In a global marketplace where clients want products in their hands yesterday, some shipping companies have figured out that slowing down can save money and reduce their carbon footprint.

According to a story in the New York Times, the Danish shipping company Maersk cut its ships' cruising speed in half and saw its fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions drop by up to 30 percent on some routes.

“The previous focus has been on, ‘What will it cost?’ and ‘Get it to me as fast as possible,” said Soren Stig Nielsen, the company’s director of environmental sustainability. “Now there is a third dimension: What’s the C02 footprint?”

In recent decades, as global trade has grown exponentially, planes, ships and trucks have traveled at speeds above fuel-efficiency levels in an attempt to transport goods as fast as possible. And as the shipping industry grew eightfold between 1985 and 2007, transport emissions have soared.

But like Maersk, companies are realizing they can save money — and reduce their environmental impact — by going slower. Today more than 220 ships have caught on to “slow steaming” and are traveling at about 20 knots on open water instead of 25. Maersk’s vessels go even slower, at 12 knots.

Slowing down is a simple way to reduce emissions, because ships traveling at slower speeds have less drag and friction as they move through the water. The same holds true for planes and cars: Simply driving 55 miles per hour instead of going 65 reduces C02 emissions by about 20 percent, the International Energy Agency estimates.

“I can drive 55 right now,” said Tim Castleman, founder of Drive55 Conservation Project, a group in California pushing for lower speed limits. “I believe it will make a profound difference.”

Still, not everyone is convinced “slow steaming” will have the necessary impact on emissions levels worldwide. Customers have to factor in extra time for delivery, and companies have to pay extra labor costs to keep ships staffed for longer periods.

But with talk of capping emissions, companies like Maersk think they are ahead of the game. “This is not going away, and those of us who are starting now will be ahead of regulations,” Nielsen said.

Slower ships reduce emissions
Some shipping companies have embraced 'slow steaming' as a way to lower costs and reduce their carbon footprint.