When it comes to the environment, the cruise industry hasn’t always enjoyed the best reputation, but in recent times, operators have made substantial efforts to improve their practices. Experts now agree that when visiting some of the world’s most ecologically sensitive regions, cruise lines are duty bound to help preserve these vulnerable areas.

For operators, this means a range of measures including the reduction of fuel consumption, cutting down on unnecessary waste and the introduction of the latest technology to help re-use water and conserve energy. While there is always more that can be done, the cruise industry is taking significant steps to reduce its impact upon the environment.

"It is vital that cruise operators take environmental responsibilities seriously," declares Christina Riccelli, director of environment and public health at Prestige Cruise Holdings. "Our livelihood depends upon the environment."

“It is vital that cruise operators take environmental responsibilities seriously.”

Riccelli, who is responsible for seven ships across the Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania Cruises brands, says customers expect environmentally friendly cruising.

"Pick up any magazine or periodical and you’ll notice that environmental consciousness has progressed from a trend into a global way of life," she says. "And our guests have a right to expect a product that fulfils our environmental responsibilities as a cruise line."

Jamie Sweeting, vice-president of environmental stewardship and global chief environmental officer at Royal Caribbean Cruises, admits that in the past, the industry wasn’t as green as it could’ve been, but he thinks operators should be given more credit for the improvements they have made in the last 15 years. "The industry had a wake-up call in the late 1990s and really began to change its focus," he explains. "In the first decade of this century there has been increasing awareness of the issues and we have come a long way.

"The environment is the defining issue of our time and we are doing what we can to play our part and minimise greenhouse gases," he says. "We are currently focusing on reducing fuel consumption; the less you burn, the smaller the carbon footprint."

The cruise line’s most recent stewardship report shows that advances in hull design and coatings have enabled the company to save as much as 5% of fuel usage for propulsion per ship. Eight of the fleet are also fitted with smokeless gas turbine engines, which can reduce exhaust emissions of nitrous oxide by 85% and sulphur oxides by more than 90%. In addition, the company’s ships now use lighting which uses 80% less energy. In the long term, Royal Caribbean aims to reduce its carbon footprint by one third per available passenger cruise day in 2015 from 2008 levels.

Riccelli says it is a challenge for cruise operators to keep up with the continual changes in environmental laws. "Our itineraries span the globe and each country or port state essentially has the authority to enforce their own unique environmental regulations," she says. "Fortunately, industry collaboration is a valuable asset in keeping ahead of the curve."

Liquid assets

Royal Caribbean has taken steps to reduce the amount of water used on board and is finding new ways to deal with wastewater.

This includes the introduction of advanced purification systems, with 16 of the fleet currently equipped. "Our new ships have been launched with wastewater purification systems in place, and we have an aggressive timeline to retrofit," Sweeting says. The cruise line is also concentrating on waste management. "We are proud of avoiding trash going to landfill," he adds. "We have a facility on our ships, which enables us to separate materials for recycling and on-board

“The environment is the defining issue of our time and we are doing what we can to play our part and minimise greenhouse gases.”

Through careful management, the cruise line has been able to make big differences. "In 2007, the amount of solid waste per passenger was 2.2lb per day, but in 2008, this was cut to 1.5lb. "By contrast, the solid waste footprint in the US is 4.6lb per person per day." Through shipboard incentive programmes and educating passengers and crew, the company was also able to recycle between 15-30% of all waste in US ports in 2008. Sweeting believes operators have a responsibility to make these improvements, and he believes the sector is working together in order to change.

"Essentially, we’re pretty collegial within the industry," he says. "This is a non-competitive space and we share developments. When trying new things, we believe that it is in our best interest to share information about what does and doesn’t work.

We encourage our colleagues to improve their practices because we are only as good as the weakest operator." However, keeping up with environmental law can prove a challenge. "We operate in approximately 420 ports around the world," he adds. "This covers many countries with different regulations, from those governed by the International Maritime Organisation right down to specific rules for individual ports." In recent years, Sweeting has noticed a significant
increase in the amount of regulations introduced.

Despite this, the company takes its role in each port seriously, and works on a local level to help sustain each destination. "We have four million passengers on our vessels each year, so we play an important role in how to be good tourists," he says. "We strive towards sustainability and work with these destinations to be part of the solution." Looking forward The industry has undoubtedly made huge steps forward, but
environmental campaigners argue there is always more to be done.

Marcie Keever, clean vessels campaign director at Friends of the Earth, is encouraging the industry to continue its investment in the technology that can help it to protect vulnerable areas. "Cruise ships visit some of the most ecologically-sensitive places in the world, so they need to do as much as possible to reduce their impact," she explains. "The livelihood of these companies depends on these areas remaining pristine."

“Cruise ships visit some of the most ecologically-sensitive places in the world, so they need to do as much as possible to reduce their impact.”

Keever welcomes the efforts already made, and hopes operators will continue to move forward. "We would like to see the latest technology used to deal with sewage, and more use of shoreside power, in partnership with ports. This is starting to happen on the east coast of the US. We would also like to see ships using cleaner fuel and we’re really pushing for the introduction of stronger industry-wide standards."

Riccelli describes the steps Prestige Cruise Holdings has taken to become more environmentally friendly. "We’ve invested in upgrading wastewater treatment systems, which results in a much cleaner effluent," she explains. "

When feasible and without implication to our guests, we adjust our operations in order to conserve water usage. We’re continually seeking opportunities where we can recycle."

Sweeting thinks the industry’s environmental image is sometimes misunderstood. "I have brought colleagues in from the conservation world who have been stunned by what we are doing," he says. Despite the improvements already made by Royal Caribbean, Sweeting acknowledges that there is always potential for further development. "The greatest opportunity is when we design and construct new ships," he says. "We have broken new ground with the launch of the Oasis of the Seas and based on sea trial data for our first few months in operation, we believe the carbon footprint per passenger per day is around 30-40% lower than ships built a dozen years ago."

However, the company is not resting on its laurels. "We are far from perfect, but we are paying attention," he adds. "Our mantra is that we will be better tomorrow than we are today."