Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Shipping underpins shopping


Last week, May 6th 2014, one of the world’s largest retailers, Tesco, announced it was making greater use of sea transport to reduce emissions. Tesco calculates that bringing goods directly from Gdnyia to Teesport by sea and reducing its road transport by 80% had saved the company €418 000.

So, was it “emissions reduction” that prompted Tesco to shift modalities, or de-congesting Europe’s roads, or the impact to its financial bottom line. I suspect the latter. Because no matter how hard we wish for environmental solutions to take hold they only do so when there is irresistible imperative and money is king among reasons to effect radical change.

We know shipping is the most carbon efficient mode of commercial transport but we also know that growth in world trade will lead to shipping’s contribution to emissions increasing disproportionately with other industry sectors, like retail, where high profile commitment to emission reduction is a part of an overarching long-term strategy. 


Emission reduction commitments are made not for ‘greenwash’ purposes but to reduce corporate exposure to risk. Carbon emission comes from burning fossil fuels which are subject to increasing price / availability uncertainties. No matter how hard we wish they weren’t. 

Reducing dependency on fossil fuels, by switching to low carbon options, like shipping, makes sense. Switching from fossil fuels to locally sourced secure supply of renewable fuels makes double sense. BA announced last week it was trialling waste-derived fuels for its aircraft fleet. Were it to be successful air freight would topple sea freight from its “most carbon efficient” pedestal in the flash of a wing. The shipping sector needs to look beyond efficiency savings, where particularly on short-sea routes, savings can be marginal at best and begin a realistic analysis of the potential of renewable fuels.

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