This report looks at the greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution caused by freight around the world by 15 companies, which were generated the same climate pollution as 1.5 million homes in the US cause in a year in 2019.
Specifically, Walmart topped the list with more greenhouse gas emissions in a year than a coal-fired power plant. Ashley Furniture, Target, Dole and Home Depot made the top 5. Ikea and Amazon ranked 7th and 8th respectively.
While shipping is responsible for three percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, experts say, the individual retailers responsible for that pollution have largely been able to avoid scrutiny for now. But with companies’ carbon footprints pulled back, consumers have more incentive to demand action on climate change.
To track companies’ emissions, the organizations first looked at a public database called the Journal of Commerce to identify the largest U.S. importers by volume. Then, they authorize the University Maritime Advisory Service (UMAS) to cross-reference the public data with their own proprietary information. and together match retailers’ individual shipments to specific vessels. Based on the ship’s voyages, they can estimate fuel consumption and emissions generated. Their estimates may be low because the researchers were unable to verify all cargo trips made by franchisees and shell companies with different names from their parent companies.
The study also did not take into account emissions from ships’ return journeys after their unloading. It also does not geolocate emissions, which is important for coastal communities facing pollution drifting ashore. It is estimated that 60,000 people die prematurely each year from the air pollution that marine emissions (soot, sulfur oxides, and nitrous oxide) cause.
The study is also limited to US imports, even though the US is the largest consumer market in the world. Since a supply chain can involve many companies spanning several countries, it is difficult to assign shipping emissions to any one country. That makes pollution regulation of the industry really difficult because it is not clear who is responsible.
Despite their far-reaching climate commitments, companies like Ikea and Amazon are still causing significant damage to the planet, as this report shows. Both companies responded to The Verge with statements highlighting their sustainability commitments, while Walmart, LG, and Samsung did not respond to requests for comment. Ikea says it wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions more than it emits by 2030. Amazon is trying to do something similar by 2040 and is working to get more electric vehicles on the road to reduce emissions from delivery.