The case for human-led emissions reduction in shipping

Gavin Laidlaw

The maritime industry is fundamental to the world economy, but carries a growing responsibility for its emissions, with a very difficult path to decarbonisation. Many shipping companies have made commendable statements about their aspirations to achieve zero-carbon shipping.  However, the technological innovation pipeline is following a similar trajectory to aviation, with a long-term focus on new low-carbon fuels to hit the big gains. 

Whilst exciting and potentially transformative, these solutions each carry much technological and scale risk, as well as a long pathway to materiality. Even relatively off-the-shelf solutions like a rigid sail or bubble lubrication retrofits require time in dry dock and will take many years to implement, even across relatively small fleets.  What is clear is that the industry requires tangible and cost-effective decarbonisation solutions which it can implement today, whilst simultaneously progressing research and POCs on more radical options for tomorrow.

Impact in the short-term hinges on immediate changes to operational efficiency. Many of these measures actively target the machinery of operations, such as the significant progress being made on route optimisation and weather avoidance, as well as reducing the ‘hurry up to wait’ scenarios that are sadly all too familiar in shipping. 

Crucially, many of these excellent initiatives neglect the important role and impact of human operators as decision-makers - this is where Signol is different. The case for human-led emissions reduction may actually be more marked in shipping, as the degree of decision-making freedom, and the variance between individual operators such as ship’s Masters can be huge.

We have thoroughly enjoyed engaging with shipping companies, who are proactive and energetic about reducing unnecessary fuel consumption and associated emissions. Our Head of Maritime, Harriet Johnson, who spent a number of years at sea herself, and has a strong background in maritime software, has been hugely instrumental in developing our maritime offer. Her insight and understanding have facilitated this successful Proof of Concept with BSM, the results of which we can now share. She is assembling around her a team of maritime experts and data scientists that enable Signol to rapidly scale our contribution to emission reduction in shipping. We are now going deeper and further into the decision-making opportunities on board, and what is clear to us, is that there are significant opportunities to further improve efficiency by motivating, informing and encouraging crews. 

The potential here is enormous. In Aviation, Signol has achieved fuel and carbon savings of between one and two per cent, through the behavioural nudging of commercial airline pilots. For instance, in the first six months of 2022, we saved Virgin Atlantic Airways over 1,000 metric tonnes of jet fuel, by communicating with over 200 of their pilots. In shipping, we suspected that there was even more potential, given the market structure, the infancy of data enablement, and the relative freedom of operation of the users. The results surprised even the most optimistic of our team.

Given the materiality of the savings, there may well be some skepticism directed at Signol’s results for the BSM trial. Such caution, whilst understandable, is however unfounded. The study has been independently reviewed by a highly reputable institution and stands as a testament to the power of behavioural science in the battle to reduce GHG emissions. Such skepticism was once directed towards vessel performance optimisation software too, let’s not forget, yet now it is part of the furniture.

Still, raising a wry eyebrow? Then please grant us the chance to demonstrate if Signol’s unique approach could actually impact fuel consumption in your fleet.  The cost and organisational effort of running a behavioural change proof of concept project are very low, whilst the upsides are very significant both for the environment and the bottom line.  Signol can be implemented very soon, across your entire fleet, with no operational downtime, no CAPEX and no technological or operational risk.  Not many decarbonisation options available to you today can boast those credentials.

About Signol

Signol is a software platform that draws on insights from behavioral economics to encourage employees to make more efficient decisions. Signol provides personalized feedback through multiple communication channels, as well as data analysis for managers. In aviation, Signol aims to use behavioral "nudges" and incentives to reduce pollution and fuel waste and cut operating costs.

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