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Ship It Zero Makes Waves Calling for Decarbonization in Maritime Shipping

Three photos: A young girl speaking into a microphone at a Ship It Zero rally; a shipping port; someone pulling a dolly with a shipment on it

One of the best parts about living in the 21st century is the unprecedented access we have to goods of all kinds. In many cases, all it takes to acquire, say, a new T-shirt is to drive to the closest Target or Walmart or, even easier, to order one directly to your home through Amazon

With it requiring so little effort to purchase just about anything these days, it’s easy to forget how much work and, in turn, waste goes into transporting that new T-shirt (along with basically every other product you can think of) from one place to another. 

Many retail corporations, including the three listed above, rely heavily on cargo ships to carry their products around the world. These ships, which are almost exclusively powered by fossil fuels, emit pollutants into our air and oceans that have disastrous effects on the environment and public health.

Fossil fuels have been the standard for cargo shipping since the 1800s, so it’s safe to say there hasn’t been much change in the industry — until now. 

What is Ship It Zero?

Ship It Zero, a coalition dedicated to ensuring the world’s top retail corporations commit to zero-emission maritime shipping by 2030, is a first-of-its-kind change-maker in ocean shipping. 

90% of the world’s trade occurs on water, and cargo ships emit a climbing one billion metric tons of carbon dioxide every single year. 

The pollution created by cargo ships has also become a public health crisis, especially in port communities. Ship It Zero explains that cargo ships often idle their engines while unloading products at ports, meaning literal tons of air pollutants are emitted into nearby communities. 

Three teen girls stand outside holding posters that say "Target: Abandon ship now!" They wear protective face masks and green t-shirts.
Photo courtesy of Ship It Zero

In the United States specifically, the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach receive 40% of the nation’s imports. The neighborhoods surrounding these ports are majorly home to BIPOC who, in turn, are the most impacted by health issues — like childhood asthma, lung cancer, and cardiovascular disease — tied to port pollution. 

“Air pollution from the heavily-polluting cargo ships that your favorite brands use to ship products has been linked to 6.4 million childhood asthma cases annually and contributes to over 250,000 premature deaths in primarily low-income Black and Latinx communities,” the Ship It Zero website reads.

While California has already started enforcing statewide policies to minimize port pollution, most of the retail corporations funding the maritime shipping industry have not taken enough (if any) action to reduce their impacts on the environment and the communities suffering as a direct result of port pollution. 

This is where Ship It Zero comes in.

Led by the environmental organizations Pacific Environment and Stand.Earth, Ship It Zero’s campaign encourages retailers to use their influence over the ocean shipping industry for good. 

“As the key clientele of shipping liners, these corporations have an opportunity to send a market signal and set the new standard for healthier, cleaner maritime shipping that is truly zero emissions,” the coalition’s website reads

A screenshot of Ship It Zero's report card
A screenshot of Ship It Zero's most recent Report Card

Ship It Zero specifically focuses on Walmart, Target, The Home Depot, Lowe’s, Amazon, and IKEA, all of which they’ve found to be top polluters when it comes to maritime shipping. 

In the coalition’s yearly “Report Cards,” Ship It Zero breaks down each of these corporations’ efforts to accurately report their emissions and take effective, immediate action to lower them. 

Each report card is analyzed through the three central demands that Ship It Zero urges companies to adopt. 

What are Ship It Zero’s demands?

The first demand posed by Ship It Zero asks major retailers to help eliminate port pollution by immediately mandating their carriers rely only on clean energy and electricity while in major ports. 

Their second demand pushes retailers to phase out carriers that rely on fossil fuels in favor of those actively working to cut emissions by using clean energy sources. Also, they encourage these companies to publicly denounce short-term “solutions” like liquefied natural gas, carbon credits, and biofuels

The final demand encourages these retailers to commit to zero-emission maritime shipping by 2030. 

Why 2030? According to the Paris Agreement, a temperature increase of 1.5°C can catalyze climate change’s most severe effects, and greenhouse gas emissions need to peak before 2025 for us to avoid that limit. 

These demands may seem lofty, but they’re actually quite realistic — especially for six companies that are each worth billions of dollars. Wind-powered cargo ships have already started making trips across the world, and boats that use solar, hydrogen, and electricity as fuel are continuously being introduced into maritime shipping. 

A group of Ship It Zero supporters stand outside of a Walmart
Photo courtesy of Ship It Zero

If major corporations — like those Ship It Zero targets — invest in these technologies, zero-emission maritime shipping could become the standard by 2030.  

Since Ship It Zero has started applying pressure to these retailers, Amazon, Ikea, and Target have committed to zero-emission shipping by 2040. 

While Ship It Zero encourages these companies to strengthen their “level of ambition for eliminating ocean transportation pollution by 2030,” the 2040 goal is a start. 

Along with this, IKEA is now facing the issue of port pollution head-on by enforcing policy that prioritizes clean, sustainable ports. What does this look like, exactly? 

Clean ports regulate the speeds at which ships enter them, and they utilize shore power that allows ships to keep their engines off while harbored. 

There is, of course, still work to be done. But by rallying consumers, public health advocates, environmental activists, and a plethora of other people to protest, sign petitions, and send letters to these corporations, Ship It Zero has already altered the current and future climate of maritime shipping for the better. 

How can I help?

You, too, can help influence major retailers to lower their maritime shipping emissions by visiting the Ship It Zero website.  There, you can access pre-formatted tweets and emails to send to decision-makers at these six companies, and you can sign up to receive email updates and action alerts. 

As Dawny’all Heydari, a campaign leader at Ship It Zero, told Spectrum News, “These companies are reliant on our purchases. If enough of us come together and say enough is enough, the climate emergency is upon us, people are dying near ports, we need change, these companies will act.”

Header images courtesy of Ship It Zero and william william on Unsplash

Article Details

January 17, 2024 8:35 AM
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