5 Sustainable Shipping Solutions in Development Now

Reader Contribution by Kayla Matthews

Many people know that the shipping industry as a whole has room for improvement when it comes to sustainability. Some eco-minded individuals prefer to buy locally produced things instead of those that require resource-guzzling trucks, boats or planes to get to their destinations. However, entities in the shipping sector have committed to making positive changes in sustainability. Some maritime-based projects underway at the moment seem particularly promising.

The Water-Go-Round Hydrogen Fuel Cell Ferry

Although ferries emit relatively fewer emissions than other maritime vehicles, they usually operate in highly populated areas, making those emissions more adversely impactful on human health. However, a California-based project wants to make a ferry powered by hydrogen fuel cells called the Water-Go-Round.

Construction should start this fall, with the ferry making its first trips about a year later. It’ll carry up to 84 passengers and be 70 feet long. Instead of producing dangerous pollutants like other ferries, the Water-Go-Round only makes heat and water vapor.

This project could be one that encourages the shipping industry to make these kinds of ferries, too. Passenger ferries don’t use as much fuel or power as other kinds of vessels that travel on the ocean, so they often serve as testing grounds for technology that eventually makes its way to the shipping industry.

It’s also helpful that the International Maritime Organization created a deal to make ships less contributory to the greenhouse gas problem the planet faces. The Water-Go-Round might indicate a path to progress.

Reusable Product Mailers

The rise in popularity of online shipping means people are accustomed to seeing cardboard boxes and plastic bubble mailers arrive on their doorsteps, filled with products they ordered only days earlier. Statistics indicate that people don’t only care about the items inside, but that 32 percent of Americans also want sustainable packaging.

Even when companies use recycled boxes and plastic envelopes, they still may end up in landfills because local recycling centers in communities have become overwhelmed by the number of items coming into the facilities. However, a company called LimeLoop wants to change that with plastic mailers that can be reused up to 2,000 times. They have zippers on one side, making them easy to open. Also, the mailers are created from upcycled vinyl billboards.

When one of these envelopes arrives at a customer’s doorstep, the person takes the product out, then attaches an included return shipping label to the outside of the mailer. From that point, they can put the mailer in any mailbox, and it’ll go back to the originating company’s distribution center.

LimeLoop mailers are being tested in a pilot program that’s allowing the manufacturer to collect data about how to make them better before they get produced for a widespread rollout. According to the company, if people replaced traditional shipping options with LimeLoop mailers, they could save up to a billion trees annually.

The potential for these mailers spans far beyond the maritime industry. However, if companies that used these mailers also decided to send them to destinations by way of improved maritime vessels, they could significantly increase their overall impact.

An Agreement Supporting Green Investments in the European Shipping Market

There are indeed numerous challenges that make sustainable shipping practices difficult to implement quickly. However, a €300 million agreement between ING and the European Investment Bank will support green shipping initiatives throughout Europe, potentially alleviating many of the financial- related barriers that make adoption of eco-friendly practices particularly tricky.

The investment focus is on the maritime sector, and funding recipients will use the money to retrofit existing vessels to make them more eco-friendly or purchase new ships that meet environmental sustainability requirements.

A Ship That Runs on Liquefied Natural Gas

The Forward Maritime Group recently won the Most Sustainable Project Award at a summit in Denmark for an initiative leading to shipping vessels powered by liquefied natural gas. The prototype emits up to 35 percent less CO2 than traditional ships. Representatives from Forward Maritime Group signed a letter of intent with Yangzijiang Shipbuilding, and the latter company will produce up to 20 ships in the new design.

An Autonomous Container Ship

A vessel called the Yara Birkeland could become the first zero-emission, autonomous container ship in the world. It’s the result of a Norwegian project that wants to transfer container shipments off the roads and into the oceans. This battery-powered ship could eliminate 40,000 diesel truck journeys each year.

Yara is a company that currently relies on up to 100 diesel trucks daily to transport products between its plants to prepare them for global shipments. If this project is successful, it could reduce dependence on those trucks, as well as the personnel needed to drive them.

Sea-Based Shipments Are Set for Better Sustainability

Shipping industry professionals know their sector isn’t among the most sustainable. However, with these projects and investments, those with the power to make progress are putting their funds and innovative ideas to use in ways that could forever change how products get shipped around the world via the water.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Need Help? Call 1-800-234-3368