The international logistics and shipping industry is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Learn what companies are doing to reduce their environmental impact and how customers are influencing decision-making.
Since 1970, Earth Day is observed on April 22nd to raise awareness about the environmental impact of human activity. The event includes everything from demonstrations to debate sessions including social and academic institutions, as well as companies from every productive sector.
In this context, the contribution of global logistics and shipping to pollution has been studied and analyzed for a long time. According to research by consultancy firm Statista, the international maritime shipping industry released nearly 700 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (MtCO₂) into the atmosphere in 2021. “This was an increase of roughly five percent from the previous year [and] emissions have doubled since 1990”, the report says.
Likewise, the US Environmental Protection Agency points out the transportation sector as one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in that country. According to the EPA, 27% of emissions in 2020 came from transportation activities, and the sector ranked first on their list. “Greenhouse gas emissions from transportation primarily come from burning fossil fuel for our cars, trucks, ships, trains, and planes,” the EPA reported.
Lastly, experts point out that transportation is the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions globally, accounting for 17% of global emissions today. Companies that ship and distribute products around the world are making decisions every day on how to revert that situation.
Sustainability in Logistics
One rising trend regarding sustainability in logistics is the concept of green logistics, defined as a series of activities implemented by companies to reduce pollution and consume fewer resources in the shipping of objects around the world.
The green logistics model includes everything from shipping to packing, warehousing, and processing, aiming to create a system efficient enough to minimize the environmental impact of economic, tactical, and technical management. It also incorporates concepts focused on particular aspects of the logistics chain, such as green packaging, an industry that according to Research and Markets reached $246 billion in volume in 2022 and is expected to reach $334 billion by 2028, at a 5.23% CAGR for 2022-2028.
In simple terms, green packaging is the trend of using biodegradable materials in packaging, thus reducing the use of plastics, which not only take hundreds of years to degrade but also add more than eight million tons of waste to the Earth’s oceans every year. Green packaging has had such a significant impact that even the United Nations have included them in their Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.
Green logistics also includes a commitment by companies to reach a zero-carbon footprint in their activities, including proper disposal of parcels after delivery. Under this model, measures are taken to manage waste caused by logistics activities, reducing pollution, and increasing energy efficiency in shipping.
What Sustainability Looks Like in Logistics and Shipping
One of the biggest examples of this paradigm shift around the world may be Amazon. Research on the company shows that it uses 1.6 million boxes every day. To address this issue, Amazon launched the Shipment Zero initiative, a commitment to make 50% of its carbon emissions zero carbon by 2030.
“This means ensuring all distribution operations in deliveries to customers are carbon neutral, from the distribution center, where products are selected, to packaging materials, and the means of transportation that take products to the customer’s home,” Amazon said, adding that “We are working to introduce Shipment Zero deliveries in Europe and the USA, and later, in India, Japan and every other geographic area where we operate globally.”
This kind of initiative has become more frequent around the world over the past two decades. Europe has the Lean & Green plan, promoted by the Spanish business association AECOC. The plan was created in 2008, and now most members of the European Union have implemented it to increase efficiency in logistics, improve sustainability, and cut CO2 emissions throughout the shipping supply chain.
There are dozens of similar cases, including a pledge made by the EU in 2023 to add all emissions generated by maritime transportation in the region and half of all emissions generated by trips to or from seaports in its member countries to the bloc’s Emissions Trading System (ETS).
“The first year where shipping lines will take responsibility for their own emissions will be 2023. The industry will then account for 45% of its own emissions in 2024, 70% in 2025, and all emissions starting in 2026,” the ETS says. “This system will allow shipping lines to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, so they will have allowances to sell in the market. If their emissions surpass their allowances, they will incur in hefty fines, currently of 100 euros per excess kg of CO2 emissions, unless they purchase additional allowances in the market.”
The Future of Logistics
Technological breakthroughs have led to a sea change in logistics and shipping around the world. These new processes have expanded the array of destinations and possibilities and will continue to disrupt the industry in the next few years, boosting the efficiency of both providers and customers of these services.
In this context, numbers and trends show sustainability is among the most urgent goals for this decade. More and more companies are demanding that logistics companies use resources more efficiently and reduce their carbon footprint when they hire them. Therefore, those that do not embrace such change will not only affect the environment, but also lose customers to competitors who adopt this new corporate philosophy.
At Aerodoc, we are proud to support our customers in their pursuit of a “zero footprint” policy and are committed to meeting packaging sustainability standards. As a logistics company, we understand the importance of sustainable practices and their impact on the environment. That’s why we’re taking steps to become more eco-friendly.