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Jessica Corbett: Cyber Monday Report Reveals Climate-Wrecking Supply Chain of US Retail Giants

Reducing, and ultimately eliminating, maritime emissions will not happen without bold commitments and concrete actions from the companies paying for cargo carriers to transport their goods

As shoppers scoured the internet for holiday deals on Cyber Monday, a pair of environmental groups published a report that exposes the planet-heating maritime shipping practices of four major global retailers: Amazon, IKEA, Target, and Walmart.

Entitled Shady Routes: How big retail and their carriers pollute along key ocean shipping corridors, the new report is from Pacific Environment and Stand.earth, environmental groups that belong to the Ship It Zerocoalition, which pressures retail giants to “lead the way to climate-friendly, clean-air shipping practices.”

“Until recently, the massive climate-disrupting and human health-harming emissions from international container shipping—and the companies that are buying their services—have sailed under the radar of public scrutiny,” the report states.

This despite international shipping “accounting for 3% of global emissions,” the report continues. “If it were a country, it would be the world’s sixth largest climate polluter.”

According to the environmental groups, “Goods imported via maritime shipping to the U.S. by Walmart, Target, Amazon, and IKEA between 2018–2020 accounted for an estimated 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions (CO2e).”

“These goods were predominantly shipped by a small group of major maritime cargo carriers who have long-term relationships with each company,” Shady Routes notes. “The most common shipping routes for these goods are between Chinese and West Coast U.S. ports, where vessels left idling due to the current shipping crisis are pushing pollution levels for port communities to all-time highs.”

In what the groups called “groundbreaking” research, their analysis found that Walmart, the top importer of goods in the United States, has the highest volumes traded and the most emissions. The retailer relies heavily on CMA CGM, the biggest polluter among the carriers in the report.

Other top carriers featured in Shady Routes include Cosco, Evergreen, Hapag-Lloyd, Maersk, MSC, and Yang Ming, as well as Amazon’s AMZD, an “ocean forwarder, which means that other carriers are shipping cargo on the company’s behalf.”

“Major cargo carriers are lagging in moving towards zero emissions, citing that costs have been prohibitive,” said Madeline Rose, climate campaign director at Pacific Environment, in a statement. “Container industry profits are unprecedentedly strong, consumers support clean shipping, and the technology is available. There are no longer any excuses left to set goals to meet zero emissions for 2030.”

Rose called on retailers to “engage with cargo carriers that will give them zero-emission freight options to get their goods to market.” That call to action was echoed by Kendra Ulrich, shipping campaigns director at Stand.earth.

“Pandemic-fueled demand increases, record-breaking profits, and the supply chain crisis reveal the current maritime shipping system is ripe for transformation,” Ulrich said. “There is ample room for retail brands and cargo carriers to absorb the cost of transitioning to fossil-free, zero-emissions shipping and deliver healthier air to our port communities and a livable climate future.”

“Retail companies can choose to be industry leaders and early adopters of zero-emissions technology,” she added, “or they can put short-term profit over public health and the climate by making empty commitments that put off action on climate change until it’s too late.”

Shady Routes details steps the four retailers must take to be “leaders” in shipping:

  • Amazon and IKEA must make stronger, more immediate commitments to zero-emission shipping;
  • Walmart and Target must take responsibility for their maritime pollution and commit to zero-emission shipping;
  • Walmart, Target, Amazon, and IKEA can play leadership roles in creating fossil-free shipping corridors across the Pacific, starting with Yantian (Shenzhen) to Los Angeles and Long Beach and Shanghai to Seattle; and
  • All four companies must commit to annual public reporting and transparency regarding their maritime shipping.

Dawny’all Heydari, Ship It Zero campaign lead at Pacific Environment, highlighted that “Target and Amazon have played an outsized role in the current congestion and pollution crisis at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.”

“The retail brands that fill our homes and lives with their products bear a direct responsibility for the pollution their supply chains create.”

“As Target faces a swell of demand in places like California and a doubling of its digital sales, and as Amazon increases its control over its own gas-guzzling shipment and parcel delivery, it is past time to hold these retailers accountable for their responsibilities at the ports,” Heydari said. “Both companies will continue to favor West Coast routes, which means they’ll also keep clogging West Coast ports, spewing cancer-causing emissions and threatening our climate future.”

The report notes that IKEA sends a share of its products from China to Europe via rail, then uses maritime transport to get the goods to the United States—which “could be part of” a strategy to cut emissions. It also points out that last month, IKEA joined with Amazon and other retailers for an initiative called coZEV, committing to fossil-free maritime shipping by 2040.

While demanding bolder action, the campaigners on Monday also welcomed recent progress, including coZEV and rising awareness. Ulrich said that “consumers, corporations, and governments are waking up to the massive climate impact stemming from goods being shipped across our oceans.”

“Reducing, and ultimately eliminating, maritime emissions will not happen without bold commitments and concrete actions from the companies paying for cargo carriers to transport their goods,” she said. “The retail brands that fill our homes and lives with their products bear a direct responsibility for the pollution their supply chains create, and for taking the necessary actions to demand a transition to zero-emissions shipping this decade.”


First published in Common Dreams. Included in Vox Populi under a Creative Commons license.

Jessica Corbett is a staff writer for Common Dreams.

Walmart relies heavily on CMA CGM, the biggest polluter among the carriers in the report. (Photo: Vesselfinder)

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