As the effect of human activity on the environment has become more the focal point of public awareness – a trend that is still gathering momentum – businesses have faced growing pressure to go green. Responses have varied between industries, but regulatory pressure and customer preference are still turning the tide.

In such a world, a successful business may soon equate to an environmentally aware business, and there are those in the cruise industry who believe that the time is close to hand. One of these is Bill Morani, president of environmental compliance at Holland America Line, who argues that sensitivity to the ecological impact of any cruise line must be high on the agenda.

“The principle of environmental protection is second to none as we operate our fleet throughout the world.”

“A clean environment is a fundamental element of the value proposition we offer our guests,” he says. “The beautiful locations in which we sail, the fabulous itineraries we offer, are all contingent on a clean environment.”

He firmly believes that debate on this issue should be at the highest level, not for marketing purposes, nor simply to ensure regulatory compliance, but because the decisions a cruise line operator makes regarding environment policy have a direct and immediate effect on customer experience.

“Apart from our own individual and company ethics in regard to environmental protection, people simply won’t want to sail with us if they feel we are acting irresponsibly with respect to the environment,” he says. “So the real driver is not necessarily the policy, but the absolute imperative that we conduct our operations in a manner that is protective of the environment.

“The principle of environmental protection is second to none as we operate our fleet throughout the world. Rest assured, if anyone were to sail on one of our vessels, they would find that each and every crew member is well aware of the importance of environmental protection, and does their level best to carry out their responsibilities in a manner consistent with that understanding.”

RESPONDING TO REGULATORY PRESSURE Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

There is no doubt that a green stance is timely as international regulations evolve to control the types and levels of emissions that are permissible at sea. “I think it is an understatement to say that the cruise industry has been the focus of an active regulatory development programme throughout the world,” says Morani. “The industry has grown, it’s highly visible and we are clearly on the radar screens of many stakeholders.”

The industry has made great strides dealing with issues such as bilge water technology and sewage treatment. Reduction in solid waste has been a key target, with best practice in terms of staff policies and purchasing – rather than technology – providing the solution. Recycling has become more common, as have methods used to sort waste at the point of generation to ensure that sources are segregated.

“Success in this regard comes from a three-pronged approach – awareness, availability of separate containers, and convenience,” he adds. “On our ships we have separate waste containers for recyclables such as paper, aluminium cans and bottles. It’s one of those things that requires a consistent and oft-repeated message.”

The adoption of advanced water treatment technology is another area where the cruise industry has observed the trend of regulatory pressure and responded appropriately. With strict limits imposed on the quality of water that can be safely and legally discharged into the sea, improving filtration technology is now imperative.

Predictably, Holland America, as a line that has embraced environmental awareness, has been a leader field in this area. Last year it invited representatives from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to inspect the ultra-filtration solutions on its ships.

These systems, which deliver tertiary treatment that surpasses the performance of 90% of land-based water treatment plants, have led the Alaska Science Advisory panel to report that in some cases water quality decreases as one gets further from the ship.

EMISSIONS TAKE CENTRE STAGE

“When it comes to SOx emissions, in the short-term, fuel quality will be the key.”

Having made compliance with environmental legislation a priority in regard to water treatment and waste, the cruise industry must now look hard at emissions, which are currently under the spotlight. “I think it’s fair to say that air emissions are the next big thing,” says Morani. “Diesel emissions in general, and port emissions specifically, are increasingly the focus of regulatory action both internationally and close to home.

“It is also an area where the technology is playing catch-up a little bit. The common rail diesel engine has brought us a long way, but clearly there is a drive to go further. The industry is looking at technologies such as emulsified fuels, shore power and other ways to impact emissions.”

Sulphur is top of the legislators’ target list. Proposals to amend the European Commission Directive 1999/32 regarding the sulphur content of marine fuels outline a number of controls that could have major impact on cruise lines’ strategies and costs.

Firstly, the creation of SECAs will bring in a 1.5% sulphur oxide (SOx) limit for ships trading in the North Sea, the English Channel and the Baltic Sea. Furthermore, from July 2007, a similar level will be imposed for any passenger ships running regular services to or from any EU port. Finally, the changes could see a 0.2% sulphur limit set for ships on inland waterways or at berth in EU ports.

The cruise industry must respond quickly, making a choice about which technologies and / or fuels can enable ships to meet these limits, and examining what implications compliance will have on refurbishment, ship operation, itineraries and budgets. “When it comes to SOx emissions, in the short-term, fuel quality will be the key,” says Morani.

“Currently, the availability of low-sulphur fuels is problematic – it will be even more so as different localities ratchet down the requirements. To modify a refinery to remove the sulphur from marine fuels is not going to happen overnight and it’s not going to be inexpensive.”

SCRUBBING UP

At the moment, the industry is looking not only at low-sulphur fuels, which come with many drawbacks, but also at scrubbing technology that might be adapted to an end-of-pipe marine application.

“This technology has been used for years in shore-based facilities, but there are industry-unique issues that remain to be worked out, such as the equipment footprint and scrubber waste disposal,” adds Morani. “Additionally, operating the scrubber will increase the power demand, thus increasing fuel burn, and so on. So, there are trade-offs to consider.”

Again, processes as well as technology must be constantly reassessed. After all, if emissions regulation is not incentive enough, the rising oil price is urging the entire shipping industry to look at designs and operating procedures that can result in lower power demands from a ship’s combined systems.

“It always pays to be ahead of the regulatory requirements – to be proactive rather than reactive.”

“There may be some gains to be made in propulsion efficiency or hull form,” Morani notes. “But it really boils down to ‘how are we going to generate the power to drive the ship?’ We can’t do it with batteries, hydrogen fuel cells or any of the other alternative fuels commonly discussed today. So we’re going to be working the kind of technologies I’ve already described, and seek ways to reduce the operational power demands as we meet our itineraries.”

A STEP AHEAD OF THE REGULATORS

While Europe looks to delineate SECAs, in other parts of the world – most notably North America – similar zones are likely to be carved out. However, the details of this legislation crystallises, one thing is certain – the direction of international emissions regulation is towards tighter control.

As SECAs extend to encompass more large ports and busy waterways, other substances, such as nitrogen oxides, are likely to be included over time. As a result, the industry must look beyond the horizon in regard to its compliance strategy.

“It always pays to be ahead of the regulatory requirements – to be proactive rather than reactive,” stresses Morani. “In any business situation, environmental or otherwise, it is preferable to anticipate the requirements and to build reliable, cost-effective solutions rather than to wait for a regulatory body to dictate the terms.”

The embodiment of this belief is Holland America’s pursuit of ISO 14001 certification by August 2006. This third-party standard will enumerate the requirements of the line’s environmental management system, putting in place programmes for continuous improvement.

“It’s really a quality management system focused on environmental performance – and it’s a great opportunity for us to improve,” he continues. “We think the ISO 14001 process will yield a lot of results when it comes to resource utilisation and process management.

“Whether it is water generation / consumption / treatment / disposal, moving up the solid waste management hierarchy, or fuel consumption, these are areas where ISO 14001 will help us develop measures for what we’re doing, and then drive improvements throughout the fleet. It’s a great opportunity.”

“Environmental performance is not only a compliance issue, it is a market imperative.”

Holland America is targeting reductions in solid waste and an increase in recycling rates. It has already started to use more environmentally friendly and inherently biodegradable oils in areas where machinery interacts with or is in close proximity to the water.

Furthermore, instead of cleaning garments with perchloroethylene, the line has been installing new systems on some of its ships that offer alternative cleaning methods that use banana oil, orange oil and soy-based additives.

“We are also looking at ways to make installed technology more reliable,” says Morani. “This runs the gamut from making sure we have the right equipment (with the right inventory of spare parts) to do the job, to having the right training and ship staffing to operate and maintain that equipment. Technology alone cannot solve anything until we balance it with the people side of the equation.” The effort to attain ISO 14001 is intended to put Holland America firmly beyond the requirements of any current legislation.

LEADING THE WAY ON COMPLIANCE

These days, compliance with international environmental regulations is no mean feat. The industry has seen specific, highly localised requirements emerge that have stringent terms far exceeding Marpol’s SECA zones or moves on emissions control by the US Coast Guard. The result is an ever more complex landscape of legislation that any cruise operator must navigate in order to do business.

A move towards some kind of consensus, based around the Murkowski standards as a common element in local legislation in areas such as Maine, Washington and Hawaii, may go some way to alleviating the problem of being aware of which regulations are applicable in which areas. However, Morani believes that the way to overcome the complexity is to aim beyond the standards.

In his experience, he has found precedents for the cruise industry striving for and attaining such goals, though the cost of compliance may be significant. “As you look at the evolution of environmental requirements as they apply to the cruise industry, you can see the industry continuously building programmes and processes that meet or exceed environmental regulations before they come into effect,” he says.

“Take the International Council of Cruise Lines guidelines for cruise operations – in a Memorandum of Understanding signed with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the US Coast Guard and the US EPA, it actually states that these guidelines meet or exceed regulatory requirements.”

This, he believes, puts cruise ahead of other parts of the marine sector. “It is clear that the cruise industry is way out in front of the rest of the maritime industry with regard to environmental protection,” he notes. “Environmental performance is not only a compliance issue, it is a market imperative. I would also argue that the industry has not received the credit for the speed with which we have responded. “

Though Holland America is not alone in taking swift action on environmental compliance, its actions certainly set the tone for how the cruise industry must act, not only to meet the needs of the authorities, but also to cater for the desires of the paying passenger.