Walmart Amazon’s hidden toll and Ikea’s shipping addiction


An aerial view of a cargo ship as it navigates the Bosphorus Strait in Turkey.

Photo: Burak Kara (Getty Images)

Newly the data obtained shows how 15 companies, including big names like Walmart, Ikea and Amazon, are responsible for millions of tons of pollution and the carbon emissions of an often overlooked sector of their business: importing goods into the United States on freighters. A new report released Tuesday by Pacific Environment and uses hard-to-obtain data on international shipping to determine with certainty just how badly the environment to damage some of these big companies cause when importing goods.

We ship a parcel of stuff. Today, around 80% of world trade circulates around the world by around 50,000 ships, and the industry is growing rapidly; Freight volumes could increase by up to 130% by 2050, as Amazon conquers more of the world and one-click shipping becomes more widely available around the world. Tpipe vessels run on extremely dirty (and cheap) fuel, known as “Bunker fuel” which releases a lot of pollutants. Shipping is estimated to be responsible for 10-15% of global sulfur oxide and nitrous oxide emissions and shipping is responsible for 2.2% of global carbon emissions.

Butthere is a lot of vagueness around global shipping which makes it extremely difficult to follow. International production is rarely a simple task for an overseas Walmart factory that ships Walmart products on a Walmart-owned vessel to U.S. ports; there is shell companies, subsidiaries and endless intermediaries working on the transfer of goods, with very little data collected and made public on these transactions. As a result, many companies are able to find reasons to leave the carbon footprint of shipping outside of net-zero calculations or promises. Amazon, for example, grabbed the headlines when it launched its Zero Shipping Initiative halve emissions from parcel shipping by 2050, but this initiative only covers land transport and does not affect emissions from the ocean.

“Pollution from maritime transport has been easy for companies to omit from their accounts because it is out of sight out of mind for many of their clients ”, Madeline Rose, climate campaign manager at Pacific Environment and lead author of the report, said in an email.

But by working with an expedition consulting firm, Rose and other researchers were able to get their hands on data journeys made by individual vessels and calculate shows of each vessel on its import voyage. They then overlaid these datasets with manually verified data sets of all retailers’ marine imports into the United States, which they gleaned from freight manifests and the Journal of Commerce, tracing the share of those specific emissions retailers that were responsible for the shipping their goods to the United States.S.

The result is a fairly accurate list of the number imports of pollutants for the 15 companies included in the report are responsible for. Walmart, the top polluter on the list, was responsible for more than 3.7 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide of shipment in 2019 alone, according to the study, roughly equivalent to the emissions of a coal-fired power plant. Walmart, Target and Ashley HomeStore, a furniture chain, produced more sulfur oxide and PM2.5 emissions than larger power plants of these shows in the United States.S. Overall, these 15 retailers produced as much nitrous oxide, a key component of smog, as 27.4 million cars.

The report estimates that these figures represent only a fifth of the actual emissions produced by shipping associated with these companies. THere is a lot reason to believe that these numbers are almost certainly a lowball. Researchers could only follow 15% from Amazon shipments. The analysis was unable to include shipments from shell companies or affiliates that are not clearly associated with major retailers – there simply isn’t enough data transparency to make this happen.

The analysis also does not calculate the emissions generated during round trips abroad, a practice that may have a big carbon footprint alone. (Rose said that Ikea, one of the retailers included in the report, actually includes shipping in its supply chain calculations and estimates that it accounts for 40% of its supply chain emissions – quite a large number.) Figures were also collected in 2019, before the pandemic; there is a good chance they are watching worst after last year, when e-commerce (and overseas product shipping) grew by around 16.5% because we were all stuck inside ordering things.

Much like aviation, the problem with decarbonizing shipping lanes is that existing greener technologies, like methanol-powered boats, are not as efficient on long journeys; cleaner options are also significantly more expensive than the cheap fuel vessels currently used by ships. Still, “the technology to navigate freighters without burning an ounce of carbon exists,” Rose said. “All that’s needed are strong market signals that encourage liners to invest and build [a] cleaner future and zero emissions. Using Walmart as an example, she sketched out an idea of ​​how a large retailer could accelerate the development of greener shipping by making demands on its suppliers, increasing the percentage of imports it brings in each year on cleaner boats.

Mmake these kinds of requests, however, largely depends on the public knowing how dirty the alternatives are. But it has never been more important to make them. the International Maritime Organization estimates that carbon pollution from cargo ships could increase considerably between 50% and 250% if industry does not act. Lobbying brands could be one way to get the industry to clean up its act.

“If retail companies are to continue to manufacture their products overseas and depend on fossil-fueled shipping to import their products, they must take responsibility for the pollution they generate during the journey,” he said. said Rose. “Without including shipping emissions in their corporate responsibility or climate report, these retail companies are not living up to the spirit of their climate commitments or their duty to the customers they serve. “

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