The truth about shipping.

In the year 2021, the effects of climate change, and the disastrous potential outcomes that will come about if we continue our ways of living, are becoming harder to ignore. As snow storms blow through normally warm climates, wildfires tear up countrysides, and floodwaters swallow up homes, our joint actions seem to be getting us nowhere. Today, the world emits about 50 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) a year. In 1990, it was only 35 billion tons. In just a little over 30 years, we’ve had an increase of more than 40%, and, with the constant release of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), our world is on a path of no return. But what causes these gas emissions, and how are they affecting our environment? 

TEXT  EKOM  @e.kommm

Carbon emissions and other gases are caused by the burning of fuels in the environment. As consumers, we are constantly engaging in methods that require the use of machines that burn fuels every minute of every day. The shipping process is a huge, but immensely commonplace  contributor in the role of the carbon emission process. In fact, with the current growth rates, by 2050, 10% of GHG emissions could be represented by shipping alone. While the global shipping network reeks its havoc on our earth, to many of us, this giant monster is practically invisible. So many of the things that we own have been transported thousands of miles to reach us, but how often do we give it any thought? 

What’s the harm?

Roughly 90% of world trade happens on giant container ships that consume over 300 tons of fuel daily, while also producing cancer and asthma inducing chemicals. Just one of these massive ships puts out an amount of pollution equivalent to almost 50 million cars. With an estimated 20 million shipping containers of varying sizes, it would only take 15 massive cargo ships to produce the same amount of emissions of all the cars in the world. Taking it a step further, CO2 emissions from airplanes are even worse, as they release the CO2 at high altitudes, straight into the atmosphere, causing even more damage. 

As the majority of the world resides inland, other shipping methods are required to be in constant action. A cell phone might travel on trucks, trains, and/or airplanes all to get to the manufacturers, retailers, and eventually to us – the consumers. This unsustainable method of production and distribution is only propelling us further into a future of irreversible climate change disasters.

What can be done?

As shipping is a necessary aspect of most businesses, and the system is entangled with the way humanity lives life in the 21st-century, this old fashioned industry has a huge impact on the planet and contributes heavily to global warming. Luckily there are ways for us to offset and reduce our carbon footprint, not only individually, but as a whole.

Maritime Companies

The Green Marine environmental certification program provides a framework for companies to recognize and reduce their environmental footprint.  In order to maintain their certification, these companies have to show improvement every year in measurable ways, ensuring that work is constantly being done. As well, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has been gradually expanding its environmental regulations. In 2020, they proposed a sulfur limit that would call for ships to produce almost 85% less sulfur by the end of 2021, and halve their total GHG emissions by 2050. Since companies must comply with new regulations, IMO’s  increasing standards have helped to jumpstart research and development of Eco-friendly technology to be utilized within the shipping industry.

A huge contributor of environmental pollution on ships comes from diesel engines which release carbon and other poisonous gases. In order to reduce these harmful emissions, the design of these machines must be upgraded. For a ship to be considered green, it needs to follow all rules and regulations related to environmental protection and conservation, and special attention needs to be given during this manufacturing and servicing processes. With new technology, green ships can start taking over the field and giving back to the Earth. These ships will be more efficiently designed to reduce the use of toxic materials during the ship building process, and instead of fueling with diesel they will use healthier alternatives like liquid natural gas (LNG).  

Manufacturers, Retailers, and Businesses

Organizations like the Carbonfund Foundation or Atmosfair offer carbon neutrality programs in an effort to balance the emissions of carbon dioxide with their removal or elimination from society, resulting in net-zero carbon dioxide emissions. These programs help businesses and individuals alleviate the impact of their shipping habits by offsetting their carbon footprint with carbon credits. These credits in turn help to fund the reduction of certain GHGs in other industries around the world. When shipping through organizations like these, climate friendly transportation is provided helping businesses to execute their climate policies.

Smaller businesses who use Shopify can use the Offset app to track the carbon footprint from their orders. The app will then charge for the amount of CO2 emitted each month, and those charges will go directly to carbon credits creating a lovely carbon neutral shipping option for their customers.

Overall, working with shipping companies that follow international environmental policies can be an extremely effective method when it comes to reducing the global carbon footprint. 


Understanding our own personal carbon footprint as consumers allows us to make better day-to-day decisions contributing to a greater positive impact on the environment. Simple acts such as buying locally when possible, carefully choosing what products we need rush delivered and which ones can wait, and being mindful of our carbon footprint in other areas of our lives, can offset our footprint when buying things that require shipping. 

When buying products online, it’s best to avoid any mistakes that would require you to return the item. What many people do not realize is that while it is a convenient perk to be able to purchase something and send it back, it can drastically increase the carbon footprint of an online sale. 

Why hasn’t there been more action?

While it is great that regulations are being put in place to lighten the carbon load, businesses are being left to play catch-up. Meeting the tighter regulatory requirements ends up being a financial drag on these companies as it costs more money to alter and evolve to meet these new guidelines. With traditional bunkers and high sulfur fuel oil being so cheap, ship owners see no economic benefit to switch fuel or build brand new ships.

To put it simply, going green is an investment that is not compelling to most business owners. The main cause for a lot of the change we have seen thus far has been due to regulation. With many of the industry’s reserves having been eliminated in the last few years, a lot of these businesses have lost the financing to go completely green. If countries could come together to build more eco-friendly vessels, programs, and agreements, then it could be a successful global effort to put more green ships out on the water and use more eco-friendly vessels to meet consumer needs.

It’s important to keep an eye out for businesses that offer eco-friendly shipping options, and as consumers we need to start advocating for these changes. We need to start openly inquiring about options that can be made available to us, and then push for their implementation! Individually doing what we can, where we can, may not on its own turn climate change on its head, but taking small steps, making wiser choices, and providing better options to consumers can reduce the impact on our environment and encourage others to do the same.

As it stands now, many estimate that we have about seven years left before irreversible damage has been done to our planet. For change to happen, we need to know how our daily actions contribute to this rapidly growing crisis at hand. Only then can we consciously take the necessary steps to decrease our carbon footprint.