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The possible influence of the shipper on carbon emissions from deep-sea container supply chains: An empirical analysis


This article examines the extent to which shippers can influence the level of carbon emissions from the deep-sea container supply chain. It uses data collected in an online questionnaire survey of 34 large UK shippers, supplemented by the results of focus group discussions and interviews with a range of key stakeholders, including shipping lines, freight forwarders, logistics companies and port operators. The online sample comprised shippers responsible for inbound and/or outbound deep-sea containers flows. The amount of leverage that they can exert on ‘carbon-sensitive’ decisions depends partly on the Incoterms that they employ and their use of freight forwarders. Many large shippers still retain significant influence over the choice of carriers used for deep-sea and port feeder services, consignment routing and scheduling and the choice of port. Shippers responsible for inbound flows reported high levels of container fill, though opportunities exist for improving the weight utilisation of outbound containers, possibly by moving to a port-centric logistics model. Around 40 per cent of the shippers consulted currently measure CO2 emissions from their deep-sea container supply chains with only 6 per cent explicitly implementing carbon reduction initiatives. The research shows the importance of adopting a broader supply chain approach to decarbonisation in the maritime sector and emphasises the need for a multi-stakeholder perspective that recognises the important role of the shipper in the process.

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  1. Under the terms of the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, Scope 3 emissions are defined as ‘all indirect emissions that occur in the value chain of the reporting company, including both upstream and downstream emissions’. They include emissions from companies to which activities, such as logistics, have been outsourced. This contrasts with Scope 1 emissions which originate from sources the reporting company directly owns/controls and Scope 2 emissions that arise from the generation of electricity used by the reporting company.

  2. The average carbon intensity of heavy articulated truck (> 33 tonnes gross weight) at mean weight-based loading of 62 per cent=0.084 kg CO2/tonne-km; average carbon intensity of ‘diesel/electric’ rail freight operations in the UK=0.028 kg CO2/tonne-km (DEFRA/DECC, 2012).


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The research reported in this article was funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council as part of its Low Carbon Shipping programme. The support of the Global Shippers’ Forum is also gratefully acknowledged.

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McKinnon, A. The possible influence of the shipper on carbon emissions from deep-sea container supply chains: An empirical analysis. Marit Econ Logist 16, 1–19 (2014).

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