How the Cruise Industry Is Delivering on Sustainability

Ships are starting to use shore power to reduce fuel consumption and air emissions.

Ships are starting to use shore power to reduce fuel consumption and air emissions.

While there is no such thing as a zero environmental footprint when it comes to trains, planes, autos and cruise ships, the cruise industry is doing more to lower its environmental footprint and keep the world’s oceans clean. In a keynote address at this year’s Cruise Shipping Miami conference in Miami Beach, Christine Duffy, president and CEO, Cruise Lines International Association, told attendees that being environmentally responsible is not only the right thing to do, but it’s expected by guests who want to cruise on a clean ocean, thus making it good business and in the cruise lines’ interest as well.

Certainly, energy efficiency is a major focus for the lines. For example, cruise lines routinely use recycled hot water to heat passenger cabins. They use special window tinting to keep hallways cooler while using less air conditioning. Switching to low energy LED lights means the lights last 25 times longer, use 80 percent less energy and generate 50 percent less heat.

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Holland America Line has LED lighting throughout its ships and new self-regulating timers on shipboard HVAC systems that help control use and save energy. Newer ships also have European hotel-like cabin lighting controls; the key card must be in the slot by the door to keep the stateroom’s lights on.

Cruise lines are also increasing use of so-called shore power, outfitting ships with the technology needed to plug into ground electric grids, rather than running their engines while in port. This reduces both fuel consumption and air emissions. For example, Holland America has outfitted five of its ships to use shore power to reduce both fuel consumption and air emissions. Thus far the Westerdam, Noordam, Oosterdam, Amsterdam and Zuiderdam are able to use shore power. When in port, Holland America Line buys and uses shore power instead of burning ship-board fuels. Ports that are capable of hook-ups for shore power include Seattle and Vancouver, B.C.

In terms of scrubbers, Royal Caribbean International started using new cutting-edge technology on Liberty of the Seas in late 2013. It’s a pilot program and the line is gaining intel as it operates the technology. Energy efficiencies are also achieved by Royal Caribbean via Eniram, Optimal Speed Assist (OSA) and Dynamic Trim Assist (DTA).

Royal Loft Suite, Oasis of the Seas.
Royal Loft Suite, Oasis of the Seas

Carnival Corporation, the world’s largest cruise company, has received the support of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Coast Guard and Transport Canada to implement a significant advancement in environmental technology designed to reduce air emissions from cruise ships and large marine vessels. Carnival has committed $180 million for exhaust gas cleaning technology on 32 ships. These include vessels from Carnival Cruise Lines, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Cunard Line that sail regularly within the North American Emission Control Area (ECA). “This is a significant accomplishment as well as an important milestone for our company,” said Arnold Donald, CEO, Carnival Corporation. He said this breakthrough for cleaner air will set a new course in environmental protection.

Carnival Corp. has been a partner in the development of this technology and will take the lead in further refining both design and installation aspects on ships with a variety of engine configurations between now and mid-2016.

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This new generation of so-called “scrubber technology” combines the removal of sulfur with the substantial reduction of particulate matter and black carbon. Once the exhaust gas cleaning technology is installed and fully operational on the various Carnival subsidiary ships, they will exceed ECA standards.

The IMO’s MARPOL Annex VI places a cap on sulfur within ECAs at 1 percent, which took effect in North America in 2012. In 2015, the limit will be 0.1 percent. Looking ahead, Carnival Corp. plans to explore the possibility of expanding the installation of its scrubber technology beyond the initial 32 ships.

Working with the IMO, the U.S. and other flag and port states, CLIA has participated in the development of international standards governing waste management; these apply to all CLIA member line ships that travel internationally. Taking that a step further, CLIA members have also adopted the Cruise Industry Waste Management Practices and Procedures, which are even more protective than the existing regulatory requirements.

Several lines—including Holland America and Princess Cruises, among others—have advanced wastewater treatment systems which can produce water cleaner than most wastewater treatment facilities in U.S. cities.

If condensation from shipboard air conditioning units is reclaimed and then re-used to wash the decks, it’s possible to save more than 22 million gallons of fresh water a year, based on the experience of one CLIA member line.

Recycling of metal, glass, plastic and paper can help ships manage waste much more efficiently.

Guests too are being proactive. Many lines have programs for recycling everything from paper and plastic to aluminum cans and glass, through the use of dedicated bins throughout the ship. Disney Cruise Line takes approximately 12,000 pounds of used cooking oil from shipboard galleys and offloads it and recycles it weekly; 60 percent of that oil is used to create biodiesel fuel for a fleet of Bahamas vehicles. Likewise, cooking oil is recycled by Norwegian Cruise Line in most ports. In Miami, a local farmer converts the Norwegian cooking oil to bio-diesel; in other ports, commercial vendors recycle it. Passengers are also encouraged to turn off lights when they’re not in their cabins and to consider using towels more than once—if they so choose—to save on water usage. Guests who want to help out ashore with destination eco-programs might participate in Crystal Cruises’ “You Care, We Care” voluntourism program.

In addition, Celebrity Cruises has installed solar panels on five ships; on one of those vessels, more than 200 solar panels have been installed, generating enough power to operate 7,000 LED lights. Royal Caribbean too uses solar window film and solar panels.

Cutting down on use of plastic bags is another step. Most lines use fabric bags—for laundry, dry cleaning, and shoe shine bags—in lieu of plastic bags, thereby reducing plastic from the waste stream.

Many lines are using ecological, non-toxic, slick hull coatings that save as much as 5 percent of fuel usage for propulsion. Tavia Robb, a spokesperson for the Royal Caribbean brands, says silicone paint is used on the majority of ship hulls for Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, and Azamara Club Cruises ships with “just a few left to be painted.”

Holland America Line’s environmental management system was certified to conform to the highest standards by an independent registrar, Lloyd’s Register Quality Assurance. This system collects all environmental policies, training and procedures for every shipboard environmental aspect. Holland America Line’s environmental management system requires an environmental officer onboard each ship to provide training and to oversee shipboard compliance with environmental laws, regulations, industry standards and company policies. The environmental officer reports directly to the ship’s master.

Each ship in the fleet is also monitored and evaluated by what the line terms “aggressive environmental audit programs.” MSC Cruises and other lines also have shipboard environmental officers.

To cut down on paper use and tree destruction, Paul Gauguin Cruises and many other lines now deliver documents as .pdf documents via e-mail. That avoids the need for hard-copy documents that used so much paper in the past.

Many ships also use high-efficiency appliances or have installed high-efficiency electronics—everything from televisions to coffee makers, ovens to dishwashers.

Water consumption on Cunard Line and P&O Cruises decreased 7 percent per passenger and 6 percent overall in 2012 via both technical innovations and passenger conservation efforts. Another CLIA member line introduced a revolutionary system for fresh water production that consumes 40 percent less power than traditional systems.

Shipboard recycling programs onboard a ship can eliminate more than 900 tons of metal, glass, plastic and paper—approximately 45 percent of all solid waste generated—from traditional waste streams each year. For the latest information on CLIA member lines’ eco-programs and industry-wide efforts, visit

Prestige Cruise Holdings, parent of Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania Cruises, is introducing a number of new energy-efficiency programs. For example, one initiative is to coat all windows with special film to lessen the energy use required as the sun heats interior spaces; that also helps reduce air conditioning costs.

On Silversea CruisesSilver Spirit, Silver Whisper and Silver Shadow, navigation systems evaluate sea conditions and automatically adjust speed for greater fuel conservation. New ships, as they’re introduced, are showing that cruise lines want the latest and greatest eco-friendly technology.

For example, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ Europa 2 was the first cruise ship to be awarded the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) certification by Germanischer Lloyd.

Among the ways the ship qualified? It has a hydrodynamic hull and technical standards that enable it to emit 31 percent less CO2 gas than other cruise ships of comparable size. While Europa 2 volunteered for the rating review by Germanischer Lloyd, all new cruise ships launched today now have to meet this minimum level of efficiency defined by the IMO. Europa 2 is also the world’s first cruise ship to be fitted with an SCR catalytic converter, which reduces nitrogen oxide emissions by almost 95 percent. An optimized hull and water treatment technology also cut down on fuel and fresh water usage.

Studying Climate Change

In a partnership with the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, Royal Caribbean International has added equipment to Explorer of the Seas and Allure of the Seas to capture climate change data in the ocean. In addition, that same equipment is now being installed on Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Eclipse.

Climate change affects marine ecosystems such as coral reefs, which are critical to not only the marine species’ health, but, subsequently, goods and services the coral reefs provide. That might include coastal protection, tourism income, and in the poorest destinations, the livelihoods and sustenance of the local people.

The climate-change labs on the Royal Caribbean ships provide data that’s been cited globally in more than 200 academic papers.