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Written by Owain JonesMBA in Sustainability student at University of Saint Francis

It is obvious that doing the little things to become sustainable, like reducing energy and paper consumption and trash reduction, can be very rewarding and cost relatively little to implement. However, what about the major operations that can end up costing billions of dollars to implement substantial sustainability initiatives in their sector? The transportation sector has been able to implement more fuel efficient vehicles in their fleets to help reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, but there is still an even bigger energy user that may be commonly overlooked.

Almost all consumer goods are shipped from their manufacturing origin to their destinations by overseas shipping, something many may not usually think about. As you recall these massive shipping vessels, you may clue in to how much fuel it may take to transport those thousands of shipping containers processed at ports around the US a day. This then represents a very massive area of human existence that is extremely unsustainable.

As with many of the sustainability problems, this one does have solutions that have been developed through modern technology to create more sustainable overseas shipping. However, it is not as simple as rerouting your trash to the recycle. The Chairman of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), Masamichi Morooka, recently explained in this article that making shipping vessels more sustainable with the proposed technologies would cost shipping companies hundreds of billions of dollars. When coupled with the current economic climate, these costs are something that these companies can simply not fathom. Not to mention that fact that many of these companies are already drowning in debt.

The current growing, and awesome, push of sustainability by the public may influence lawmakers to implement regulations that require ships to be more sustainable. This then poses the risk of completely bankrupting shipping companies and rattling the trade market of the world, forcing goods to be transported in even less fuel efficient manners, according to Morooka. So, is the only solution to hope that overseas shipping becomes more economically stable and then companies can afford to become more sustainable? Well hopefully not, as there has to be some medium found that can satisfy the companies’ bottom lines and the need for sustainability. Possibly, there can be one player in this industry that sees the potential savings of being sustainable in the long term, and the generous public outlook on good corporate social responsibility, and absorb some of the costs of upgrading their fleet of vessels to be more sustainable. In a perfect world, this may lead to a snowball effect in world trade to create something more sustainable. Only time will tell and Morooka’s deposition of the importance of the environment will definitely help.

Resources:

Shipping 2013 Conference