Image credit: Maersk
When Matthew wrote about Maersk's planned massive and ultra-fuel efficient Triple-E container ships, reactions were varied about whether or not it was a good thing. I suspect reactions will be similarly mixed to a new campaign that seeks to "future-proof" the shipping industry through systems innovation, and apply the lessons learned to other key sectors of the economy—including food, energy and finance. Maersk's huge ships are just one part of that puzzle. Innovation In Shipping
The carbon footprint of shipping has come under heavy scrutiny in recent years, but from slashing cruising speeds to cut fuel use to successful kite-powered shipping, there have been tantalizing signs of improvement and innovation.
Big Is Beautiful?
Set for launch in 2013, Maersk's Triple-E ships, for example, don't just cut fuel use because of their gigantic size and careful hull design. They have also been specifically designed to operate at lower speeds, optimizing energy efficiency through use of 'ultra-long stroke' engines. And they have been created with end-of-life decommissioning in mind—each ship being issued with a cradle-to-cradle passport documenting the material composition of the entire ship for efficient and comprehensive reuse and recycling. (More on the Maersk Triple-E in the promotional video below.)
Now Forum for the Future is bringing together 16 shipping industry leaders including Maersk, Rio Tinto, Cargill and others to pioneer a systems innovation group for low carbon shipping. The idea is to bring together individual innovations from each participating group to showcase a viable path forward for the entire industry—and then to help those innovations achieve wider adoption:
These solutions then need to scale - the second part of system innovation. Throughout the project we are considering how to encourage the mainstream to take up the innovations our leaders come up with. Regular communication with the wider industry is important, particularly on practical ideas, as is creating a strong network of leaders who others want to follow. We are involving some of the regulatory bodies early to engage them in the potential of a sustainable industry. We are also tracking the barriers to change so that we can find ways to tackle them as we move forward.
Future Proofing Through Systems Innovation
Forum for the Future is also pursuing similar systems innovation strategies in the food sector , energy and finance. I'm sure such corporate-friendly approaches will not please many advocates of the Small is Beautiful school of environmental thought. But given that we live in a Globalized, energy hungry and increasingly unstable world—I am delighted to see innovation on all levels and all scales. Yes, we could probably do with shipping a lot less stuff around the world—but so long as we are shipping stuff at all, let's do it as efficiently as possible.