Back in Australia when I was working for the Sustainability Advantage program of the New South Wales Government, I developed a deeper understanding of the social and environmental impacts of shipping, freight, and transport in general. Of course I already knew some basics: the international environmental legal quagmire of the seas (see a previous blog post on the subject), and that it is carbon intensive due to the use of fuel.

What I had underestimated was the complexity with which the carbon footprint for a single delivery actually was calculated. How much space did the package take in the truck? Did it go part or all the way in a whole journey? How accurate was the mileage logging? What is the integrity of the data from small-scale subcontracted couriers? What was the carbon intensity of the truck given the fuel it was using? What is the business case for transitioning the fleet towards less carbon intensive vehicles? To what extent should the return trip back to the warehouse be included in the calculation? What are the energy (carbon) savings opportunities of the warehouse? How do fuel efficiency standards incentivise or discourage reducing a carbon footprint? How good and reliable are biofuels? To what extent does technology need to change to enable them to perform as well as fossil fuels? How do you know what sea route the shipping company will take in order to estimate the carbon footprint? Do you include contrails in the carbon footprint calculation for air freight? AND I COULD GO ON.

So I “toot my horn” and “fly the flag” for any company that achieves progress in this space. And there were a couple of good signs in the month of March that I would like to highlight, albeit belatedly.

CMA CGM, Port of Rotterdam, IKEA – first biofuel filled container ship

Reported in GreenBiz (via Business Green), CMA CGM, Port of Rotterdam, and IKEA formed a partnership under the GoodShipping Program to fuel the first container ship with biofuel. This will reduce carbon emissions by 90 percent, and drastically reduce the sulphur dioxide pollution that is so common in the shipping industry. Interestingly, it will also “offset” the carbon footprint of IKEA given they paid for part of the project. However, I hope they know their greenhouse gas accounting and reporting rules properly, because while that sounds good, it does not sound like a verified carbon offset.

Etsy – all carbon emission from shipping to be offset

In early March I read in Environmental Leader (also covered in GreenBiz) that Etsy, the B-Corp certified online marketplace for creative entrepreneurs, committed to offsetting 100 percent of its carbon emissions from shipping. This would apparently represent 98 percent of Etsy’s total footprint, and cost them “less than US$1 million annually”. Importantly, this is not an option for customers, it is automatically done and at no extra cost.

Amazon – a net zero plan for 2030 called “Shipment Zero”

I am cheating with this one because it was announced in February: Amazon’s launch of its “Shipment Zero” program. The headline grabber is that it wants 50 percent of its shipments to be net carbon zero by 2030. While the number 50 percent is nothing in comparison to the 90, 98, and 100 numbers thrown in the previous cases, net zero is the big deal. And for a company as enormous as Amazon, it could be a game-changer. While Environmental Leader was light on details, a suite of solutions including “electric vehicles, aviation biofuels, reusable packaging and renewable energy” was mentioned, as well as bringing freight and logistics in-house, and inventing new ways with its engineers, product designers and scientists.

The key take-away

In my opinion, if there is one thing to take away from this article it is not necessarily that we as sustainability professionals should now be turning to this daunting part of our Scope 3 footprint that is so complex to impact. It is the motivational aspect; we actually can make a difference, we can make an impact, on these incredibly complex sustainability issues. YES WE CAN. To those trying to create drivers for sustainability in a developing market that just struggles to move beyond seeing CSR as just PR, there is hope. To the mattress recycling projects, the circular economy/industrial ecology communities trying to get up and running, to the investment analysts that understand ESG reporting to old fashioned managers that just do not get it… To all those complex and immense sustainability issues: we can do it.

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