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There’s been a peculiar run of weather recently. Whether you’ve been suffering from a heat wave or summer floods , there’s a feeling that the climate is certainly changing. And everyone knows that bad weather (think of Thailand’s floods) pose a critical risk to the supply chain.

Ironically, the supply chain itself is partially the cause, as emissions from the logistics sector continue to rise. The environment has been off the agenda for many players in recent months, particularly since the global economy has failed to kick start. But for some shippers, it’s an increasingly important part of their outlook. From Nike to Marks & Spencer, the greening of the supply chain is becoming part of the fabric of their business. Progressive companies are taking the environment very seriously, and they expect their suppliers to do likewise. They need to know what the environmental cost is for each trade lane, each mode, each link in the chain.

And many do. In sea freight, the much-admired Clean Cargo Working Group is an initiative comprised of carriers and their customers, which includes a roll call of major shipping lines from APL to Yang Ming, representing 60% of global teu carried; forwarders; and an array of shippers from Electrolux to Wal-Mart. The group creates the tools to measure, evaluate and report on the environmental impact of the transport, and issue a carbon scorecard, so they can calculate emissions according to each trade lane. And there are direct benefits for carriers, other than pleasing shippers  – they can compare their environmental performances and, therefore, try to improve them.

“The ocean carriers have been very proactive in terms of looking at their emissions,” said Sarah Flagg, head of green logistics for Damco, which is working with Nike on calculating its emissions.

Alongside the Clean Cargo group is NTM, the Network for Transport and Environment, which has devised a common method for calculating emissions for both passenger  and freight transport, which is then passed on to the buyers of transport services. Populated again by big box shippers and carriers, it gives providers and shippers a chance to share knowledge and examine data.

What is striking, however, is that neither group contains airlines, arguably the worst offenders in the field of emissions.

“The aviation industry has not published the same detailed level of information on carbon emissions that ocean has. The industry just doesn’t do it. NTM provides secondary data for air, but it doesn’t get any reports directly from airlines, so the ocean data is far more accurate,” explained Flagg.

The airlines must, however, have access to this data through the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme, which requires carriers to calculate their emissions down to the very last detail. But this is not communicated to customers.

This lack of transparency could appear to an outsider as if the airline industry has something to hide. While its emissions, which across air transport represent 2% of the  global carbon total, are lower than sea freight, which accounts for 4.5%, the sea freight sector is considerably larger. IATA’s website is quick to point out that: “Although sea freight achieves a high level of carbon-efficiency per weight transported compared with airfreight, it uses some of the cheapest and most polluting fuel in the world.”

IATA’s aim is for air transport to achieve carbon-neutral growth in the medium term and to develop zero-carbon emission technology within the next 50 years. The association claims that carriers have improved fuel efficiency and CO2 emissions by 20% over the past 10 years and aim to be 25% more fuel-efficient by 2020 compared with 2005.

But despite these lofty ambitions, the industry still doesn’t have a group which can work out and publish the data required by forwarders and shippers.

“We do recognise that this is a big problem,” acknowledged an IATA spokesman. “We need a calculator for carbon. But air freight is much more complex than passengers, for example. You have to work out the difference between bellyhold and freighter emissions. But we are aware that it is needed, and it is being looked at.”

Possibly not fast enough, though.  There is no date or deadline for the formation of such a group. “Part of the challenge is getting the airlines involved. That’s true for any product IATA is working on, as it is hard to get airlines to commit resources. “

But when the economy is  poor, and air freight customers are looking for any reason they can not to fly their goods, a bit more transparency and an effort to engage with their customers might not go amiss.


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  • niamh

    July 24, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    The companies are becoming more aware of environmental crisis.The companies can meet “green” goals directly through paper reduction and IT optimization, and indirectly through reductions in freight expediting, optimizations in production, lower safety stock and more.