge 100% zero-emission shipping by 2030. Existing technologies that carriers can use to reduce shipping emissions include slow steaming practices and wind-assisted propulsion technology, GreenBiz says.