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What Is Green Shipping and How Does It Affect the Environment? – with tips on how you can contribute

Two people sending packages

The demand for domestic and international shipping is rising year-over-year and the ongoing pandemic has only exacerbated the issue. Thus, it is not surprising that the shipping industry is one of the biggest polluters and that the amount of damage done to the environment is increasing. On the other hand, shipping companies are actively looking into green shipping to combat the problem.

This article will explain what green shipping is, the technological advancements that enable it, and discuss the possible motivation behind companies going more green, before providing some tips on how individuals and business owners can contribute. However, we should first explain the effect shipping has on the environment as it stands right now.

What Is the Effect of Shipping on the Environment?

Shipping causes air, water, and oil pollution. While oil spills are most commonly associated with environmental disasters, they are relatively few and far between. The air and water pollution caused by the regular operations of the shipping industry is not as headline-grabbing, but potentially more damaging.

The discharge of ballast water has negative effects on aquatic ecosystems and can affect human health; on top of that, ships discharge wastewater and solid waste, while small oil leaks from engines and machinery mixed with bilge water also have detrimental effects.

Then, diesel engines used by ships often burn high-sulfide oil, causing air pollution. The Fourth Greenhouse Gas Study 2020 conducted by the International Maritime Organization found that the shipping industry was responsible for 2.89% of the world’s anthropogenic CO2 emissions, which is an increase from 2.76% in 2012 when the previous study was conducted.

In total, the shipping industry is one of the largest polluters as it stands right now, which is why many organizations and businesses are fighting to lessen the negative impact shipping has on the environment – which leads us to green shipping.

What Is Green Shipping?

Green shipping is the optimization of the energy and resource consumption needed to transport goods and people, with a focus on reducing greenhouse gases and other environmental pollutants.

This does not mean that ‘green shipping’ causes zero pollution, although almost-zero is the ultimate long-term goal, but that it lowers the negative effects shipping has on the environment as it currently stands.

Should Smaller Businesses Focus on Green Shipping Solutions?

At the end of the day, it is each business owner’s decision to make how much they care about the effects shipping has on the environment. However, there is a business factor you should consider if you own a company – the customers’ increasing demand for eco-friendly solutions.

A recent study conducted by Nielsen found that 81% of global consumers found it “extremely or very important that companies implement programs to improve the environment.” And this support for green solutions stretches across gender lines and generations.

Men and women are almost equally supportive – 80% and 81%, respectively, while only people aged 65+ showed less than 70% support – at 65% (which is still a large majority). All other generations were between 72% and 85% in support of environmentally-friendly solutions.

Thus, consumers are driving the shift towards environmental consciousness.

So, if your business delivers to its customers, it is becoming increasingly likely that they will start demanding green shipping solutions or patronize another business. Conversely, you can raise brand awareness and customer loyalty by emphasizing your brand’s environmental awareness.

How Technology Enables Green Shipping

Shipping emissions are largely caused by the high content of sulfur contained in fuel. Modern advancements have enabled the shipping industry to consider substitute fuel with lower sulfur content, such as low-sulfur fuel oil, liquid natural gas, and marine gas oil.

The International Maritime Organization instituted a new compulsory regulation in 2020, IMO 2020, which stipulates that the sulfur content in fuel oil used for ships cannot exceed 0.50% (lowered from the previous limit of 3.50%).

Thus, technological advancements and rising environmental awareness are enabling regulatory bodies to force shipping companies to lessen their environmental footprint and focus on greener solutions.

Do Shipping Companies Truly Care About Eco-Friendly Shipping?

While companies will avoid breaking laws and regulations that can have a detrimental effect on their company, it is debatable how much they truly care about the environment. Let us take Amazon as an example, as they are the largest online retailer outside of China.

Amazon has been publishing a sustainability report since 2018 that measures its carbon footprint, in part driven by demands from its consumer base. Its carbon footprint (CO2e measured in million metric tons) was 44.40 in 2018, 51.17 in 2019, and 60.64 in 2020. From 2019 to 2020, Amazon increased its CO2e output by 19%.

Effectively, that is the carbon emission of a small country. However, their carbon intensity has decreased from 128.9 grams of CO2e per dollar of gross merchandise sales in 2018 to 102.7 in 2020 – in simple terms, carbon intensity refers to how much carbon is emitted for every dollar that is spent on their website.

On top of that, Amazon has stated that it would like to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. So, even one of the largest polluters when it comes to private companies is taking steps to go green.

In any case, there is little reason in trying to figure out why a company may or may not try to go green when you have a simple solution to motivate them – vote with your wallet. The morality behind how large companies operate is debatable, but they will always be incentivized by profits.

How You Can Contribute

Besides choosing green shipping companies to transport your goods, there are a few simple steps you can take to reduce your carbon footprint, regardless of if you are a business that delivers to its customers or a private shipper.

Use Eco-Friendly Shipping Supplies

Eco-friendly packaging, such as corrugated cardboard boxes, is a good first step in going green. Packaging your items into recycled/recyclable or biodegradable containers will contribute to a cleaner environment and is often more cost-effective than using other types of materials.

Reduce Packaging Size

This boils down to using the right-sized boxes for your items. First, fewer materials are used for the box itself, causing less waste. Second, and more importantly, your items will take up less space in trucks or ships, allowing them to take on more cargo and ultimately lower fuel consumption.

You will also be reducing your dimensional weight and getting cheaper shipping rates in turn because dimensional weight is one of the main factors that carriers use to determine the price of shipping.

Promote Ground Shipping

Expedited shipping burns more fuel, as it is usually done by air. Shipping via land takes longer but is also cheaper and more eco-friendly. While some customers may not wish to wait for their packages, others could be fine with it. You could put the spotlight on slower, green shipping by land, and see how your customers respond.

Invite Your Customers to Reuse the Packaging

If you start using eco-friendly packaging, you can encourage your customers to either repurpose it or recycle it when they are done. Give them friendly tips and empower them to play a part in keeping the environment clean. Plus, this will definitely improve the brand loyalty of those customers who are concerned with sustainability.

Choose a Company that Optimizes Shipping Routes

If you choose Unival Logistics to ship your goods, we will make sure your packages travel via the best shipping routes. Not only will this ensure timely delivery and minimize the chance of your items getting damaged in transit, it will also reduce fuel consumption, contributing to a cleaner environment.

Besides offering end-to-end shipping solutions, you will be provided with full-value package insurance at premium rates, API integration if you run a business, and real-time tracking of your packages.

Contact us if you have any questions you would like answered.

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