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State of Emissions in the Shipping and Freight Industry

In the industrial, digitally-driven world, it’s no surprise that nearly every industry contributes to rising carbon emissions.

From retail to manufacturing and everything in between, the fast-paced, consumer-centric business world faces sustainability challenges, especially as the climate change crisis becomes more pronounced.

The international shipping and freight industry contribute significantly to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. What does this year look like for the sector’s emission levels?

Shipping and Freight Emissions in 2023

Consumers and organizations are more concerned about the state of the environment than ever before as the adverse effects of climate change are starting to become more and more noticeable.

Melting glaciers, rising sea levels and temperature, severe natural disasters, and extended droughts are just some of the signs climate change is occurring.

While several industries in the economy are doing what they can to reduce their carbon footprint, the shipping and freight sector lags.

The industry is still making hefty contributions to GHG emissions — in a report called “The Fourth IMO GHG Study” from the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the shipping industry accounted for 2.89% of global emissions.

Although this is lower than other modes of transport, it is still a substantial number when considering that 80-90% of global trade is by sea.

IMO2020 cost impact GHG emissions shipping industry

Additionally, the report states total shipping emissions measured at 1,056 million metric tons. To put this figure into perspective, an individual’s global average carbon footprint in the United States is 16 tons.

How the Industry Can Become More Sustainable

While several business areas in the industry could become more sustainable, there is no “silver bullet” to reduce carbon emissions. But there are a few green initiatives that organizations can adopt to reduce pollution and benefit the environment.

Energy Audits

Shipping, freight, and logistics companies should first do energy audits for their fleets, assets, and operational facilities. An energy audit will highlight the areas of a company’s operations that could improve to be more sustainable. It helps to identify critical areas of operation where energy can be conserved and sustainable programs developed around the same.

An audit can help ship owners and operators determine the viability of using alternative fuels to power shipping fleets. The largest container ships in the industry are said to burn around 66 gallons of fuel per minute while traveling to their destinations. Instead of using fossil fuels, organizations can transition to cleaner fuels like natural gas, methanol or e-ammonia.

Update Vessels With Technology

After an energy audit, companies should invest in updating their fleets with the latest, most energy-efficient technologies. Future ships will be greener than ever, leveraging advanced equipment and incorporating sustainability into every aspect of operations while en route or stopped at a port. One example of new technology for ships is predictive maintenance.

Ship equipment and tech can have a longer lifecycle when predictive analytics allow employees to make necessary repairs promptly. Repairing vs. replacing is always a more sustainable option for businesses with physical assets.

Make Ships Lighter

Another way to reduce the shipping industry’s carbon footprint is to make ships more lightweight. New developments in shipbuilding materials allow vessels to be lighter on the water, reducing emissions and minimizing noise pollution.

For example, a composite material like fiber-reinforced plastic (FRP) could replace steel, reducing ships’ weight and lowering fuel consumption. Using FRP also extends a ship’s lifetime, meaning organizations can maintain business continuity and benefit from replacing vessels less frequently.

Building a Cleaner Shipping and Freight Sector

Recently, attitudes toward sustainability and the climate crisis have shifted dramatically. More and more companies are looking to adopt green business practices, implement efficient technologies, and cut back on energy consumption.

So far, it’s been challenging for the industry to decarbonize. With more time, the shipping sector could become greener, ultimately creating a sustainable future for upcoming generations.

About the Author

Jane Marsh is an environmental journalist and the Editor-in-Chief of She covers all things related to the environment, sustainability, and renewable energy. Jane has been featured on sites like Renewable Energy Magazine,, and Nation of Change. When she’s not writing, Jane loves hiking, canoeing, and spending time with her rabbit and birds.

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  1. Some of the carriers, such as DHL are offering carbon neutral delivery options. Obviously there is a surcharge for this, but it is available. I guess that more of the large carriers will move to electric vehicles and possibly drone delivery in the future.


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