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Sustainable Shipping Initiative: a maritime sea change



According to the European commission, emissions from the global shipping industry amount to around 1 billion tonnes a year, accounting for 3% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Though the maritime industry can make a case for being among the most energy efficient forms of freight transport, its current trajectory needs to change given the threat that is climate change.

This article originally appeared in Blue & Green Tomorrow’s Guide to Sustainable Transport 2014.

However, a unique initiative is plotting a change of course for the maritime industry. The Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI) – a collaborative project originally launched by Forum for the Future but now operating independently – has an alternative vision of the industry’s future.

Its mission: to have established a sustainable and profitable maritime industry by the year 2040. In working towards this ambitious goal, the initiative has assembled committees of cross-industry members, including consumers, ship owners, shipbuilders, insurers, engineers and NGOs, to discuss trends, challenges and possibilities. But how does the SSI define sustainability? 

“Sustainability is not just about CO2 emissions, it is the whole picture, it is human, it is financing, it is – of course – also environmental impact including greenhouse gases and things like that, but you have to look at it from a holistic view”, says Helle Gleie, director of the SSI.

The SSI counts among its responsibilities tackling fraud and bribery, improving labour standards and health and safety, reducing waste and noise as well as reducing the industry’s contribution to climate change. 

“Of course when we look at the hard stuff – the steel and the iron of the vessels – a lot more can be done to develop new vessels, to come up with new engine designs and find new types of fuels – something which a lot of people are doing nowadays – but I think the maritime world is very aware of these possibilities and they are already moving towards that,” says Gleie. 

“Fossil fuels might not disappear from vessels for many years, but that does not mean that we should stop looking into alternatives. To the contrary, we have an obligation to do what we can to find new ways of moving cargoes at sea – at the same time [making sure] what we come up with can actually be picked up practically and is financially beneficial to invest in.” 

Though fossil fuels might not disappear, advances can still be made. Last year Maersk Line, an SSI member and the world’s largest container shipping company, announced that it reached its target of reducing carbon emissions by 25% from 2007 levels eight years early. This was done simply through improving efficiency. To keep up the momentum, the company raised its 2020 target to a 40% reduction. 

“We see an increased environmental awareness among our customers, so when we improve our environmental performance, we also improve our customer relationships”, explains Morten Engelstoft, chief operating officer at Mearsk Line. “Cutting CO2is a benefit for our business, not a threat to it.

Such advancements have sometimes been held back by questions of finance. Though owners are under pressure to charter efficient vessels, they are often unsure that the investment needed to retrofit technologies will generate worthwhile returns – as the charterers recoup any fuel savings.

The SSI has created a financial model, titled Save As You Sail (SAYS), to overcome this. The SAYS model allows an owner and a charterer to work out potential fuel cost savings and the returns on investments for different efficiency measures. These are used to negotiate the charter hire rate. The owner can also access a loan to afford the upfront costs. The model is an example of what can be achieved through industry co-operation.

Gleie says that convincing companies of the financial benefits of sustainability will be the key to her initiative’s success: “If you can’t put in a benefit, then it won’t fly. It is a corporate and financial focused world we’re living in; it’s not just enough to say you have to do this because your conscience tells you, or your intelligence tells you that we need a green planet. That won’t drive the maritime industry.” 

She predicts that those who are slow to be convinced will lose out: “I think we will see that those in the industry that are really picking up on it, that are paying attention, and are taking the opportunities to follow and listen, they will have a great advantage. Then there will be some of the quicker followers than will manage to pick up and adapt, and then I think – sadly to say – there will be some that we will lose down the way, because they simply won’t pick it up quick enough.” 

Alongside Mearsk Line, the current crop of SSI members include leading names such as Cargill, Wärtsilä and Lloyd’s Register – companies already making strides in the sustainability space. For new enterprises to even be considered for membership, Gleie says they must be “walking the talk already”, or able to demonstrate that they have a plan in place for how they are going to.

She admits that of the companies already involved, not everybody is doing everything. “But we are a mirror of the real world here”, she adds, “We just maybe have come a step further, the groups that are sitting here, trying to lead others.” 

Such a measured approach is surely the only way forward for the SSI. In terms of emission reductions, it is impossible to miss the sense of urgency transmitted by the dire warnings of science, but an industry cannot be revolutionised overnight – particularly in a challenging economic climate.

If the myriad challenges facing the industry can be overcome, Gleie argues that shipping can play a massive role in a sustainable future:I’ve been in shipping since 1977, and I know for a fact that once the shipping industry gets the point – and they will start moving – they are fast movers. They will put all their energy into it, and they are very strong communicators. If we do this right […] I think we can take the lead on innovation, and setting new ideas and new frames for how to work with sustainability.” 

While there is clearly a long way to go, the SSI can already stand as an example to other industries. If the world is to keep within the near universally agreed target of 2C of global warming, unsustainable practices in all sectors must be stopped.

If Gleie and her colleagues can successfully inspire such a fundamental change in thinking throughout the maritime industry, the world would do well to watch and learn.

Further reading:

The road to nowhere: a call to arms for sustainable transport

Sustainable transport: why it matters

The return of the airship: under the bonnet of the world’s longest aircraft

Norway experiences electric car boom in sustainable transport revolution

The Guide to Sustainable Transport 2014

Editors Choice

2017 Was the Most Expensive Year Ever for U.S. Natural Disaster Damage



Natural Disaster Damage
Shutterstock / By Droidworker |

Devastating natural disasters dominated last year’s headlines and made many wonder how the affected areas could ever recover. According to data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the storms and other weather events that caused the destruction were extremely costly.

Specifically, the natural disasters recorded last year caused so much damage that the associated losses made 2017 the most expensive year on record in the 38-year history of keeping such data. The following are several reasons that 2017 made headlines for this notorious distinction.

Over a Dozen Events With Losses Totalling More Than $1 Billion Each

The NOAA reports that in total, the recorded losses equaled $306 billion, which is $90 billion more than the amount associated with 2005, the previous record holder. One of the primary reasons the dollar amount climbed so high last year is that 16 individual events cost more than $1 billion each.

Global Warming Contributed to Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey, one of two Category-4 hurricanes that made landfall in 2017, was a particularly expensive natural disaster. Nearly 800,000 people needed assistance after the storm. Hurricane Harvey alone cost $125 billion, with some estimates even higher than that. So far, the only hurricane more expensive than Harvey was Katrina.

Before Hurricane Harvey hit, scientists speculated climate change could make it worse. They discussed how rising ocean temperatures make hurricanes more intense, and warmer atmospheres have higher amounts of water vapor, causing larger rainfall totals.

Since then, a new study published in “Environmental Research Letters” confirmed climate change was indeed a factor that gave Hurricane Harvey more power. It found environmental conditions associated with global warming made the storm more severe and increase the likelihood of similar events.

That same study also compared today’s storms with ones from 1900. It found that compared to those earlier weather phenomena, Hurricane Harvey’s rainfall was 15 percent more intense and three times as likely to happen now versus in 1900.

Warming oceans are one of the contributing factors. Specifically, the ocean’s surface temperature associated with the region where Hurricane Harvey quickly transformed from a tropical storm into a Category 4 hurricane has become about 1 degree Fahrenheit warmer over the past few decades.

Michael Mann, a climatologist from Penn State University, believes that due to a relationship known as the Clausius-Clapeyron equation, there was about 3-5 percent more moisture in the air, which caused more rain. To complicate matters even more, global warming made sea levels rise by more than 6 inches in the Houston area over the past few decades. Mann also believes global warming caused the stationery summer weather patterns that made Hurricane Harvey stop moving and saturate the area with rain. Mann clarifies although global warming didn’t cause Hurricane Harvey as a whole, it exacerbated several factors of the storm.

Also, statistics collected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 1901-2015 found the precipitation levels in the contiguous 48 states had gone up by 0.17 inches per decade. The EPA notes the increase is expected because rainfall totals tend to go up as the Earth’s surface temperatures rise and additional evaporation occurs.

The EPA’s measurements about surface temperature indicate for the same timespan mentioned above for precipitation, the temperatures have gotten 0.14 Fahrenheit hotter per decade. Also, although the global surface temperature went up by 0.15 Fahrenheit during the same period, the temperature rise has been faster in the United States compared to the rest of the world since the 1970s.

Severe Storms Cause a Loss of Productivity

Many people don’t immediately think of one important factor when discussing the aftermath of natural disasters: the adverse impact on productivity. Businesses and members of the workforce in Houston, Miami and other cities hit by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma suffered losses that may total between $150-200 billion when both damage and sacrificed productivity are accounted for, according to estimates from Moody’s Analytics.

Some workers who decide to leave their homes before storms arrive delay returning after the immediate danger has passed. As a result of their absences, a labor-force shortage may occur. News sources posted stories highlighting that the Houston area might not have enough construction workers to handle necessary rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Harvey.

It’s not hard to imagine the impact heavy storms could have on business operations. However, companies that offer goods to help people prepare for hurricanes and similar disasters often find the market wants what they provide. While watching the paths of current storms, people tend to recall storms that took place years ago and see them as reminders to get prepared for what could happen.

Longer and More Disastrous Wildfires Require More Resources to Fight

The wildfires that ripped through millions of acres in the western region of the United States this year also made substantial contributions to the 2017 disaster-related expenses. The U.S. Forest Service, which is within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reported 2017 as its costliest year ever and saw total expenditures exceeding $2 billion.

The agency anticipates the costs will grow, especially when they take past data into account. In 1995, the U.S. Forest Service spent 16 percent of its annual budget for wildfire-fighting costs, but in 2015, the amount ballooned to 52 percent. The sheer number of wildfires last year didn’t help matters either. Between January 1 and November 24 last year, 54,858 fires broke out.

2017: Among the Three Hottest Years Recorded

People cause the majority of wildfires, but climate change acts as another notable contributor. In addition to affecting hurricane intensity, rising temperatures help fires spread and make them harder to extinguish.

Data collected by the National Interagency Fire Center and published by the EPA highlighted a correlation between the largest wildfires and the warmest years on record. The extent of damage caused by wildfires has gotten worse since the 1980s, but became particularly severe starting in 2000 during a period characterized by some of the warmest years the U.S. ever recorded.

Things haven’t changed for the better, either. In mid-December of 2017, the World Meteorological Organization released a statement announcing the year would likely end as one of the three warmest years ever recorded. A notable finding since the group looks at global land and ocean temperature, not just statistics associated with the United States.

Not all the most financially impactful weather events in 2017 were hurricanes and wildfires. Some of the other issues that cost over $1 billion included a hailstorm in Colorado, tornados in several regions of the U.S. and substantial flooding throughout Missouri and Arkansas.

Although numerous factors gave these natural disasters momentum, scientists know climate change was a defining force — a reality that should worry just about everyone.

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Environmentally Sustainable Furniture for Dummies



eco-friendly sustainable furniture choices
Shutterstock / By |

We probably don’t think a great deal about our furniture choices. I know that I tend to just buy whatever looks pretty, seems functional and fits my budget. That usually means a trip to a few showrooms and big warehouse stores, like Ikea.

But we have a responsibility to the planet. We can do better. There are three major ways that our furniture can help the environment:

  1. Purchase used and/or recycled furniture and extends the lifecycle of precious materials.
  2. Source furniture that is free of environmentally unsustainable products.
  3. Choose furniture that doesn’t require electricity – opting for manual transitioning.

By investing in environmentally sustainable, high-qualify furniture, you’ll be able to pass down items from generation to generation. This will save your heirs on the cost of furnishing their own home, and help to protect the environment from wasteful fad furniture that only lasts a season or two.

Natural and Recycled Furniture Materials

If you absolutely love the look of wood furniture, search for environmentally sustainable products. For example, locally sourced wood or bamboo can easily be replenished without requiring excessive international harvesting of precious woods that harm the environment.

Sustainable wood products are only sourced from companies and locations that have the ability to quickly replace harvested wood – providing a responsible resource for generations of manufacturers and consumers.

Recycled furniture can either be a gently used item from someone else’s home, or a new piece of furniture that’s been used from reclaimed sources. You’ve probably seen examples of this at your local park – cities are increasingly using recycled materials to create benches and picnic tables.

But recycled materials don’t have to feel rough or rustic. Items made from recycled wood are readily available for order online or in-store. And believe it or not, electronic waste can be reclaimed and crafted into beautiful pieces of modern furniture.

The only limitation on recycled furniture design is the imagination of the creator. If you want to do it yourself, check out this DIY recycled furniture pinterest board!

Avoid Harsh Chemicals that Harm the Environment

Did you know that many cushions are made of highly-flammable polyurethane? Furniture manufacturers help keep our butts out of the hot seat by treating the materials in cushions with fire-retardant toxins. Unfortunately this padding breaks down overtime and the dust is both toxic to humans and the environment.

There are multiple lines of eco-friendly furniture that avoid the use of flammable polyurethane – often substituting with organic cotton. Just understand that you’re going to be in for a bit of sticker shock – eco-friendly furniture, when purchased new from major brands, gets pricey.

If you can’t afford the pricetag, I recommend finding used furniture from the same product line. There are a ton of websites dedicated to helping eco-friendly consumers find used organic, responsibly sourced products – and that includes furniture.

You’ll also want to stay away from faux leather. Furniture made from pleather and other leather substitutes are heavily treated with chemicals. That’s never a win.

Hypo-allergenic stuffing, combine with traditional leather might be a decent compromise if you have to have the leather look to tie a room together. But be conscious of the fact that tanning is not an environmentally friendly process, so try to limit these materials in your design.

In conclusion, it’s up to you how crazy you want to go. I think that as long as you stay with used furniture, you’re on the right track – even if it isn’t environmentally perfect, it’s at least a sunk cost for the environment – the damage has been done and you’re extending its useful life. But I think the most important takeaway here is buy quality items that you can pass down to your next generation – if that means spending more on higher quality new items that are sustainably sourced, so be it.

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