Environmental NGOs Highlight Retailers as Top Maritime Polluters

emissions from retailers imports on containerships
(file photo)

Published Jul 20, 2021 4:22 PM by The Maritime Executive

In a new effort to pressure the shipping industry to accelerate its efforts to improve the environmental performance of large containerships, two environmental NGOs issued a new report which they say “exposes the environmental and public health impacts of retailing companies’ reliance on fossil-fueled maritime shipping to bring products into the United States.” The groups Pacific Environment and Stand.earth, are focusing on the retail industry, including Walmart, Ashley, Target, Home Depot, Ikea, and Amazon, as the top maritime polluters as the NGOs launch a new campaign calling for the carriers and their customers to stop moving commerce on fossil-fueled ships.

“Just fifteen companies are responsible for emitting millions of tons of pollution from importing their goods into the United States on fossil-fueled ships,” according to a study released today by the two NGOs. They accuse the major companies of “hiding from the public the true amount of pollution they produce,” from the shipping industry. In addition to the large retailers, they are also highlighting food companies including Dole and Chiquita, electronic manufactures Samsung and LG, as well as Nike as being top import polluters.

By cross-referencing a comprehensive set of cargo manifests with a dataset on individual ship emissions, the NGOs said that researchers were able to estimate the pollution associated with each unit of cargo on discrete shipping routes and, for the first time, assign those emissions to retail companies. 

“Major retail companies are directly responsible for the dirty air that sickens our youth with asthma, leads to thousands of premature deaths a year in U.S. port communities, and adds to the climate emergency. We are demanding that these practices change,” said Madeline Rose, Climate Campaign Director for Pacific Environment.

Collectively, their researchers estimate that the top importers of U.S. goods are responsible for emitting as much sulfur oxide, nitrous oxide, and particulate matter as tens of millions of U.S. vehicles every year. Walmart tops their list with the report saying it was responsible for 3.7 million metric tons of climate pollution from its shipping practices in 2019, more than an entire coal-fired power plant emits in a year. In total, the report attributes nearly 12.7 million metric tons of CO2 emissions from the shipping industry to the 15 companies highlighted, 

“In the face of record profits, major retailers and their shipping companies have no excuse to not invest in cleaner ways of doing business,” said Gary Cook, Global Climate Campaigns Director at Stand.earth. “It’s time for retail shipping giants like Amazon and IKEA to stop moving their products on fossil-fueled ships and commit to 100 percent zero-emissions shipping by 2030.”

The market for transoceanic cargo shipping the report says has grown over the past several decades, and the pandemic accelerated the trend toward shipping goods bought online. “Today, over 50,000 merchant ships carry around 80 percent of global trade, and ocean-going cargo volumes are projected to grow by as much as 130 percent by 2050. Every single merchant ship in operation right now runs on fossil fuels,” writes the two NGOs.

To end maritime climate and air pollution, the groups said they are also launching the “Ship It Zero” campaign, calling on the largest maritime importers and most well-known corporations to move their products off fossil-fueled vessels and transition to 100 percent zero-emissions shipping.