Ships are fuel inefficient and we’re all part of the solution

90% of all goods sold have, at some point in their lives, spent time at sea.

Chris Pontet

1 Jun 2019

90% of all goods sold have, at some point in their lives, spent time at sea. This is because shipping goods by sea is straightforward, efficient and economical. This, however, hides the fact that the marine industry uses a lot of fuel and vessels are big polluters.

Logistics and supply chains

What will it take for the marine industry to take more action to increase operational efficiency with a view to reducing fuel use and therefore emissions? This is quite a separate issue to using cleaner fuels that, pound for pound, will, in themselves, lower emissions. Reducing the amount of fuel vessels use is always going to be a primary goal for vessel operators, just because they will spend less money on fuel. It will also be a critical factor in reducing emissions because not only is less fuel used, but regulations will make fuel cleaner.

What if retailers, the companies that are using vessels to transport their goods, started looking into their logistics and transport supply chains to see how green they are? These are big customers of the shipping industry and are likely to be an essential lever in driving the shipping industry towards greener operating credentials. Once they start to see the impact of the carbon footprint of the goods they sell on their corporate reputation, and have their customers using their purchasing power to select lower carbon footprint goods, things will change.


The operators of the most inefficient ships (the ones that pollute the most) will face severe competitive disadvantage and will start looking at how they can get back in the game. The operators will begin demanding the myriad technologies that will contribute to a cleaner, more efficient shipping industry.

Yes, the companies that produce the smartphones, the t-shirts, the cheap electrical goods, that are transported by sea will have a high-visibility opportunity to choose greener carriers, but how likely are they to actually use this leverage though? That question is linked to us – how willing are we, the end-consumers, to give up our apparent addiction to the cheap goods that rely on very low cost global supply chains?

A price to pay

It would be quite a wake up call for the industry, but we, the consumer, will need a similar wake up call. One that would have us accept that there’s a price to pay for a greener supply chain. I do wonder whether we, the consumers, can come to that agreement with ourselves.

We all have a part to play in helping to make the shipping industry greener – they cannot do it on their own.


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