Walmart, Ikea and Amazon have a nasty shipping problem

Giant retailers, including Amazon and Ikea, have pledged to go green, but their shipments are still pretty dirty. Thanks to a new report, buyers can now see how much pollution some of the largest retail companies in the United States each generate when importing goods into the country. In 2019, the 15 companies in the report generated almost as much climate pollution as 1.5 million American homes in a year.

The report examines greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution caused by shipping piles of goods around the world and ranks the top 15 polluters by company. Walmart Tops the list, generating more greenhouse gas emissions than a coal-fired power plant in a year. Ashley Furniture, Target, Dole and Home Depot round out the top five. Ikea and Amazon are ranked 7th and 8th respectively. Samsung ranked 9th and LG 11th.

Image: Pacific Environment, Stand.earth

While experts have known for some time that shipping is responsible for three percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, the individual retailers responsible for this pollution have largely been able to avoid scrutiny so far. . But with the curtain drawn on corporate carbon footprints, consumers have more ammunition to demand action on climate change.

“There hadn’t really been an investigation into this pillar of the companies’ emissions portfolio,” says Madeline Rose, lead author of the report released today by nonprofit environmental groups Pacific Environment and Stand.earth . “Frankly, with the climate emergency upon us, we just think there has to be some disruption to the data system and there has to be more transparency. “

To track corporate emissions, the organizations first consulted a public database called the Journal of Commerce to identify the largest importers into the United States by volume. They then asked the University Maritime Advisory Services (UMAS), which have access to other maritime import databases, to cross-reference the public data with their own proprietary information. Together, they matched individual shipments from retailers to specific ships. Based on the voyages of the ships, they were able to estimate fuel consumption and the resulting emissions. Their estimates are likely low, as researchers were unable to verify all freight trips made by franchises and shell companies with different names than their parent companies.

“Because the data is so opaque, it only captures about 20% of the market, and then it extrapolates up from there,” says Dan Rutherford, who heads the aeronautical and maritime programs for the International Council for Transport. clean, and who did not participate in the search. “I think this is appropriate because the data itself is not available. But it shows that we need better rules and transparency. “

The research also does not take into account emissions from the return journeys of ships after their cargo has been unloaded. It also doesn’t geolocate shows to see where they end. This could be important for coastal communities who are struggling with the pollution that drifts to shore. We think that 60,000 people die prematurely each year after being exposed to air pollution from shipping. The 15 companies named in the new report generated as much air pollution in 2019 – including soot, sulfur oxide and nitrous oxide – as tens of millions of cars and trucks.

The study is also limited to US imports, although the United States is the largest consumer market in the world. Since supply chains can involve multiple companies in multiple countries, it has been difficult to attribute emissions from shipping to a single country. This has made regulating pollution in the industry very difficult as it is not clear who should be held responsible.

“Here you have another giant case of emissions going through the cracks,” says Jennifer Jacquet, associate professor of environmental studies at New York University who was not involved in the study. “We knew we had to do something about shipping, and I don’t think there was a consensus exactly on how to handle that… at least we can say, you know, IKEA is responsible for some of these. emissions. “

Despite their sweeping climate commitments, companies like Ikea and Amazon continue to cause significant damage to the planet, as this report shows. Both companies responded to The edge with statements highlighting their sustainability commitments, while Walmart, LG and Samsung did not respond to a request for comment. Ikea says it wants to reduce more greenhouse gases than it emits by 2030. Amazon is trying to do something similar by 2040 and is working to put more electric vehicles on the road to reduce the emissions of its deliveries. Rose wants to see more of this thinking about how goods are transported by sea.

“One of the big problems with shipping is that it is a very invisible source of pollution,” says Rose. “If we don’t control emissions from maritime vessels, we will not solve the climate emergency. “

About Michael Sample

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