Danish Cargo Ship Fleet Cuts Fuel Use 30% By Going Half Speed


The Ebba Maersk, cruising at half speed. Photo via Svenning B. Jensen

Until two years ago, the Danish shipping conglomerate Maersk had been sending its cargo ships across the seas at full throttle, vying to get supplies to their destination as fast as possible--and every other shipping company was doing the same. It seemed at the time the most efficient way of doing business. But in order to do so, the company was running its ships at far beyond the maximum fuel efficiency levels. So, two years ago, Maersk decided to slow things down. Now, a trip that used to take 3 weeks instead takes a month. But they're reaping huge savings in fuel use, costs and greenhouse gas reductions--by as much as 30%.Decelerating in a High Speed World
The New York Times reports:

In a global culture dominated by speed ... the company has seized on a sales pitch that may startle some hard-driving corporate customers: Slow is better.

By halving its top cruising speed over the last two years, Maersk cut fuel consumption on major routes by as much as 30 percent, greatly reducing costs. But the company also achieved an equal cut in the ships' emissions of greenhouse gases.

Which is pretty phenomenal when you think about it--in the midst of a complex global recession and fast-rising oil prices, a solution as simple as easing up on the accelerator was able to help the company drastically cut costs and stay competitive.

According to the Times, Soren Stig Nielsen, Maersk's director of environmental sustainability, says that slowing down is "a great opportunity to lower emissions 'without a quantum leap in innovation'," and he notes in presentations to clients that "Going at full throttle is economically and ecologically questionable." And he's right.

The Concrete Benefits of Slowing Down
Just by slowing down, Maerk is able to lower the prices they charge in the face of rising oil prices--something full speed competitors simply cannot do. And the reduced greenhouse gas emissions make this one of the simplest ways for companies to green their supply chains and lower their overall carbon footprint. In other words, if a company is willing to wait an extra couple days for raw materials or goods, it can both save money and tout a commitment to the environment. Just by waiting.

All of this has made me think of GOOD magazine, which recently devoted an entire issue to the virtues of slowing down--and there are indeed more benefits of putting the brakes on than we're probably aware of. But a fairly obvious one is fuel efficiency--not just with giant container ships but with cars, too. For instance, driving 55 miles per hour instead of 65 reduces GHG emissions by 20%--and it increases fuel economy to boot.

More on Slowing Down
Slow Freight: Sail Power is Actually Faster Than Containerships
With Diesel at $4 a Gallon, Truckers Are Slowing Down
55 MPH Speed Limit: Think of It as Part of the " Slow Movement"

Related Content on Treehugger.com