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Stories / Sustainable Shipping: Why it Matters for Businesses

Sustainable Shipping: Why it Matters for Businesses

Cheap vehicles, polluting fuel, and non-recyclable packaging are just a few of the many reasons why the shipping industry is in trouble.

Packaging materials make up 28.1 percent of total waste. The shipping industry is responsible for around 3% of the world's total CO2 emissions and 940 million tonnes of CO2 annually. It’s predicted that if no significant action is taken, the shipping industry will account for 17% of global CO2 emissions by 2050.

Today, many companies are turning to zero-carbon shipping to protect (and respect) the planet we live on. But zero-carbon shipping can only become a reality if treated as a strategic initiative to bring a change across all company operations.

In this blog, we’re zooming in on sustainable shipping's impact and importance.

What Is Sustainable Shipping?

Sustainable shipping is a practice, commitment, and pledge taken by businesses, logistic companies, and other stakeholders in the shipping industry to reduce the environmental impact of shipping. It aims to reduce carbon emissions and limit the use of fossil fuels and other energy sources that emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, such as natural gas or propane.

Many companies are adopting different practices to make their shipping practices green, such as:

  • Switching to electric vehicles.
  • Using carpooling services to deliver parcels.
  • Using drone delivery to reduce fuel consumption.
  • Reducing package sizes to reduce weight.
  • Charging more to customers for overnight delivery.
  • Incentivizing customers to choose green shipping.
  • Launching awareness campaigns for green shipping.
  • Using technology to optimize routes, handle freight, and control greenhouse gas emissions.

The journey to sustainable shipping is very long, and unfortunately, a lot of damage has already been done. To put things into perspective, let’s look at the global impact of shipping on our environment.

Global Impact of Shipping on The Environment

These statistics about some of the most common shipping methods may or may not surprise you:


Ships emit about 10 grams of CO2 to transport one metric ton of cargo one kilometer. Even though it seems a lot, it’s still half as much as a train, one-fifth as much as a truck, and nearly a fiftieth of an airplane. Not just that, but ships also contribute to climate change through emissions of Black Carbon in the sea. Chemical and oil spills can also destroy marine life.


While transporting freight on trains is more fuel-efficient, trucks provide efficiency and ship-to-store flexibility. But, the cost to the environment is high. In Canada, on-road freight vehicles’ greenhouse gas emissions increased by 35.8% between 2005 and 2018.

Today, some companies are utilizing efficient, environmentally trucks to decrease their impact on the environment.

Cars/On-demand Delivery

According to a McKinsey report, apart from all CO2 emissions through fuel consumption, increased traffic because of last-mile delivery vehicles on the road leads to a 20% increase in the city's carbon dioxide emissions in city centers.

Why Is Sustainability Important in Shipping?

Sustainable shipping is the wave of the future. Its impact on the environment is the root cause of many problems the world is facing right now – of which climate change is the biggest one. If left unresolved, climate change will cost the shipping industry up to $25 billion every year.

Sustainability can also benefit you from a business perspective. Here are some not-so-famous reasons why sustainable shipping can be a great choice for your business:

Believe it or Not, Your Customers Want it

If you start putting effort into making sustainability your top priority, it doesn’t only benefit the environment but also makes many customers happy. The world is becoming eco-centric, and customers are willing to 'act' on saving the world from damage.

Does this surprise you?

According to American Express’ Trendex poll that surveyed 1,000 Canadians, 76% of adults in Canada are ready to pay more and most likely to trust and be loyal to a brand if it practices sustainability and is working on initiatives to address environmental issues.

It’s Easy and Cost-effective

Contrary to popular belief, making green choices for your shipments isn’t that hard or expensive. Many sustainable packaging items are cheaper than using plastic.

As far as shipping is concerned, if you don’t have the budget and resources required to build a green fleet, there are many dedicated logistic companies in the sustainable shipping space that can take the entire process off your plate.

Minimalism is More Just a Trend

The movement of ‘minimalism’ plays an important role here. Many consumers have shared that packages purchased online use too much packaging material that contributes to more waste and contradicts their minimalist lifestyle.

As a business, why would you want to keep spending big money on containers and packaging boxes when, by reducing the size and weight of the package and material used, you can save a lot of money and can win customers' hearts?

Sustainable Shipping Best Practices

If you’re a business considering sustainable shipping, here are some best practices to keep in mind:

Reduce Packaging Material Waste

Unnecessary gift wrappers and oversized boxes lead to unnecessary waste and occupy more space in your freight. Always choose correctly sized boxes for your shipment to save money and protect the planet. Win-win, right?

Incentivize Green shipping

Give your customers a choice to go green. You can do this by offering free delivery promotions or spending your marketing dollars on awareness campaigns about the benefits of sustainable shipping. Use terminologies like 'green checkout' in your copy to entice customers to make environmentally-friendly choices.

Disincentivize Overnight and Fast Shipping

24-hour shipping is a nice feature to have. But if you incentivize it, it creates an unnecessary load of shipments, even when certain packages aren’t urgent. Keeping overnight or fast delivery as a paid or premium feature can keep traffic congestion at bay while allowing you to optimize delivery routes more efficiently.

Use Technology to Optimize Operations

Technology can take a lot of paperwork out of the logistics process and streamline operations. With the help of software and other technology-based resources, automate your supply chain as much as possible.

Use Biodegradable or Recyclable Packaging Materials

Empty boxes and packaging materials make up one-third or more of trash all over the world. Choose biodegradable packaging wherever possible to reduce the amount of waste you contribute.

Print Labels Using Thermal Printers

Choose thermal labels over traditional ink printers. Thermal printers are a green choice since you’re not using ink or tape, which leaves you with two less non-recyclable waste materials.

Improve Route Planning

Optimize your shipping routes based on delivery schedules, availability, and geographical mapping. Efficient route planning can help you save a lot of cost on fuel consumption and upkeep of vehicles.

Best Sustainable Shipping Materials - and Why They’re Important

Before we list the best sustainable packaging materials, let's talk about why using sustainable materials for shipping is important:

  • First things first, it's environmentally friendly.
  • Most eco-friendly packaging is recyclable and biodegradable so it produces less waste.
  • It helps your brand image as customers are likely to appreciate your care for the planet.
  • It reduces shipping costs. Eco-friendly packaging is more lightweight than traditional packaging.
  • Most sustainable packaging materials contain no allergens or toxins.

In case you didn't know, here are some sustainable packaging materials that are available to take a step toward a more sustainable future:

  1. Corrugated Packaging -Corrugated packaging material is readily recyclable, and due to being lightweight, it can save you money in shipping costs. It's made of paper pulp or recycled wood chips and shavings from lumber mill waste.
  2. Mushroom Packaging - Made with only two ingredients, hemp hurds and mycelium, Mushroom packaging is very cost-efficient, resistant to water, soil compostable, and thermally insulating. It's a sustainable alternative to styrofoam, which has a lifespan of 500 years.
  3. Glassine Packaging -Glassine packaging is made of hardwood trees. It can be used to replace shiny glossy plastics and is pH neutral, biodegradable, recyclable, and acid-free.
  4. Bamboo Packaging - Bamboo packaging is actually cheaper than plastic and offers more versatility in packaging than any other material. It has better insulating properties and can be used for many shipping materials, including boxes and utensils.
  5. Cellulose Packaging -Cellophane, made with harvested cellulose from plants, is another sustainable, recyclable, and reusable packaging material. Due to its low permeability to air, oils, greases, bacteria, and water, it's a really good replacement for plastic bags to ship food items.
  6. Sugarcane Packaging - Another eco-friendly shipping material that's a good fit for the food and beverage industry is sugarcane. This packaging isn’t only an environmentally friendly alternative but also microwave-safe. It's made of bagasse and can be returned to the earth as food for the soil.
  7. Cornstarch Packaging - Cornstarch packaging has Polylactic Acid (PLA) made by fermenting plant sugar and starch. It’s a great alternative to plastic, uses the cheapest commercially available sugars, and is 100% compostable.

Choosing Sustainable Shipping Alternatives

If sustainable shipping is your goal for 2023, start by following the tips shared above. Once you have sustainable shipping materials, an optimized delivery process, and a green checkout system, the last step is to choose a sustainable shipping method or transport system.

As a company, your first goal towards reducing global carbon dioxide emissions is to become carbon-neutral. Carbon-neutral shipping is when you use alternative shipping strategies to minimize your carbon footprint.

Some companies reduce fuel consumption while others rely on planting more trees and following compostable packaging. All routes lead to one goal: sustainability.

Sustainable transportation is a key puzzle piece toward achieving 100% sustainable shipping. Here are some alternative shipping methods you can use to reduce your environmental footprint:

Electric or Carbon-Efficient Vehicles

The main culprit of carbon emissions in the world is fuel consumption. This can be reduced if logistics companies switch to electric or carbon-efficient vehicles.

Carbon-efficient and electric vehicles mean low or zero-emission, energy-efficient, affordable modes of transport. These vehicles include electric vehicles and domestic fuels.

Switch to Alternate Fuel

Another important step logistic companies can take toward sustainable shipping is to switch to an alternate fuel. Alternate fuel produces less air and environmental pollution than gasoline or diesel. For example, switching to corn-based ethanol in replacement of gasoline reduces life cycle greenhouse emissions on average by 40%.

Another alternate fuel, biofuel, is considered carbon-neutral fuel.

Electricity, the second most widely used alternative to fuel, is generated from various sources such as coal, natural gas, nuclear power, and renewables. Electric vehicles usually have a smaller carbon footprint than cars that use gasoline, even if we account for the electricity they use for charging.

Here is a list of some alternate fuel options available:

  • Biodiesel
  • Electricity
  • Ethanol
  • Hydrogen
  • Natural gas

Sea Freight Over Air Freight

Where sea freight can sometimes take weeks to arrive, air freights can reach their destination in only a day or two. This is why most companies rely on air freight to make fast shipping possible.

But this doesn't make it sustainable.

Airplanes pollute the environment 20-30 times more than ships. They emit 500 grams of CO2 per km per metric ton of freight, whereas ground shipping emits only 10 to 40 grams of CO2 per kilometer.

Working with a Sustainable Logistics Partner

For businesses that have no experience handling fleets, sustainable shipping can seem like a very far-fetched goal. But it’s not impossible.

This is where working with a dedicated logistic service provider is extremely helpful. Sustainable shipping is still not a forte of many logistic companies, so it’s important to know what to look for when evaluating potential providers.

Here are some tips:

  • Inquire about their overall fleet, including vehicle types and features.
  • Inquire about the company's own goals on sustainable shipping and what measures they take to ensure sustainability practices.
  • Inquire about how tech-enabled their solution is since route optimization and planning can save you a lot of money and time.
  • Look for flexible, non-traditional companies that can offer custom delivery solutions to your unique business needs.

Achieving Sustainability in Shipping

Remember, sustainable shipping isn’t a win that happens overnight, and change takes time. But companies have to make concentrated efforts to make sure that they give back and take care of the planet they live on.

At Ziing, sustainability is the core of what we do. We measure our impact on the environment and feel responsible for balancing financial growth and environmental care to create an industry that remains sustainable into the future.

Our sustainable shipping initiatives include:

  • Switching to more efficient and environmentally-friendly vehicles.
  • Using software that helps us balance our loads and calculate our carbon footprint.
  • Implementing the 4R strategy: Reduce, Recycle, Reuse, and Recover.

If you’re looking for a sustainable shipping company, reach out to us today. Let's explore how our sustainable logistics solutions can put your business on the map, and together we can create a more sustainable future.

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