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Shipping from Asia to the Midwest? Go greener with West Coast ports

May 4, 2009 |  2:21 pm


All those lawn chairs and sports shoes being shipped from Hong Kong and Shanghai to the American heartland quite often follow the path of conventional wisdom, which says it makes sense to steam through the Panama Canal to New York, then hop a relatively short train ride from there to, say, Chicago.

Not if you're thinking green, though. A new study (Download Ports' carbon footprint) commissioned for the Port of Seattle suggests the carbon footprint on north Asian shipments to the Midwest is much lower if they unload along the West Coast.

The shorter ocean journey more than makes up for the longer rail ride, at least in terms of carbon emissions, says the study by the Alameda-based Herbert Engineering Corp.

For deliveries north of Memphis, the ports of Seattle and nearby Tacoma had the lowest greenhouse gas toll: a 24% savings in emissions on shipments from Shanghai to Chicago via Seattle, vs. New York -- even more for bigger ships. From Memphis south, it's more environmentally friendly to ship to Los Angeles, Long Beach or Oakland.

In the current economic climate, shippers are looking primarily at cost. But as fuel costs rise, Northwest ports expect to look more and more attractive. Grabbing a niche as the "green gateway" can only help, Charles Sheldon, the Seattle seaport's managing director, told reporters. "I've been meeting with major shipping lines in the last couple years where they've asked the question, 'What are you doing to reduce the carbon footprint of your supply chain?'"

-- Kim Murphy

Photo: Port of Tacoma, south of Seattle.  Ted S. Warren / Associated Press.