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A Step-by-Step Guide for Vessel Owners to Become More Sustainable

While ocean shipping is essential for global trade, there’s a growing awareness that more must be done to reduce its environmental footprint. Ocean shipping carbon emissions are on a trajectory to increase from 3% to 17% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Vessel owners can steer the direction of carbon emission reduction efforts for countless global supply chains by the decisions they make for their fleets. In addition to the environmental benefits, there are economic, reputational, and regulation-related reasons vessel owners should consider investing in maritime sustainability.

In this article, we’re outlining seven steps vessel owners can take to reduce the carbon footprint of their fleet for more sustainable shipping worldwide.

Understanding Maritime Sustainability

The maritime shipping sector is responsible for working toward sustainability, but this can also serve as an opportunity. Fuel costs will always be an essential factor for vessel operations and profits, and specific strategies to reduce carbon emissions can reduce fuel costs at the same time. As sustainability becomes a bigger priority to more customers and freight procurement leaders, offering greener services can help vessel owners better reach these markets. Vessel owners that invest now also strategically position themselves ahead of the curve for fewer disruptions in the future, especially with the tightening of global sustainability targets. They can avoid penalties, reduce their dependence on fossil fuels, and enhance their brand image.

There may be challenges for vessel owners. A common one is the upfront costs of investing in a more fuel-efficient fleet, which can be a complex topic in itself. But beyond vessel design and equipment, there are other ways for vessel owners to reduce carbon emissions. Sustainability in the maritime industry is a marathon, not a sprint. While it’s easy to wish for endless resources to apply toward the problem, vessel owners can start by making the most of their current fleet, starting with these seven steps.

Step 1: Assess Your Fleet’s Impact

An accurate assessment provides a benchmark for vessel owners to gauge their future activity and improvements.

A vessel’s carbon emissions are influenced by a combination of its design, the type of engine it uses, the fuel consumed, and its operational patterns, including speeds and distances traveled. Given that vessels often change speed and exact routes, accurate emissions calculations must take into account vessel and voyage-specific data. These factors then go into the calculation of carbon emissions. Comparing current emissions with industry benchmarks can help vessel owners understand where the fleet stands and what scale of progress must be made.

If this first step seems complex due to the need for detailed data, rest assured that the remaining steps are simpler after setting up this foundation. Carbon emissions calculations must be handled with precision and care to inform the remaining steps with complete accuracy. This step is also where many companies rely on an expert like Searoutes, who specializes in providing high-quality carbon emissions data, calculation, and insight.

Step 2: Set Clear Sustainability Goals

For any sustainability initiative, it is important to have well-defined, achievable, and measurable goals to guide efforts in a structured direction. This ensures that resources are used effectively and allows vessel owners to track performance. If a particular initiative isn’t delivering the expected impact, they can adapt and recalibrate for a dynamic approach to sustainability. Quantifiable goals also create an environment of accountability. When targets are clear, there’s a greater drive to achieve them, and this can also improve confidence among stakeholders, helping future sustainability efforts go further with their support.

Sustainability goals may be related to carbon emission reduction or fuel efficiency specifically. With carbon emission reduction, vessel owners might consider a percentage reduction target for the fleet overall based on current emissions, for example, a 10% reduction in CO2 over the next three years. Alternatively, tailored goals can be set for each trade lane based on the data gathered during the fleet’s impact assessment.

Step 3: Embrace Data-Driven Insights

Data is vital to effective decision-making. For vessel owners, embracing technology and data-driven tools can simplify the path to sustainability. This is where Searoutes serves vessel owners and shippers with accurate vessel tracking, emissions monitoring, and advanced insights into a vessel’s environmental impact. Searoutes calculates emissions using granular data, including data on specific routes, fuel types, and vessel activity. Vessel owners can then apply this data to their operations and identify more efficient routes and any operational adjustments that can reduce emissions.

Robust data leads to more effective action being taken, ensuring resources are invested where they’ll have the most impact. Continuous monitoring is the necessary second part of this step. As conditions change—whether environmental, operational, or market-driven—vessel owners can adapt and continue to progress toward their goals.

Step 4: Optimize Route Planning

Once the baseline assessment, goals, and insights are in place, optimizing route planning is one of the easiest ways to enhance maritime sustainability. Efficiently charted routes can significantly reduce fuel consumption. Routes should use factors like sea currents, wind conditions, and maritime traffic to help shorten routes as much as possible and avoid delays and detours. Searoutes’ AIS data and APIs allow vessel owners to analyze their data and determine how to optimize routes for fuel consumption, voyage efficiency, and operations.

Step 5: Implement Fuel Efficiency Measures

Fuel remains one of the main expenses for any vessel, and it’s also the main source of maritime emissions, which means vessel owners should consider the impacts on fuel efficiency for any decisions they make. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) introduced the Energy Efficiency Index for Existing Ships (EEXI) and the Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII) to help toward this goal. EEXI covers methods of improving energy efficiency based on the vessel’s design and equipment, while CII covers performance.

There are many energy-efficient measures within the category of design and equipment, for example, vessels employing hull air lubrication, wind-assisted propulsion, and waste heat recovery. While it might be an investment to retrofit ships with the necessary systems for these strategies, the increase in fuel efficiency can lead to long-term fuel savings.

In the performance category, one method of increasing fuel efficiency is operating at the vessel’s optimal speed. Since this speed is less than the vessel’s maximum speed, some trade-off is necessary. Still, wherever fuel efficiency is the priority, the optimal speed should be maintained as consistently as possible.

With the many possible strategies that can help vessels increase fuel efficiency, vessel owners have options. They can choose what works best for their exact vessels and sustainability goals.

Step 6: Monitor and Adjust

Sustainability should be an ongoing journey with an iterative approach, as no initiative is perfect from the start. As maritime operations change, vessel owners must remain adaptive by monitoring performance and adjusting their strategies. Regular assessment helps bring challenges to light and allows vessel owners to continue progressing, refining strategy for maximum efficiency and effectiveness. This may also include integrating new advancements and technologies into their sustainability initiatives as they become available.

Step 7: Focus on Collaboration for a Collective Impact

Lastly, vessel owners should lean on collaboration within the industry to improve the reach and effectiveness of their sustainability initiatives. Partnerships can open the door to stakeholders pooling resources, both in terms of finances and expertise, to maximize the impact of their efforts. By sharing best practices, the industry can make better progress industry-wide.

Vessel operations are just one part of global supply chains. Working closely with others ensures that sustainability efforts can be streamlined across the entire chain. This can lead to more innovative solutions and synergies, where contributions from one angle amplify the benefits of another contribution.

Unlock Sustainability for Your Fleet with Searoutes

From assessing the environmental impact of specific voyages to utilizing data-driven insights for better decisions, companies of all types involved in maritime shipping have a responsibility to work toward sustainability. Vessel owners can do their part by making greener options available for shippers and leaning on the data and expertise of Searoutes to ensure their efforts are most effective. With proprietary emissions-calculating algorithms, Searoutes provides the most accurate and precise data in the industry, along with monitoring and insights for route optimization and more.

To learn more about how Searoutes is helping vessel owners navigate their carbon emissions reductions, reach out to us today to book a demo.

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