By Ryan Skinner (email)
OOCL is the latest in a string of big container lines to offer a carbon calculator, which is meant to give customers a means of calculating a shipment's emissions and comparing them with other transport options and providers. It's the latest result of two colliding trends: Increased harvesting and manipulation of data, and increased end-user interest in bottom-line environmental impact.
Like many, I'm a bit jaundiced regarding environmental claims, so I followed the strings of OOCL's press release back to those behind the carbon calculator. I wanted to know what this calculator could do, what it couldn't, how OOCL would use it, how shippers would use it and what it all meant?
The carbon calculator is the product of the Clean Cargo Working Group (CCWG), which was set up by an outfit called BSR seven or eight years ago. CCWG was set up to give shippers and carriers a place where shippers could drive improvements collectively and carriers could build common standards. I talked to Raj Supra and Marshall Chase who work on the CCWG for BSR.
Supra confirmed that CCWG surveys its members (which include over 60% of the global market for container carriers) for a quantitative set of metrics, including carbon-dioxide and sulphur- and nitrogen-oxides. Specific emission factors per ship per voyage are built based on formulas that stem from the IMO, but include a mish-mash of specifics updated as IT capabilities increase.
The idea of businesses driving other businesses to improve based on quantitative performance is comforting. But why should we trust industry to police itself? There's a Switzerland-sized oil slick in the Gulf arguing against industry's self-regulation.
The CCWG is on this issue in three ways: 1) This May, the group resolved to make its emission factors public (and the formulas that create them). 2) They are piloting a verification system that provides some layer of auditing of the figures. 3) Work has begun aligning their work with work in the US EPA and the World Economic Forum's logistics group.
Is the data having any effect, I asked? Are people choosing away suppliers for filling the troposphere with carbon-dioxide? Only anecdotally. "Some shippers are plugging the data in supply chain scorecards, rating and ranking suppliers. If it's not already grounds for choosing suppliers, it will be soon."
Basically, BSR and CCWG are trying to help shippers and carriers find their way through the data maze; in this instance, the lofty goal is emissions. The challenge is on industry to use the data wisely, and drive improvement so quickly that regulators don't force the issue. Will they succeed? The jury's still out.