How Cruise Lines are Greening their Game Plans

cruise line sustainability

Many people think of cruise vacations as unlimited sun, beautiful beaches, and all-inclusive activities; they also happen to be one of the most popular forms of tourism. I myself have taken a cruise to Belize City and Cozumel, where I enjoyed the beautiful beaches and got to zip line in the mountains.

There are over 230 cruise ships in operation worldwide, many of which can carry up to 3,000 passengers and crewmembers. The international market for cruises in 2010 included about 18.3 million tourists, with the annual growth rate above 7% per year since 1990. The Caribbean region is the most popular in destination, with 41.02% of trips being in that area.

Cruise ships at a port state are associated with the following five principle sources, in addition to investments in infrastructure and maintenance costs of ports:

  1. Spending by cruise passengers and crew
  2. The on shore staffing by the cruise lines for their headquarters and marketing and tour operations
  3. Expenses by the cruise lines for goods and services necessary for cruise operations
  4. Spending by the cruise lines for port services
  5. Costs by cruise lines for the maintenance

From 2011 to 2012 alone, cruise tourism generated $2 billion in direct expenditures, 42,225 jobs, and $728 million in employee wages among 21 destinations. The Bahamas came out as the leader with $393.8 million, followed by St. Maarten with $356.2 million, and the U.S. Virgin Islands coming in with $339.8 million.

Cruise lines can have a great influence on destinations, however there are environmental impacts to know about, including bilge water, waste, and air pollution. Bilge water is water that collects at the bottom of the ship’s hull and may contain oil, grease, and other contaminants. Other waste streams include sewage, solid waste, greywater, which is waste water from showers, sinks, and kitchens, and ballast water, which is water taken in or discharged in order to maintain the stability of the ship. Waste and wastewater are discharged into the ocean after being treated. However, there have been documented cases that show improper treatment and absence of adhering to regulations, examples of how the cruise industry has lacked in regard to sustainability.

Trends in the cruise industry are changing for the better in terms of environmental awareness and sustainability. This is an industry I am personally interested in due to the potential cruises have to reduce their environmental impact and increase benefits to local communities of destinations.

Let’s take a look at some of the existing initiatives in the cruise industry:

Royal Caribbean is setting benchmarks for the cruise industry by being the first cruise line to qualify for ISO 14001 and 9001 certifications, which are environmental management standards providing a framework for organizations that want to systemize and improve their environmental management efforts. All staff are trained in their Environmental Management System, they adhere to a nothing goes overboard policy, partner to study pollution and climate change, and have banned plastic water bottles onboard. The Royal Caribbean website lists their commitment to the Save the Wave program, which focuses on waste management. They also have information and reports on lighting, freshwater consumption, and other environmental initiatives. View their 2013 sustainability report.

Holland America is known for its energy efficiency, waste reduction, use of scrubbers onboard, and its tower reuse program.

Celebrity Cruises has installed 216 solar panels and 7,000 LED lights to their ships. They also use an aerodynamic design for their ships and implement recycling programs onboard.

Norwegian Cruise Lines treats all blackwater and greywater beyond the minimum as required by municipal water standards and they were also the first cruise line to install an eco-ballast system to ensure that toxins or invasive species are not introduced to new destinations.

Costa Cruise Lines has the first cruise ship to earn a Green Star Award in 2005 and they work with the World Wildlife Fund to create better Environmental Management System plans for energy, waste, and education for all guests.

Any cruise line should be adhering to environmental regulations, however they should all go beyond the minimum and establish an even better standard to follow. Environmental education should be provided to all staff and guests, focusing on celebrating the culture and wildlife of the destinations by taking only pictures and leaving only footprints. Other recommendations include buying local products from local vendors to help support the community, do not buy endangered species souvenirs, properly dispose of all trash, recycle when available, and do not disturb the wildlife.

Based on the history of the cruise industry and the existing environmental initiatives, there are better procedures in place now. However, this does not mean that more cannot be done. Cruise lines should strive to continue their efforts in reducing air pollution, waste, and water & energy consumption and increasing recycling, environmental education, and benefits to the local community.

This upcoming summer, I will be interning for Royal Caribbean in their Environmental Department, focusing on environmental stewardship, sustainability, and working with destinations. I hope to be a key member in their environmental initiatives, combining the fun of cruising with the importance of protecting the environment.

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