We’re almost going bonkers. The hottest maritime buzzword has invaded cyberspace like the Great Plague – repeated over and over in Twitter and other social networking sites, company websites, discussion boards, online news publications and blogs. It’s endemic, too, on terra firma – chanted in maritime conferences, seminars and workshops. Mantras are beautiful and magical but we’d rather see their use confined to meditation and some such activity.

Our first beef against “sustainable shipping” is semantic. What people really mean when they utter the phrase is that shipping should be able to “sustain” the environment and contribute to the social and economic “sustainability” of communities. It is shipping that sustains, not the thing to be sustained as implied by the adjectival “sustainable.” Far from splitting hairs, we’re calling for maritime jargon to be based on correct English, if only to avoid any confusion.

Our other objection to the term has to do with equity. How much does world shipping contribute to total global carbon emissions? A 2007 IMO study pegged the figure at 3.5% (1.12 billion tonnes), which the researchers warned could grow by 30% by 2020 or to 1.475 billion tonnes. We’re totally for cutting GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions from all quarters and putting a brake on global warming. But the endless incantation of “sustainable shipping” seems to have put the burden on shipping. Shouldn’t it be laid on the more culpable sectors such as power generation and road transport?

But we protest too much. The catchphrase “sustainable shipping” won’t go away. It has entered the bloodstream of shipping. And frankly speaking, the virus isn’t wholly bad. It’s good for business – for the guys peddling improved hull and propeller designs, new generation ship engines, shipboard monitoring systems, waste disposal contraptions, environmental services, conferences and training manuals. We should all pat IMO Secretary General Efthimios E. Mitropoulos, the shipping associations and the environmental do-gooders on the back. They’ve created a new multi-billion-dollar industry. ~Barista Uno