Our Blog


August 4, 2022


min. read

Greenhouse Gas Emissions and the Shipping Industry: Introducing our free CO2 Calculator

We’re proud to introduce Logward's first freebie feature: a simple CO2 calculator that enables a quick comparison of route and transport mode options. We’ll dive into the calculator itself below, but first we wanted to take a look at the context.

The shipping industry accounts for anywhere between 2 to 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions. (World Economic Forum) At more than 1 billion tons annually, this is more than the entire country of Germany. In spite of growing awareness and improvements in technology, emissions from maritime transport are expected to grow alongside global trade in the coming years.  

This represents a massive challenge for our customers and the industry in general: How to grow and reach new markets while reducing our environmental impact, or at least without worsening it?

While we recommend hearing it from the dedicated experts on this topic (links below), from our perspective we see several steps the industry, and our customers, can take to start making progress.

Crivitz, Wisconsin by Dave Hoefler
Crivitz, Wisconsin by Dave Hoefler

Maintain and Improve Vessels

Carriers should be encouraged to continue upgrading their fleets with more efficient propulsion, maintaining hull and propeller conditions, and experimenting with and adopting new technologies such as LNG or even Hydrogen-fuelled vessels. So far the results of such efforts appear mixed (BBC), although this is typically the case with new technologies. Worryingly, during the 2010s, many carriers upgraded to more efficient vessels, but overall emissions went up. Case in point, efficiency per unit of transport for general cargo ships improved by 5% from 2013 to 2015, but overall emissions from the class increased by 9%. (ICCT) In addition to seeing more cargo traffic, one factor was that all things being equal, as vessels become more efficient, carriers increase their cruising SOG (speed over ground). Under normal conditions, carriers will “slow-steam” to reduce fuel costs and emissions, but as efficiency improved between 2013-2015, SOG for large container vessels increased by 11% as it made traveling faster financially feasible. This suggests that improvement will not come from advances in technology alone, and that carriers will understandably require a combination of incentives and market pressure. The International Maritime Organization (IMO), a UN special agency responsible for governing the industry, has begun to apply pressure to reduce emissions of sulfur and establish targets for overall greenhouse gas emissions. (IMO and JOC) While the IMO and other industry organizations are playing an increasingly active regulatory role, as discussed below, market forces are not yet as strong as they might be.

Increase operational efficiency

Shippers, forwarders, and carriers alike can play an important role through better planning and increased collaboration. A lack of visibility and predictive capabilities can cause shippers and forwarders to split what could be full container loads on a single vessel into several partially filled containers on several vessels. For example, one forwarder estimated that in 2018, their average FCL container was 68% full on the Transpacific Eastbound trade. (Flexport) Similarly, shippers who are unable to adequately match inventory and production timing to demand are oftentimes forced to use an even more environmentally and economically costly alternative, air freight. Meanwhile, trade imbalances on routes such as the TransPacific (nearly 10M TEU in 2017) cause vessel capacity utilization and empty container repositioning problems for carriers. (Zhao, Xue, & Zhang) In the coming years, we look forward to efforts by industry players and new entrants that provide greater visibility and planning capabilities by unifying stakeholder data sets and removing communication barriers. In one example at Logward, our Control Tower setup enabled our customer to reduce dependence on airfreight by 85%, while in another case our structuring and analysis of historical data identified the potential to consolidate up to 40% of pre and main-carriage shipments for a global shipper. Make no mistake, improving supply chain operational efficiency represents a challenge for any company, small or large. Yet given that improvements here typically correspond to gains in economic outcomes and customer service, we’re confident that progress will be made, especially knowing how many great and motivated companies are tackling the issue.

Make data-based freight procurement decisions

Very few companies know or measure their CO2 output from logistics. Our 2020 survey showed that only 38% percent of shippers know the CO2 impact of a given transport. While there certainly is benefit to “logic based decisions," ie, the longest route likely consumes the most fuel, reduction of CO2 cannot truly be tackled until the stakeholders are more aware of the facts. The best way to measure CO2 output would be to know actual fuel consumption, and while there are initiatives driven by IMO and others to achieve this, for a variety of reasons we are some way away from having this information widely available. Until then, calculators like ours can provide an imperfect alternative, taking into account distance and speed travelled, mode, vessel-type, and more. Not only does this help shippers to perform internal analysis down to a SKU level and report to investors and consumers alike, it also can be used to drive decision-making. If a certain carrier is underinvesting in new vessels or routinely travels at higher speeds, shippers can “speak with their dollar” by choosing competitors, thereby incentivizing the technological and operational changes mentioned above. Of course, this also requires a willingness on the part of shippers to incorporate CO2 impact alongside other considerations such as cost and transit time when choosing a schedule and carrier. Yet, if and when CO2 offsetting and decarbonizing become more widespread, and shippers must pay for it, the motivation to improve accuracy will grow.

Our Calculator

It is on this last point where we are happy to say our free CO2 calculator can play its small part by providing easy access to a well-to-wheel calculation of CO2, regardless of transport mode. Publicly available on the webpage, our tool considers route (distance), mode, vehicle and fuel type, and more, and relies on "emission factors,” which are trade specific CO2 estimates based on verified carrier reporting to the Clean Cargo Working Group. Powered by EcoTransIT, our calculator is built on a GLEC (Global Logistics Emissions Council) approved methodology supported by scientists and industry associations like BSR.

For customers using our Transport Cloud for route planning and procurement, we also use the same methodology to provide an estimated CO2 output for the suitable options. Once they move into actually booking a transport, we carry this CO2 information through to the end and include it in our dashboards and performance statistics, enabling analysis of CO2 by SKU, geography, business unit, and more.

Our calculator is far from perfect, but it is a start. In this way, we hope Logward can help our customers and the wider industry confront this generational challenge. After a hectic 2020, this might feel like the wrong moment to add another item to the to-do list. Yet we prefer to see 2021 as the perfect time to strengthen our commitment to big goals. Like tackling the generational challenge of reducing the environmental impact of shipping, for one.

CO2 Calculator report
CO2 on the all important Hamburg, Germany to Green Bay, Wisconsin route.

Sources, Experts, and Companies

Some Groups, Companies and Experts tackling these issues:

Sources used in this article:

Source 1 - World Economic Forum: Here’s how we can reduce shipping industry emissions and How the Shipping Industry Can Go Carbon Free

Source 2 - BBC: Why are we building gas-powered ships?

Source 3 - International Council on Clean Transportation: GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS FROM GLOBAL SHIPPING, 2013–2015

Source 4 - IMO - Initial IMO GHG Strategy

Source 5 - Journal of Commerce: IMO 2020 marks the beginning, not end, of low-emissions quest

Source 6 - Flexport: Filling Up Underutilized Ocean Containers with OceanMatch

Source 7 - Zhao, Xue, & Zhang: Empty Container Repositioning Problem with COEmission

Source 8 - Clean Cargo Working Group (BSR) Emission Factors: BSR Clean Cargo Emissions Report 2020

Logward is a Hamburg & Bangalore based logistics technology company.

We build software, move containers, and change mindsets.

If you have any questions or just want to say hi, reach out to mail@logward.com. Or you can book time with one of our logistics experts here.

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