• Weighing heavily in world trade, maritime transport is looking for a greener future.

  • The cargo sailboat could be the future of freight with many players who are committed to carbon-free maritime transport.

  • In Brittany, the very young Windcoop cooperative plans to open a maritime link between France and Madagascar in 2025.

It is by far the most widely used solution in the world for trading.

Big winner of globalisation, maritime transport today accounts for more than 90% of world trade, with more than ten billion tonnes of goods circulating each year on the seas of the globe.

Much cleaner than planes, trucks or trains, huge ships loaded to the brim with containers are nonetheless polluting.

Maritime freight thus represents approximately 3% of greenhouse gas emissions on the planet.

This may not seem like much given the quantities of goods transported by sea. But if nothing changes, emissions could rise to 17% by 2050.

Faced with the climate emergency, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) must therefore act to reduce the carbon footprint of ships with a fixed objective of reducing emissions by 50% within thirty years.

Some big players have already committed to greener maritime transport, such as Airbus.

The aeronautics giant announced a few days ago that it was going to equip its ships shuttling between Europe and the United States with giant sails in order to consume 20% less fuel.

Grain de Sail paved the way

In France, sailing cargo ships are also on the rise.

A pioneer in this field, the company Grain de Sail has been importing organic chocolate and coffee since 2020 on board its sailboat, which makes the transatlantic connection twice a year.

Building on its success, the company based in Morlaix plans to launch a second boat in 2023 to transport food between Saint-Malo and Guadeloupe.

“Eventually, we will source quality products from all over the French West Indies in order to repatriate them in a carbon-free way to France,” says Olivier Barreau, president and co-founder of Grain de Sail.

Still in Brittany, land of sailors par excellence, the very young Windcoop cooperative (

see box

) aims to open a maritime route between France and Madagascar in 2025. Presenting itself as "the first cooperative in maritime transport by sail", the company was born from a triple encounter.

That of Julien Noé, president of the energy cooperative Enercoop, Nils Joyeux, president of the company Zéphyr et Borée, which designs sailing cargo ships, and Matthieu Brunet, president of Arcadie which markets spices and organic aromatic plants under the Cook and L'Herbier de France brands.

"The latter is committed to an ethical and responsible approach and he found that the transport of goods was the big black spot", underlines Louise Chopinet, general manager of Windcoop.

A shorter but more expensive crossing

From this reflection will be born the project to build a sailing cargo ship to trade in a more ecological and responsible way.

With a length of 89 meters, the future ship will be propelled in part by the force of the wind thanks to two huge sails.

"We will have to use the engine in some places but we should save 60% in fossil fuels on each crossing", specifies Louise Chopinet.

The sailing cargo ship will be able to transport a hundred containers, the equivalent of 1,800 tons of goods, and will take a month to connect Marseille to Madagascar.

"We will have a competitive advantage because it will be two to three times shorter than at present because there is currently no direct maritime link between France and Madagascar", continues the general manager.

Shorter, the crossing will also be more expensive, about twice as much, for companies wishing to import or export products on board the sailing cargo ship.

Eventually, once its first boat has been launched, Windcoop aims to become a real shipping company with several boats that will criss-cross the seas of the globe.

“We have identified needs in Latin America and the Indian Ocean,” concludes Louise Chopinet, without giving further details.


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A campaign to finance Windcoop's sailing freighter

To help finance the construction of its cargo ship, the overall cost of the project is estimated at 20 million euros, the Windcoop cooperative is seeking to attract new members.

A crowdfunding campaign is thus underway until the end of the year on the Lita platform.

500,000 euros have already been collected by the future shipping company which would like to reach the objective of 1.7 million euros.

  • Trade

  • Maritime transport

  • Boat

  • Sail

  • Sea

  • Brittany

  • Lorient

  • Global warming

  • Planet