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Can NYK Be a “Green” Shipping Company and Still Build Coal-Carrying Super-Tankers?

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Tokyo-based shipping company NYK Line has done a lot to boost its green credentials: The company docked its first solar-powered cargo ship in Los Angeles this month, recently released a concept design for a ship juiced up with fuel cells, wind, and solar power, and cut its C02 emissions 10.8% last year. But how green can any shipping company really be if it’s transporting coal? NYK’s JP Caretta bulk carrier ship, which set off on its maiden voyage today, will deliver approximately 800,000 tons of coal each year from Australia to thermal power stations in Japan.

The JP Caretta isn’t the first NYK ship to transport coal, and it probably won’t be the last. But it demonstrates how sustainability in one area of a company can be almost completely negated by lack of sustainability in another. Because while NYK’s solar-powered ship may help curb some of the 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions caused by the shipping industry, the JP Caretta is effectively enabling coal-powered electricity plants to spew CO2 into the atmosphere.

McDonald’s faces a similar quandary. The company buys its food from unsustainable sources, but is still opening its first “green” restaurant, complete with an EV charging station and special parking spots for hybrid vehicles. Essentially, McDonald’s and NYK are making peripheral aspects of their businesses sustainable while ignoring core issues.

It’s hard to say what NYK should do in this situation–after all, the company is hardly responsible for the advent of coal power, and it will lose valuable business by declining to carry coal on its ships. Still, while some change is always better than no change, NYK’s dual stance on carbon emissions reeks of hypocrisy.

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