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International Shipping, Pollution, and Sustainable Supply Chains

International Shipping, Pollution, and Sustainable Supply Chains

International Shipping, Pollution, and Sustainable Supply Chains
Image via NASA.gov

As supply chains become more globalized, sustainable practices become a bigger challenge. NASA scientists have studied satellite images of the world’s oceans for more than a decade now, noting patterns that show signs of high pollution. The latest imagery shows high levels of nitrogen dioxide along heavily traveled shipping trails, especially the lane between Sri Lanka and Singapore in the Indian Ocean.

International Shipping and Sustainability

The darker shades of orange in the image above show higher levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2). Ships aren’t the only contributors to dangerous NO2 levels across the planet. Off-shore oil rigs and major cities also play a role, as shown by dark shades near coastal areas.

Agricultural burning and strong winds affect the measurements as well. According to the NASA website, “Research suggests that shipping accounts for 15 to 30 percent of global NO2 emissions.” The United Nations estimates that cargo ships emit more than 1 billion tons of greenhouse gases each year, making a sustainable global supply chain seem far out of reach for most companies.

Solutions for Sustainable Seas

Several organizations are working toward solutions to reduce the impact international shipping has on society and the environment. The Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI) began in 2010 and is a collaborative effort between leaders in the shipping industry and non-profit agencies such as the World Wildlife Federation and Forum for the Future.

According to the WWF, sustainable shipping initiatives are “innovative schemes that encourage shipping to go beyond standard compliance of environmental behaviour and become exemplary in their approach to shipping operations and the environment.” The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is another agency that supports a sustainable shipping industry, taking a holistic approach that includes everything from design and construction of the ship to staff training and carbon standards.

All sectors of the shipping industry face many challenges in the quest for a sustainable future. Ocean freight is particularly influential and is the shipping choice for 90% of all international trades. SSI’s Vision 2040, along with similar initiatives, will keep the shipping industry moving toward a cleaner future.

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