Maersk are a Danish shipping company with a fleet of over 6oo container ships. They’re a major enterprise, and they are dependent on two commodities that have seen steeply rising prices in recent years – oil and steel. They know that reducing that dependency will give them a competitive edge as well as making them more sustainable, and they have been experimenting. At the moment they’re working on recyclable ships that can be dismantled and re-used.
Shouldn’t all container ships be essentially recyclable, you might be asking, since they’re 98% steel? Yes, decommissioned ships can be taken apart at a breakers yard, but not very efficiently. A ship will contain a range of grades of steel. Since they aren’t necessarily marked, it all tends to get melted down together and recycled as low-grade metal.
To address this problem and help secure cheaper steel in the future, Maersk are currently building their new ships with reuse in mind from the start. They’re called the Triple E, with the first of 20 due to be launched in June. They come with a ‘Cradle to Cradle Passport’, a huge database of materials and information about all the different components, so that it can all be dismantled with greater precision in 30 years’ time. With 60,000 tonnes of steel in each one, there’s a considerable saving to be made by sorting the grades properly.
This may sound like a fairly niche idea, but it’s the kind of circular economy thinking that every future-facing company needs to start taking on board. Working out how to reuse materials intelligently will make Maersk more resilient to global steel prices, create an alternative revenue stream from high quality scrap, and ease pressure on the environment by reducing the demand for mined iron ore.
Of course, an initiative like this is just one step in a long journey towards sustainability, especially for an international shipping company with a subsidiary arm in the oil business. But it’s about the mindset, about recognising that the world is changing and we need to adapt. Maersk have much to do, but they’re making a start. They set a target to reduce their CO2 emissions per container by 25% by 2020, but they did it by 2012 and have raised the target to 40%. The new Triple E series, which will be the largest container ships ever built, will produce 50% less CO2 per container than the average, largely through slower speeds and higher capacity.
This is all good work – and here’s hoping they go all the way and pioneer a properly sustainable container ship sooner rather than later.
- Case study from the MacArthur Foundation