Carbon Offset Shipping: Calculate Your Shipping Carbon Footprint (Or Offset Directly)

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Carbon Offsets Credits | November 7, 2023

Carbon offset shipping emissions explained while two people carry a large box to the back of a truck that is spewing a sipping carbon footprint.

As more and more items are transported around the globe, the cost of shipping on the planet’s health has spurred more interest in finding applicable carbon offset shipping strategies.

The ability to erase the emissions caused by shipping can have a major impact on the world’s CO2 levels… but in order to offset these emissions, first, you need to know how to calculate them.

Don’t have time to calculate all your shipments?

No problem! You can offset your shipping directly with just one click.

Calculate Shipping Carbon Footprint Here

Once you know the shipping emissions from any item, then you can take steps to completely eliminate them, either through directly offsetting the emissions generated by transport or by finding Eco-friendly ways to achieve carbon neutrality.

This guide outlines all the ways you can help reduce the carbon impact of shipping in effective and beneficial ways that will help the planet restore its natural resources.

What Is Carbon Neutral Shipping? (Definition of Carbon Neutral)

The term “carbon neutral” in shipping refers to practices that create a net-zero amount of greenhouse gasses, mainly eliminating methane and carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.

These gasses are the main culprits in climate change, and they’re generated when anything is shipped by land, air, or sea.

Carbon neutral shipping is gaining traction as a crucial component in mitigating the adverse effects of climate change because the transportation industry is a primary contributor to carbon dioxide levels.

Sadly, there’s no current way to ship something without generating carbon emissions, since most transportation companies rely on fossil fuels.1

Plus, even if electric vehicles for shipping were readily available… the power to charge those vehicles is still mostly generated using fossil fuels.

While Star Trek-style transporters are still science fiction, companies are increasingly looking for ways to employ carbon offset shipping strategies.  These include employing:

  • Eco-friendly packaging (fewer plastics and more recycled materials)
  • Direct to customer transport (without a middle stop along the way)
  • Carbon offset programs that erase the emissions produced (Keep reading to learn more)

Why Go Carbon Neutral?

There are some accepted and recognized benefits derived from carbon neutrality:

  • Many studies have concluded that customers prefer sustainable brands and that a majority of consumers (especially millennials) are okay with spending a bit more to achieve the communal goals of carbon neutrality.
  • Carbon-reduction strategies can create a fair amount of cost savings for businesses. They do so by reducing wasteful power consumption and inefficient packaging and shipping practices
  • Carbon reduction is advantageous to the planet we all share and do business on. Preserving global resources will enable all businesses to stay profitable and productive.

Carbon Free Shipping Versus Carbon Neutral

Carbon negative practices involve the direct removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. For instance: a company is carbon negative when it disposes of more carbon than it uses in manufacturing.

Carbon zero is when no emissions are being produced. Carbon neutrality applies when some emissions are generated in the production process but are then offset in other forms, which results in overall zero emissions.

For example, if a company produces 200 tons of carbon emissions a year, but purchases tree planting offsets that erase 300 tons of emissions, that company is operating carbon negative, and thanks to the growing carbon marketplace, this is a practice that can be achieved right now!

Carbon Footprint Shipping Facts

The shipping industry emits over 900 million tons of CO2 annually. That adds up to almost three percent of the planet’s CO2 emissions.2

What Shipping Method Has the Largest Carbon Footprint?

Airfreight has the dubious honor of causing the biggest carbon footprint. Airplanes emit half a kilogram of CO2 per cargo mile. Ship transports emit only about thirty grams of CO2 per kilometer.

How Much CO2 Does a Container Ship Produce?

On average, in 2021, a container ship emits about twenty grams of CO2 per metric ton of cargo shipped per mile. This ends up being a larger shipping carbon footprint than bulk carriers (no containers), which emit about four grams of CO2e per mile traveled.

Do Ships Produce More CO2 Than Cars?

The world’s fifteen largest ships spew the same CO2 amounts as all the world’s cars.

An aerial view of a large container ship being guided by tugboats into a port, with cargo cranes and stacked containers visible in the background.

(Image: Tom Fisk6)

Those mega-ships are also responsible for more sulfur emissions than the entire global car fleet.3

Steps for Reducing Shipping Emissions and Applying Carbon Offset Shipping Strategies

There are ways to reduce the emissions generated by transport. And although carbon offset shipping strategies offer the type of long term environmental benefits (like tree planting carbon offset programs focused on shipping carbon offset) that can help reduce emissions from other activities as well, the following ideas can add to the reduction of emissions.

Step 1: Determine Your Emissions

The first step is to measure your current shipping emissions.  Use an eco footprint calculator like the one above to figure domestic and international emissions based on your current weights and destinations.

Businesses can use a business carbon footprint calculator to also identify all their carbon emissions and find effective ways to reduce them right now.

Step 2: Re-Evaluate Your Packaging

Shipping supplies are paramount in protecting goods while in transport but many of the products used today are wasteful and inefficient.

A tragic statistic reveals that over the last 65 years, less than ten percent of the plastic used worldwide has been recycled. The rest contaminates the oceans, rivers, and landfills.

Some recyclable and biodegradable and recyclable materials like:

  • Custom-made shipping boxes custom-made to eliminate or reduce wasted packaging
  • Biodegradable air pillows
  • Abolishing Styrofoam for the sake of sealed-air packing
  • Investing in replacing dry ice with reusable gel packs

These options will incur up-front costs for any shipping company but within a few years will prove to be cost-effective compared to the products currently used.4

Step 3: Redesign Shipping Routes and Logistics

Analyzing shipping routes not only can save on expenses, but it can also cut back on the emissions produced.

For example, if a truck route is designed to make five deliveries and one of those deliveries inefficiently adds extra miles, then developing a way to add the shipment to a different transport, even if it delays delivery.

Or, create quotas regarding shipments so that each transport route achieves the maximum result.

Although most logistics plans already incorporate these concepts, reevaluation can always be a benefit.

Step 4: Purchase Carbon Offset Shipping Programs

When purchasing carbon offset shipping programs, there are some things that should be considered:

  • Actual Impact of the offset program (how much emissions and how long will they be removed)
  • The reputation of the offset provider
  • Holistic benefits to the planet

Investigating these factors will have an impact on how effective the offset strategy is in actually eliminating the emissions from shipping.

For example, some projects have been exposed to ‘protecting’ forests from destruction, which were in no danger of being destroyed (like within a National Park). Others are based on planting non-native trees where no trees existed before (which can harm the surrounding ecosystems).

Research the project available to be certain the plan will benefit the planet. The best carbon offset providers offer transparent information about how their program can measurably eliminate (not just store for future release) carbon emissions.

Companies That Advertise Carbon-Neutral Shipping

Most e-commerce companies already market their carbon-neutral shipping and delivery strategies. Some are more committed to the process than others but there’s no doubt that the trajectory of sustainable shipping is on the rise.

Businesses can partner with shipping companies that are already implementing carbon offset shipping strategies, like these:

UPS

UPS lets you buy carbon offsets to reduce the environmental degradation of the emissions used during shipping.5 The company’s carbon-neutral option is legitimately verified and offers a reliable system for the application of carbon offsets.

FedEx

FedEx has implemented many changes to become carbon-neutral by 2040. The company currently offers carbon-neutral shipping envelopes. They’re also investing in electric vehicles and energy-efficient aircraft.

ShipHero

ShipHero is on top of the fast-paced requirements of the shipping industry. They offer two-day ground shipping possible by implementing advanced AI logistics tools. Instead of using centralized hubs, they use a direct shipping method to deliver goods directly to the customer’s doorstep—a pragmatic strategy that reduces costs and emissions.

Electric Vehicles

Electric cars are already standard vehicles on our freeways. It’s easy to imagine how they’ll soon be used as an efficient shipping option, BUT this will only be effective if the power used to recharge the batteries is sourced from a eco-friendly option.

Since most electricity around the world is fabricated using fossil fuels (like burning coal or gas), for electric vehicles to become a real emissions reduction option, the way power is generated must be an important part of the equation.

For example, a Prius carbon footprint is bigger than you think, depending on where it is ‘charged.’

Advanced AI for Logistics

Logistics software is on its way to controlling the routes of every company and will offer minute-by-minute optimization derived from weather conditions, traffic patterns, and whatever else applies to delivery routes.

Reducing the emissions from shipping can be done when carbon offset shipping strategies are applied deliberately and conscientiously.

Frequently Asked Questions About Carbon Offset Shipping Plans

Does UPS Carbon Neutral Cost More?

Yes. The flat rate per package is five cents for ground services and twenty cents for expedited delivery.

What Are the Carbon Neutral Shipping Plans Used by UPS?

UPS’s carbon-neutral strategy helps in efforts that offset transport emissions. The corporation funds ventures of reforestation, wastewater treatment, and methane elimination.

Does the USPS Have a Carbon-Neutral Plan?

Currently, there are some electric mail carrier vehicles being implemented, but not on a widespread scale.


References

1Air Sea Containers. (2019, October 01). Everything You Need to Know About Carbon Neutral Shipping. Blog. Retrieved May 20, 2022, from <https://www.airseacontainers.com/blog/everything-you-need-to-know-about-carbon-neutral-shipping>

2ShipBob. (2021, May 24). What is Carbon-Neutral Shipping & How to Achieve It. Carbon Neutral Shipping. Retrieved May 20, 2022, from <https://www.shipbob.com/blog/carbon-neutral-shipping/>

3Shopify. (2022). Carbon‑Neutral Shipping. Cloverly. App. Retrieved May 20, 2022, from <https://apps.shopify.com/cloverly-app>

4Sustainable Growth: How Carbon-Neutral Shipping is Changing the Industry. (2022). Blog. Retrieved May 20, 2022, from <https://shiphero.com/blog/sustainable-growth-how-carbon-neutral-shipping-is-changing-the-industry/>

5UPS. (2022). What Is UPS carbon neutral? Receiving a UPS carbon neutral Shipment. Retrieved May 20, 2022, from <https://www.ups.com/gb/en/help-center/shipping-support/carbon-neutral/recipient.page>

6Photo by Tom Fisk. Pexels. Retrieved from <https://www.pexels.com/photo/aerial-shot-of-cargo-ship-on-sea-3840441/>