Why cruise industry is leading the way when it comes to ‘greening’ its ships. We look at who’s doing what.

A decade ago, the cruise industry enjoyed more lax environmental regulations than the aviation and motoring industry.

Today, however, all cruise lines are required to adhere to strict international legislation pertaining to emissions and the disposal of waste (sewage, bilge water, grey water and rubbish).

Many cruise companies also set themselves tough environmental targets, partly in recognition of the importance of their eco credentials to potential passengers.

In the last 10 years, cruise ships have cut their waste by almost 50 per cent, while sustaining a growth in cruise capacity averaging 7.6 per cent annually.

In addition to taking steps to lower fuel consumption and emissions and dispose of waste responsibly, cruise lines are adopting more innovative measures, to go beyond these efforts and address wider sustainable development issues.

Increasingly, cruise lines install light systems which turn off automatically when cabins are not in use; support local communities by donating unwanted furniture, computers, toiletries and surplus food at ports of call; and encourage passengers to recycle waste by installing multiple waste bins. Further examples of innovative eco-friendly measures can be found in the panel over the page.

How will these measures make a difference to you?

Up until now, the effect of the cruise industry’s efforts to reign in its impact on the environment has had minimal impact on passengers. However, air emissions regulations due to be implemented in 2015 will significantly increase already rising fuel costs and will have a tangible effect on the way in which cruise lines operate.

David Dingle, the chief executive of Carnival UK, which incorporates Cunard Line, P&O and Princess Cruises among others, recently revealed that the group has been reducing fuel consumption over the past two years, largely by cutting sailing speeds. Dingle explained: “Adding in an extra day at sea here and there and thinking hard about whether a particular port is really worth visiting in relation to the extra fuel needed, are decisions which we’re already making.” So, we can expect transatlantic itineraries to get longer, week-long cruises to cover shorter distances and visit fewer ports, and the number of ex- UK cruises to continue growing.

Polar extremes

One area where the environmental effects of cruising have become impossible to ignore is the Antarctic. Following damage to the delicate Polar ecosystem resulting from excessive cruise ship traffic, a ban on heavy fuel oil was introduced on 1 August this year, denying access to Antarctica’s waters for cruise ships carrying heavy fuel and more than 500 passengers.

This legislation will leave the waters clear for small ships such as M/S Expedition, which uses marine fuel instead of heavy diesel and operates Zodiacs with four-stroke engines, which create fewer emissions and noise than the more commonly-used two-stroke engines.

The fuel ban will not only drive demand in the Antarctic to operators of more eco-friendly ships, such as Gap Adventures, which operates M/S Expedition, but also encourage those operators to maintain the highest possible standards. “We are seeing a surge in the Expedition’s forward booking numbers for the Antarctic season,” confirms John Warner, Vice President of Global Sales. “There is no doubt that the limited number of permitted ships, coupled with continued demand from conscientious travellers seeking the ultimate adventure cruise, is driving passengers to our ship.”

How green is green?

One of the difficulties in ascertaining the ‘greenness’ of cruise ships is the fact that it is so difficult to find a direct comparison with other travel alternatives. Environmental campaigners have previously suggested that a return journey to New York on board a Cunard ship uses almost 7.6 times as much carbon as the same journey by plane. However, very few passengers ever make a return transatlantic voyage, which would take 12 days, and this statistic does not take into account that all dining, accommodation, laundry and entertainment needs are incorporated into the Cunard carbon figure. Furthermore, for most passengers, the voyage is the holiday, whereas those who fly to NYC do so to spend several days there, totting up a significant carbon footprint in the process.

What can you do?

While it’s up to the cruise lines to adhere to environmental legislation, there are measures you can take to do your bit for green cruising. Select cruise lines with strong environmental policies, consider a no-fly voyage and, while you’re on board, take shorter showers, turn off the tap when you’re brushing your teeth and don’t change your towels every day. These are small measures but imagine if each of the 14 million odd people who sailed the world’s oceans last year were to adopt them!

Which cruise lines are doing what to minimise their impact on the environment?

  • The Star Clippers fleet is powered by wind 70 per cent of the time and organises an annual Beach Clean- Up Operation, in which crew and passengers take part. Furthermore, there’s a resident marine biology team on board Royal Clipper, who carry out valuable research in the Mediterranean and Caribbean.
  • Celebrity Cruises uses solar energy from panels installed on its newest ships to generate power for various onboard components.
  • Organic farmers in Miami and Hawaii receive tonnes of used cooking oil from Norwegian Cruise Lines, which they convert into biodiesel to power their machinary.
  • Orion Expedition Cruises, named ‘Best Responsible Cruise Operator’ at the 2010 Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards, is the only cruise company in the world to have been accredited with EarthCheck certification. This international benchmarking authority thoroughly investigated Orion’s operating procedures and awarded the line with Best Practice recognition in six key areas, including Water Saving, Waste Recycling and Community Commitment.
  • Royal Caribbean uses special window tinting to keep ships cooler and reduce the need for air conditioning.
  • Low flow showerheads onboard Crystal ships have helped reduce water usage by 50 per cent and a Natura water filtration system is used in select restaurants on Crystal Symphony to replace bottled water with sparkling and flat drinking water that is filtered and bottled onboard.
  • The Aranui III (operated by small ship cruise specialist eWaterways) is a combined passenger and cargo vessel, which sails from Tahiti to the Marquesas Islands, the world’s most remote archipelago. The new, custom-built Aranui offers accommodation for 200 passengers, is staffed by Polynesian crew and stops at a different island each day to deliver vital supplies, providing a unique opportunity to visit and support these remote communities.