Over the last half century, sustainability has emerged as a critical imperative for every industry, in every country. The maritime sector is no different. Known for its vital role in global trade, a paradigm shift towards greener practices across the industry is already firmly underway.
The concept of ‘green shipping’ is a transformative approach aimed at minimising the environmental impact of maritime operations by paving the way for a more sustainable future which prioritises the planet and its people – not just profit.
The term green shipping encompasses a range of strategies and technologies, which all share the common goals of:
- Reducing carbon emissions
- Minimising air and water pollution
- Promoting ecological balance
From adopting alternative fuels to optimising vessel design and implementing advanced energy management systems, businesses within the shipping industry are increasingly recognising the need to operate in an environmentally responsible manner. In this article, we examine green shipping in more detail, focusing on how sustainable the shipping industry currently is, before looking at how shipping can be made more sustainable in both the short and the long-term.
Is shipping sustainable?
In an era where sustainability is a high priority for businesses worldwide, an important question arises: Is shipping, a key pillar of global trade, truly sustainable?
Given that shipping is a critical enabler of the global economy, it faces a unique set of challenges when it comes to sustainability. The sheer scale of the industry means it accounts for a significant share of global greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and marine ecosystem disturbances as a result of:
- Vessels burning heavy fuels
- Maritime operations releasing emissions
- Ballast water discharge
- Vessel noise
Having said this, the shipping industry is not turning a blind eye to these challenges. In fact, it is actively tackling them. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has set ambitious targets, including a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2050 compared to 2008 levels. This and similar initiatives have galvanized the industry into actively developing and implementing sustainability measures. As a result, the shipping industry has made some notable strides towards sustainability. For example, the IMO’s implementation of the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) and mandatory use of low-sulphur fuels has resulted in a 40% decrease in the carbon intensity of international shipping between 2008 and 2018.
Also playing a pivotal role in reshaping the shipping landscape are technological advancements, such as:
- Vessel design, including optimised hull designs
- Hybrid and electric propulsion systems
- Energy management
- Advanced routing and navigation technologies
These innovations are simultaneously driving efficiency gains and reducing environmental impacts as they are increasingly adopted to enhance sustainability. Furthermore, the use of alternative fuels such as liquefied natural gas (LNG), as well as the exploration of biofuels, ammonia and hydrogen, is also gaining traction.
While progress is being made, it is essential to acknowledge the challenges that persist. Implementing sustainable practices in shipping requires significant investment, as well as overcoming regulatory complexities and operational barriers. In addition, the sheer scale of the industry poses a logistical challenge in monitoring and enforcing sustainability standards across the entire supply chain. So, while it is evident that the industry is confronting its environmental impact with regulatory measures, technological innovations, and collaborative efforts, the sector is still at the early stages of its transformative journey towards sustainability.
How to make shipping more sustainable
Let’s now highlight some of the initiatives and innovations capable of driving further positive change towards sustainability in shipping:
1. Embrace alternative fuels
Transitioning to low-carbon or zero-emission fuels is one of the most impactful ways to reduce shipping’s carbon footprint. Investing in, and encouraging the adoption of, alternative fuels could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.
2. Optimise vessel design and efficiency
Advanced hull designs, optimised propulsion systems, and integrated energy-saving technologies could lead to substantial fuel savings and emissions reductions, making vessels more environmentally friendly.
3. Embrace digitisation and data analytics
Shipping companies can use data, analytics, and software to optimise route planning, vessel performance, and cargo handling. By monitoring real-time data, they’re able to track fuel consumption management more precisely, in turn reducing inefficiencies and minimising environmental impact.
4. Improve port infrastructure and operations
Allowing ships to connect to onshore electricity instead of using their engines while docked, would reduce emissions and noise pollution. Similarly, developing ‘smart ports’ could streamline operations, minimise idle time, and lower carbon emissions.
5. Encourage collaboration
Further collaboration across the shipping industry would help create comprehensive sustainability standards, drive collective action towards common sustainability goals, and encourage the adoption of best practices.
Committed to enabling global trade and leading positive change, Clarksons recognises the importance of sustainability in the maritime industry. That is why we have taken steps towards a cleaner, greener future for all, such as:
- Being actively involved in green financing initiatives
- Providing insight and advisory services to clients navigating the evolving green shipping landscape
- Supporting renewable energy projects, including offshore wind farms
- Actively participating in conferences, forums and industry partnerships to drive sustainable practices in shipping
- Helping clients make informed, data-based decisions around sustainability by harnessing advanced analytics and digital technologies
What is the energy transition in shipping?
Let’s now turn our attention to the green transition, and explore what that means for the shipping industry. In the context of the maritime industry, the energy transition represents a significant evolution towards a more sustainable and environmentally responsible future. It encompasses several goals and initiatives, including:
1. Decarbonisation and emissions reduction
Shipping is responsible for approximately 2.3% of global CO2 emissions and the industry’s green transition aims to significantly reduce this by adopting cleaner fuels, improving vessel efficiency, and investing in innovative technologies.
2. Alternative fuels and energy sources
As part of the green transition, the shipping industry is exploring alternatives to traditional heavy fuels. Long-term, the development and widespread adoption of such fuels will be crucial in decarbonising the shipping sector.
3. Technological advancements
The green transition is driving significant technological advancements within shipping, all aimed at enhancing efficiency, reducing emissions, and optimising operations.
4. Collaboration and industry targets
Governments, shipping companies, regulatory bodies, and port authorities are working together to establish industry standards and guidelines for sustainable practices.
5. Regulatory and policy frameworks
To facilitate the green transition, governments and international bodies are implementing regulatory and policy frameworks that enforce emissions reduction and sustainability measures in shipping.
While the green transition undoubtedly presents significant challenges for shipping, by proactively embracing the energy transition, the industry can contribute to global sustainability goals and ensure a greener, more sustainable future for generations to come.