Walmart Illustration 143168216 © Alexey Novikov

Retail leviathan Walmart was 2021’s highest emitter of carbon among importers to the US by sea.

According to a report released yesterday by Ship It Zero, Walmart shipped 850,630 teu at a carbon cost of 788,019 tonnes of CO2.

But the retailer told The Loadstar it was now more than halfway towards its environmental goal.

Ship It Zero’s All brands on deck report ranks US companies according to overall emissions through 2021, with Walmart followed by Target and The Home Depot.

However, Walmart’s numbers appeared to show a better ratio of emissions-to-goods-transported than Target and Home Depot, but Madeline Rose, climate campaign director of Pacific environment, Ship It Zero’s organiser, told The Loadstar absolute emissions was the right metric to use.

Walmart, Target and Home Depot are at the top of the list because of the volumes they import by sea and because their goods are shipped on fossil-fuelled ocean vessels,” she said.

The year 2021 was significant because it served as a stress-test of retail supply chains, she said. Covid-19 closed ports and caused as much as a third of ship traffic to be snagged in queues.

Another quirk of that year was the tendency of large retailers like Walmart to side-step the high costs and severe delays on large carriers by yanking vessels off the spot market to serve as direct-chartered ships , or even buying them. Home Depot, Amazon (#7 on Ship It Zero’s emitters list) Ikea (#11) and other retailers took part in this practice to some extent.

But despite this tendency, which might have been expected to generate a proportionate increase in emissions thanks to smaller, older vessels being chartered, Ms Rose told The Loadstar proportionately larger vessels had, in fact, been used.

Lead report researcher UMAS observed a modest shift in importing habits towards larger vessels in 2021, with verifiable containers imported using vessels of greater-than-20,000 teu capacity increasing from none to 1,689,” she said.

Mariel Messier, senior manager of Walmart’s global responsibility communications division, told The Loadstar reducing emissions from ocean carriers was a “priority”.

“We work closely with logistics partners, NGOs and suppliers across the retail industry to scale up more sustainable approaches to transporting products. We are now more than halfway towards our overall goal… of one billion tonnes reduced or avoided in product supply chains… by 2030.”

In parallel, Xeneta today “named and famed” Cosco as the most CO2-efficient of the large carriers on the North Europe-US east coast corridor. According to Xeneta’s CEI score – a CO2 emissions metric which takes into account actual transport done – Cosco was followed by OOCL and Evergreen in the rankings, with Maersk trailing in eighth place.

“Cosco has been outperforming the tradelane average in terms of COefficiency since Q1 18, the earliest registered CEI,” Xeneta said. “Cosco’s emissions in Q4 22 were 21.1%, lower than it achieved in Q1 18.”

But it added: “Despite continuing to outperform the average on the tradelane, Cosco’s CEI score worsened in Q4 22 compared with Q3, which, as for the whole trade, was largely due to a fall in the filling factor.”

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