Skip to main content

How Searoutes Helps the Shipping Industry Accurately Measures Carbon Emissions Data

Transportation professionals have had a lot to manage over the past three years. Since COVID-19 began, consumer demand for goods boomed while capacity stretched thin, sending transportation rates sky-high. While some of these issues have waned, kinks in the global supply chain have yet to be fully ironed out.

On top of that, there has been a growing emphasis on sustainability. Consumers, company leadership, and even shareholders are increasingly wary of the environmental damage caused by human activity. Their subsequent demands for ESG initiatives are one more ball for shippers and ocean freight providers to juggle.

The pressure’s on to optimize shipping performance while minimizing the environmental impact of all those trucks, airplanes, and ocean liners. Optimizing for speed and sustainability isn’t easy, but having the right tools and data can empower shippers to choose routes and modes that reduce CO2 output. It can also incentivize carriers and freight forwarders to adopt practices that lower emissions.


If the global supply chain’s role in carbon emissions wasn’t already clear, it became so in 2020. During the pandemic, GHG emissions dropped 6.4%, removing 2 billion tons of CO2 from the air. By 2021, emissions rose 4.8%, reaching 34.9 GtCO2, according to the journal Nature Reviews Earth and Environment.

Meanwhile, maritime shipping is estimated to be responsible for roughly 3% of carbon emissions currently, and that number could rise to 17% by 2050. 

This isn’t to say that we need to give up and accept it as fate. Several countries are taking action now to tackle carbon emissions. The United States rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement in 2021 and pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The European Union plans to cut carbon emissions by 55% by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. And the United Kingdom intends to remove 78% of greenhouse gasses by 2035, with transportation in particular in the crosshairs.

Emissions from maritime shipping will be a big part of sustainability efforts. Although it’s primarily shippers’ pollutants in the limelight, they won’t be able to hit their targets without help from transportation providers. Companies are looking to cut their Scope 3 emissions, putting pressure on logistics vendors to turn green.

In other words, carriers and other logistics providers will soon be required to implement sustainable practices. Both local governments and international bodies are taking steps (like implementing EEXI and CII regulations) to slash carbon emissions in transportation.

This prompts the question of how to gather and analyze carbon emissions data, a notoriously difficult task. Carbon emissions data is hard to collect and even more difficult to track accurately. Measuring one’s emissions output over an ocean requires more than a back-of-the-envelope calculation; not all companies have the time or resources to do that heavy lifting internally.

To stay within future GHG emissions regulations, shippers first need access to granular tracking data. But in order to actively reduce carbon emissions, shippers also need to be able to understand what they are looking at. Having the actionable data from A–Z, not a rough approximation, is the cornerstone of accurate route planning and reporting. Searoutes’ algorithms calculate emissions’ data using historical route and vessel information for given carriers and their services.

Being aware of emissions rates is important whether you’re a shipper trying to be sustainable while still meeting business goals or a logistics provider trying to offer your customers a greener option. Having reliable data makes it possible to find the best mode, carrier, route, or port of entry for each leg of a shipment’s journey.


As we’ve said in the past, different players in the supply chain can make use of carbon emissions data. Collecting that information isn’t easy, however. It’s an enormous undertaking with a lot of moving parts. Companies that track CO2 emissions generally rely on one of three methods to compile data.

Primary Data

Some companies rely on primary data, or data that’s collected directly from the source. It could be fuel consumption or miles traveled on a voyage. The upside of using primary data is that it’s highly precise. Primary data is all measured, so there are no estimates. Unfortunately, primary data can be difficult to collect. Shippers and forwarders are forced to collect fuel consumption measurements from vessel owners, who may or may not have that information available. It also misses a lot of context, say, if shipping mode changes or a shipment crosses a border.

Default Data

When primary data isn’t available, a second option is to use default data. This methodology relies on historical averages derived from primary data to get a close approximation to the actual numbers. Default data can theoretically replace measured data when pulling it is difficult or impossible. Today, organizations like the GLEC and the Smart Freight Centre have created guidelines to standardize default data averages.

The trouble with default data is that it isn’t always accurate. Oftentimes, companies must rely on data that’s been massaged to the point of being meaningless. An average of an average of an average might happen to mirror the circumstances of an individual voyage…or it could produce an emissions number that is much smaller (or greater) than the amount of carbon that a vessel is actually emitting. 

Modeled Data

A third option is modeled data. Modeled data starts with primary data, but also draws from other sources such as equipment type and vessel speed. There are countless factors and sub-factors that go into modeled data that replicate a shipment’s details as accurately as possible. Searoutes layers AIS data with real vessel speeds and distances, passages, and ECA zones. With this approach, Searoutes accounts for more factors and may find more optimization opportunities (such as using short sea when traffic levels make ground transportation inefficient, for example.)

A Note on Accuracy Versus Precision

When tracking carbon emissions, it’s important to ensure that the data is accurate. That is, it provides exact measurements, with little room for error.

At a first glance, primary data might seem like the best choice to measure emissions, because its measurements are precise. But primary data can be difficult or impossible to collect in certain scenarios, and provides little guidance when data is missing. It doesn’t look for mitigating factors, such as alternative routes or transportation modes. Companies can end up with less accurate results if they rely solely on primary data.

Instead, modeled data can provide a more accurate picture. Modeled data pulls information from a wide variety of sources and tailors it to individual scenarios. Further, modeled data can predict future reduction potential, helping shippers to come up with viable strategies to cut their carbon emissions.


At many large companies, sustainability isn’t confined to one office. Several people may have to contend with greenhouse gas emissions as part of their job description, and Searoutes’ API technology can help any of them. 

Head of sustainability

People in this role primarily focus on reducing CO2 emissions and helping a company become more sustainable overall. They may work to reduce emissions per department, put together an overall sustainability strategy, or identify critical areas for improvement. 

Sustainability heads don’t have an easy job, but API technology can reduce many of their manual tasks. Carbon emissions data can be hard to wrangle. It’s spread out, elusive, and usually needs to be cleaned. This task is laborious and time-consuming.

There’s already a false perception that going green is at odds with efficiency. The fact is that beefing up a company’s sustainability can be as simple as finding a new route or port, or partnering with a new carrier. But to know which route is optimal, you need solid data, which is what the Searoutes API provides.

Outsourcing data collection and calculations to us frees up the time and resources that a company would otherwise have to spend on manual tasks. Utilizing API technology allows a sustainability team to focus on strategy.

Head of logistics

The people in these positions also want to reduce shipping CO2 emissions, but they’re also grappling with fuel costs. They must balance choosing modes and carriers based on time, price, and carbon impact. 

The big challenge here is managing competing interests while maintaining transportation efficiency. Searoutes has extensive experience with this. In fact, our company got its start using AIS data as a unique way to monitor ocean traffic.

The Routing algorithm delivers a baseline for accurate distance traveled. It returns the shortest route sailed considering traffic separation schemes, SECA/ECA zones, piracy zones, canals and port entries. Detailed information is also returned for transit time, vessel speed and distances. Accurate routes and sea distances are a key criteria to improve carbon emissions reporting accuracy AND precision to improve planning and decisions when executing tenders to truly reduce CO2 emissions.

Having an accurate CO2 benchmark helps shippers make an educated decision about a mode or a carrier immediately. By giving companies a tool to select the greenest carriers and routes available, Searoutes’ data aids in planning long term transportation and sustainability strategies.

CTOs and Software Developers

No matter the team, everyone at a company is working toward the same business goals. Developers contribute by validating, testing, and implementing the best digital solutions and completing digital projects.

Here too, the API-first approach adds value. Traditional code-first software design can provide a good user experience, but it can also cause delays and reworkings which are frustrating to developers. The API-first approach integrates with any system, so developers aren’t handcuffed to a particular platform. Instead, they are free to build an interface and can easily call up the data.

The bottom line is that API technology provides value across different departments at a business. It’s more efficient and accurate than any spreadsheet and takes up considerably fewer company resources. And it just so happens to give organizations a way to lower their carbon emissions while improving business efficiency at the same time.

Freight forwarders

What if you aren’t a shipper but a freight forwarder? If so, it’s not your goal to move your own product but to help shippers move theirs. Even so, carbon monitoring with API-first technology adds value to this type of business.

Freight forwarders offer a transportation product, and they must find ways to differentiate it from all the other providers. Time was when price made all the difference, but cost alone has become less of a factor as of late.

Instead, another option is to have the greenest offering. Both shippers and freight forwarders will have to meet  Scope 3 emissions requirements. By tracking emissions and offering more sustainable options, freight forwarders can ensure that they, and their customers stay in line with coming regulations and actively reduce carbon emissions.

PARTNER WITH SEAROUTES TO DISCOVER THE POWER OF An API to Get Go-Beyond-Data-Modeled Carbon Emission Measurement Precision

This is why we’re so excited about the information that we provide. It brings visibility into which routes, modes, and even individual carriers are the fastest, cheapest, or greenest for each leg. Consumers are willing to pay more and even wait longer for sustainable products and shipping. Searoutes’ API makes optimal strategies clear across three different metrics and provides the data to demonstrate those efforts to the customer base.

While several providers of freight shipping emissions data are on the market today, none offer API-first experience or both the accuracy and precision on carbon emissions measurement in the Searoutes data-modeled methodology over and above those who only use primary, or default data methodologies. That means access to a collection of APIs to build digital solutions around CO2 reporting and reduction including:

  • Global coverage of all modes of transport 
  • Accurate vessel-level calibrated models 
  • Operational System uptime of above 99.9%
  • Frequent progression analysis, tender support and advisory
  • Smart Freight Centre-accredited calculations

When it comes to reducing carbon emissions, spreadsheets aren’t going to cut it. Shippers need a real-time, accurate, hands-off flow of continuous data from a provider explicitly built to meet the needs of the shipping industry. To see this in action, contact us today.

Carbon Emissions Data