What Will It Take to Make the Shipping Industry Sustainable?

by | Jan 18, 2017 | Science Featured

Our nation relies on freight today more than ever before. With a growing amount of materials being sourced from overseas and countless numbers of outbound shipments headed across the globe, consumers have come to depend on every one of the primary forms of transportation to ensure the timely delivery of goods.

However, in the midst of a worldwide shift toward environmental sustainability and efficiency, the industry still has some work to do.

Analyzing Environmental Pollution

The current forms of shipping, which includes long-distance trucking, railroad shipments, air cargo and shipments through international waters, impact nearly every part of the Earth’s environment. With 3 percent of global greenhouse emissions attributed to shipping, it’s easy to see the importance of minimizing its effects.

Switching the consumer focus back toward products that feature locally sourced materials and U.S.-based manufacturing is a good start. To make any significant ground toward a healthier tomorrow, however, we have to think on a much larger scale.

New Opportunities in Greening

If we really want to minimize the environmental affect of the modern shipping industry, we need to assess and rethink every step of the shipping process. As many shipments begin with the initial product packaging and its shipping container, we can improve this process by choosing sustainable or recyclable packaging materials, delivering more items on a per-shipment basis and even switching to eco-friendly shipment companies.

Flexible intermediate bulk containers, or bulk bags, provide an excellent alternative to large shipping containers. They can hold large quantities of materials from watermelons to grain and depending on what they contain, are easily stackable. Moreover, the fact that these bags are made from recyclable materials means they actually do more for greening and environmental sustainability than the average shipping container of today.

The use of packaging that is sturdier and more resilient than your current materials can also go a long way in achieving shipping sustainability. Since you’ll be able to use less materials without jeopardizing the goods inside the package, you’ll ultimately cut down on excess, eliminate waste and even save your company some money.

Introducing New Technologies Across Land, Sea and Air

Despite their eco-unfriendliness, these industries have experienced some significant upgrades and process improvements since the dawn of the Information Age. Furthermore, the relatively recent introduction of the Internet of Things has brought about a wealth of tools and utilities that have the potential to revolutionize the entire shipping industry.

Cisco recently teamed up with DHL to offer IoT research and integration on behalf of the international shipping giant. Seen as a highly successful endeavor, DHL is currently exploring tools that track the location and physical condition of individual pallet shipments, as well as delivery trucks that use predictive analytics to notify the operator of any upcoming maintenance needs.

As any automotive enthusiast knows, ensuring regular vehicle maintenance is one of the most effective ways of cutting environmental pollution over the long term.

The IoT has valid applications in every form of transportation used within the shipping industry. Ships are now able to plot the most efficient route through international routes, which could save as much as 15 percent in annual fuel costs. Aircraft are able to use this highly advanced GPS and 3-D terrain mapping technology to plan their own flight paths and itineraries.

Doing Your Part to Support Environmental Sustainability

While it’s apparent that the shipping industry has a vested interest in the topic of environmental sustainability, it’s going to take a large-scale, collective effort to clear up some of the fog and restore our planet to a state that is as pristine as possible. Although it’s no small feat, it’s a challenge that can be tackled through hard work, teamwork and dedication.


Megan Ray Nichols
Freelance Science Writer
[email protected]

Share This