How green is the shipping industry really?

In celebration of the annual Go Green Week we decided to take a look at the shipping industry and consider just how green it really is...
How green is the shipping industry really?

9th - 15th of February is organisation, People and Planet's Go Green Week, set up to raise awareness and demand stronger action to tackle the climate crisis. Here in the shipping industry, we’re certainly trying our best to be more environmentally friendly. But how far have we actually got, and is it enough?

On a wider scale, shipping has got an image problem. To those who know little about the industry, the thought of it likely conjures up images of huge steel structures, noxious gases and infamous oil spills. Not to mention the whales killed in shipping lanes and the almost constant focus on invasive species distribution (via ballast water systems).

However, when you look a little closer, it’s clear that the industry is really trying to clean up its act.

A long, hard road

Over the last 15 to 20 years, shipping has made great strides in being kinder to the world. Despite the huge increase in oil cargos, oil spills have become few and far between. Ship owners and operators are generally on board with reducing emissions (like NOx and SOx), plus forward thinking companies are coming up maritime architecture which is more fuel-efficient than anything ever seen before (although that has as much to do with money as it does with the environment).

Yet shipping is still striving for the perfect balance. Last year, the IMO published a study estimating that global shipping emitted 796 million tonnes of CO2 in 2012. This is in comparison to the 2008 report, which put that figure at 885 million tones, which is 2.8 percent of the total. And there’s still work to be done. The IMO would like to see that number reduced by 20 percent in the next five years and by 50 percent come 2050.

Despite all our good intentions, there are still barriers to shipping tackling its environmental issues. And generally it revolves around money. Part of the problem with the shipping industry going green is found in the cost. For many ship owning and operating companies being eco-friendly is just too pricey.

In a report published in October 2014 by IMarEST, over 88% of maritime professionals surveyed believed that the Green Agenda could impact business and act as a success factor, but 78% thought that the industry lacked viable options for being more environmentally friendly. The general consensus in that report was that companies won’t invest in going green unless forced or given financial incentives.

But while this might be true for some it’s not the case for all. In fact, it could be argued that those looking for instant cash gratification are missing the bigger financial prospects.

The drive to go green isn’t quite as terrible for the shipping industry’s wallet as it may at first seem. Instead if actually offers opportunities to savvy investors, and according to Forbes, is also already ramping up M&A activities among businesses specialising in clean shipping technology, a growing subsection of the industry.

At no time has the maritime sector’s desire to invest in sustainability been more obvious than when Rolls-Royce expressed interest in taking over Wärtsilä, a company which is committed to creating environmental solutions such as scrubbers, which remain a particularly lucrative product in the industry. In fact, Marine & Energy Consulting stated in 2014 that the sector will spend about $15 billion on scrubbers by 2025. As an example, Alfa Laval recently announced that it has seen increased demand for its PureSOx scrubber system in 2014, with orders expected to increase throughout 2015 and beyond.

Taking green tech to the next level

The great sustainability push is also causing a fuss in ship design. Companies, particularly start-ups, are coming up with futuristic new ideas, with modern wind propulsion systems getting a good look in. Consider the Vindskip (which we wrote a whole article on), or Lotus, a steel sail designed by Ocius Technology that could be retrofitted on to 6,100 bulk carriers over 10,000 dwt. The Lotus could reduce fuel consumption by 20 - 40 percent, the Vindskip by 60 percent.

Technology will certainly pay a large part in improving shipping’s eco-credentials. And big ship owners are leading the way. Waste heat recovery systems are just one solution that will help drive down energy and fuel use. Maersk Line’s Triple-E ships emit 20 percent less carbon dioxide per container moved compared to the most energy efficient container vessels operating today.

While outwardly there may seem like a lack of incentive to go green, with eco designs and solutions providing fuel savings, doesn’t it make sense that the shipping industry gets on board in a big way?

The shipping industry is definitely on its way to being green, but there’s still a way to go. And how we get there is debatable.

What’s the final step in becoming truly sustainable? Well, that depends on who you ask. Some would say there’s no way shipping can be sustainable until the cost to do so is reduced. Others would say that sustainability would have to be forced upon the industry for it to make any serious changes. But both of these beliefs seem incredibly cynical and pessimistic. Don’t most people, deep (sometimes deep, deep) down want to change things for the better?

That’s what organisations like the Sustainable Shipping Initiative are betting on. SSI believes that coming together will be what truly makes the sector change. Without industry collaboration, shipping’s progress will continue to stumble and fail. Speaking to The Guardian, Helle Gleie, previously director of SSI summed it up perfectly by saying: “Going it alone will only ever get the industry so far.”

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by Laura Stackhouse

readmt.com Editor

Laura Stackhouse is the Web Editor of readmt.com, an official publication of the International Marine Purchasing Association (IMPA). To discuss news, features or contributing to readmt.com please get in touch.

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