The shipping industry is responsible for 2.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions — putting about 940 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. Before 1960, however, when containerization started to take off, cargo schooners were transporting goods around the world emissions-free. A startup is now trying to bring the cargo schooner back, in a bid to raise awareness about the urgency of slashing the industry’s huge environmental footprint.
Bringing back wind power
The first ship to return from retirement is a large cargo schooner called Vega. The ship used to make zero-carbon deliveries up and down the coast of Sweden about a century ago. Now, it is about to get a new lease on life making zero-carbon deliveries for companies looking to slash their emissions.
“Our mission is to prove the value of clean shipping,” says Danielle Doggett, CEO, and co-founder of Sailcargo, the company that now owns the ship and is preparing to operate routes between North and South America. The first trips will deliver specialty coffee from Colombia to New Jersey for roaster Café William, which wants to sell emissions-free coffee.
Doggett, who has been sailing on tall ships from a young age, came up with the idea of reviving traditional cargo shipping more than 10 years ago. On one of her trips, she came across Vega, which had been restored by a Swedish family of shipbuilders. Loving the schooner’s design, she then made a deal with them to buy it.
Emissions-free shipping, just like the old days
The shipping industry moves more than 10 billion metric tons of cargo annually and has a bigger carbon footprint than the airline industry. As you’ve probably learned from our previous articles, some shipping companies are already working on reducing their impacts. With that said, progress has been slow. “They have massive fleets, and filling stations, and all of these very real, tangible assets that take a very long time to transition,” says Doggett.
While Sailcargo doesn’t expect to replace the industry, it could provide solutions to companies looking to decarbonize their supply chain. Not only that, Doggett claims that cargo schooners can also offer some logistical advantages: “Some of these fast vessels have to wait at port often up to two weeks because they’re dependent on the port infrastructure. They need the big crane to unload the container. We do not—we can unload ourselves.”
The company plans to start its first shipments between Colombia and New Jersey this summer. Its second cargo schooner, currently under work at its headquarters in Costa Rica, is expected to set sail in a year and a half.