Amid massive ongoing port congestion, especially on the West Coast, environmental groups are highlighting the resulting impacts on air quality.
Ship It Zero, an environmental coalition run by Pacific Environment and Stand.earth, released its “Shady Routes” report on Monday.
After researching Walmart’s, Target’s, Amazon’s and Ikea’s maritime activities from 2018 to 2020, the organization labeled the companies some of the most polluting retailers in ocean shipping.
The report focuses on the shipping routes the retailers use and how the routes and carriers that retailers choose impact greenhouse gas emissions and public health issues such as air quality.
Maritime shipping-related air pollution has been linked to 6.4 million cases of childhood asthmas annually and contributes to more than 250,000 premature deaths in primarily low-income communities, according to Ship It Zero. Those numbers could increase as more ships come through ports and spend days or weeks idling while waiting to dock.
Pacific routes between China and the U.S. were listed as the top routes for carbon emissions when looking at data from all four companies combined. But not all the retailers favored the same routes.
The report said 95% of Target’s imports to the U.S. enter West Coast ports. “Target is the biggest contributor to West Coast port pollution of all the companies studied.”
According to the data collected, Amazon also favors the West Coast ports, but Ikea favors routes from Europe to the East Coast and Walmart favors East Coast ports.
“Walmart and cargo carrier CMA CGM have the shadiest route relationship, making the retailer and carrier super polluters in U.S. ocean shipping,” the report said.
CMA CGM is Walmart’s top ocean carrier, and Walmart ships the most goods of the four retailers, so this partnership is responsible for the highest proportion of emissions of the companies studied, Ship It Zero said.
In addition to overall emissions, Ship It Zero reported data on emissions intensity for the four retailers.
The amount of GHG emissions associated with each container shipped add up to:
- Walmart: 4.164 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per twenty-foot equivalent unit shipped.
- Target: 3.418 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per TEU shipped.
- Amazon: 3.182 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per TEU shipped.
- Ikea: 3.131 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per TEU shipped.
Engagement and the path ahead
Ship It Zero published a “Shady Ships” report in July that called on these four retailers to “abandon dirty ships” by 2030. Ikea and Amazon joined Cargo Owners for Zero Emission Vessels (COZEV) shortly after and committed to ship cargo using only zero-carbon shipping fuels by 2040.
“While Amazon and Ikea have made initial commitments to achieve zero-emission ocean shipping by 2040 and decarbonize a small portion of their ocean shipping this decade, with Amazon committing 10% of its freight on zero-emissions vessels by 2030, these commitments do not correspond with the fierce urgency of port community health and the climate crisis,” the most recent report said.
Ship It Zero called on Walmart, Target, Amazon and Ikea to:
- Utilize wind assisted propulsion and slow steaming immediately to reduce shipping emissions.
- Commit to 100% zero-emissions ocean shipping by 2030.
- Publish public reports with supply chain and shipping data, including cargo carriers, primary trade routes, maritime emissions and the percentage of cargo carried on zero-emission vessels.
“Thus far, Walmart and Target have been silent on the topic of their ocean shipping emissions,” Ship It Zero said.
Retailers respond with climate plans
A Walmart spokesperson called the company “the first retailer to set a Science Based Target for emissions-reduction.” The company told FreightWaves about Project Gigaton, a platform designed to help suppliers reduce emissions using goals in categories such as energy, packaging or transportation.
The goal of the project is to avoid 1 billion metric tons of GHG emissions from global supply chains by 2030, and so far, the spokesperson said, it has led to a reduction of 416 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from more than 1,500 participating suppliers.
The representative added: “Transportation is a key part of our commitment to reach zero emissions in our own operations by 2040. This includes working to reach zero emissions from all our fleet by 2040. Across the retail industry, Walmart works with logistics partners, NGOs, policymakers, utilities and equipment manufacturers to pilot and scale up sustainable transportation alternatives.”
Amazon told FreightWaves about the initiatives and coalitions it has joined or helped establish, including Shipment Zero, The Climate Pledge, the First Movers Coalition and COZEV. But the company did not provide specific comments in response to the report.
“Through our sustainability strategy Target Forward, we’re committed to putting our business to use to positively impact both people and the planet. This strategy includes reducing our shipping carbon footprint as we work toward our goal of being a net-zero enterprise by 2040, with net-zero emissions across both our operations and [our] supply chain,” a Target spokesperson told FreightWaves.
As consumer demand increases, retailers continue to rely on ocean carriers and supply chains to transport their products to customers, Jon Gold, vice president of supply chain and customs policy at the National Retail Federation, told FreightWaves. “Retailers are working in tandem with their supply chain partners, including ocean carriers and other providers who own and operate the vessels, to meet new sustainability goals and net-zero pledges.”
“Ikea is committed to become climate positive by 2030, by reducing more GHG emissions than the Ikea value chain emits,” Ikea told FreightWaves.
About 2% of Ikea’s GHG emissions come from ocean shipping, the company said. In the 2021 fiscal year, Ikea told FreightWaves its emissions from ocean transport added up to approximately 480,000 metric tons — the GHG equivalent that more than 104,000 passenger cars emit in one year.
Ikea has committed to reduce its carbon footprint from all modes of transportation by 70% by 2030, compared to 2017.
Ikea plans to reduce shipping-related emissions by:
- Maximizing transport efficiencies.
- Moving away from fossil fuels.
- Switching to zero-emission technologies.
“Emissions from ocean shipping is an important topic for us at Ikea, and we agree that it needs more focus. We are a big transport buyer, and we have a big responsibility to influence the ocean transport industry in a positive way,” the Swedish retailer said.
This story has been updated to include a comment from Target.