Pathways to
Zero-Impact Shipping

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Executive Summary

In collaboration with the National Research Council Canada (NRC) and the University of British Columbia (UBC), Clear Seas is undertaking a project to develop an assessment framework tool to evaluate and prioritize technological solutions to help reduce the overall environmental impacts of marine shipping.

Funded by NRC and Mitac’s Accelerate Program, this multi-year project is led by Dr. Amanda Giang from the Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability (IRES) and UBC’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, and by Dr. Terre Satterfield (IRES). 

Although marine shipping remains the most energy-efficient way to transport freight globally, as vessel traffic increases, so do concerns about its environmental impacts, which extend beyond greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, commercial ships must work to reduce and eliminate all forms of air pollution, discharges of oil and other waste into the water, microplastics, underwater noise, and the transfer of invasive species, while preventing spills and accidents. When it comes to improving the environmental footprint of shipping, both ship owners and technology developers are faced with a myriad of possibilities – automation, alternative fuels, propulsion systems, innovative materials, artificial intelligence, etc. – for where they should place their effort.

Using a multi-criteria sustainability assessment approach, the project will develop an evaluation framework that accounts for the full environmental impacts of marine shipping and the extent different technologies may contribute to reducing those impacts. Once completed, this publicly available framework will help identify and prioritize solutions that have the greatest potential to reduce impacts across the full suite of environmental performance areas. This work will also help to inform decisions and scope future research driving technological improvements toward the goal of ‘zero-impact shipping’. Applications will include: 

  • Prioritizing research and development efforts
  • Sharpening policy decisions 
  • Selecting technologies for retrofits on existing ships and new ship designs