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Diane Bailey’s Blog

Green Strides at the World's Largest Shipping Company

Diane Bailey

Posted March 28, 2013 in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment

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Earlier this month, Maersk Shipping Lines, the largest container shipper in the world announced major cuts in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions planned for its fleet of container ships.  The Danish company had already proven itself as a green leader by using low sulfur marine fuel long before it was required.

Maersk is making another bold move, purchasing fuel efficient ships that save 35 percent of fuel per container shipped relative to other new ships, and emit 50 percent less CO2 relative to the industry average.  The new “Triple E Class” container ships pull this off by carrying more containers - with a capacity to carry 9,000 forty foot containers – and by operating at lower speeds.  These ships also include improved engine and hull designs and waste-heat recovery to boost environmental performance.

With this effort, Maersk is set to meet its CO2 reduction goals for 2020 early, cutting 25% of CO2 emissions per container moved (relative to 2007 CO2 emission levels).  The kicker is that many of the CO2 reduction efforts save money because they save fuel.  Efficiency efforts saved Maersk $1.6 billion in fuel costs last year.  Without that savings, the company wouldn’t have made its $461 million profit for the year.

Pollution from the shipping industry is associated with roughly 60,000 additional mortalities each year.  This sector contributes an estimated 15 percent of global nitrogen oxide pollution and up to 8 percent of global sulfur oxide pollution.  GHG emissions from shipping accounts for at least three percent of the global inventory and some sources indicate that this may be under-estimated.  If these figures don’t pop out at you, see the video and imagery from NASA satellites here, showing trails of pollution along international shipping lanes.

If all of the major shipping lines followed the example set by Maersk, not only could they save money on fuel costs, they would make a significant dent in global shipping pollution and the related health impacts facing coastal communities.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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