The idea of “green” cruising can seem counterintuitive to travelers who enjoy cruising and care about the environment at the same time.
In point of fact, an industry that is known for its carbon-emitting vessels, excessive waste production (including trash, sewage, and gray water), port over tourism and environmental violations that have led to well-publicized penalties is fraught with sustainability issues.
However, there are cruise companies that are putting in a lot of effort to make at-sea experiences significantly more sustainable in the face of stricter regulations, global environmental benchmarks, and consumers’ growing demand for vacations that are cleaner and more environmentally friendly.
“From analyzing carbon footprints to reducing emissions, every cruise line is investing in environmentally friendly initiatives. It’s a top priority for every cruise line, according to Cruise Critic editor-in-chief Colleen McDaniel.
Additionally, standard sustainability practices like reusing linens and outlawing plastic straws are currently insufficient to make a difference. The lines that are pursuing decarbonization objectives with the utmost vigor through technological advancements, particularly in relation to greener port infrastructure and cleaner alternative fuels, are the real innovators.
Pre-pandemic, the cruise industry contributed over $154 billion to the global economy in 2019, transporting nearly 30 million passengers; The pandemic is on track to surpass those numbers by the end of the year, despite its hiccups. Proponents of cruising assert that by encouraging cruisers’ environmental and cultural consciousness and supporting local economies, cruising can be a positive force.
However, the industry’s reliance on polluting heavy fuel oil (HFO) for ships contravenes the global net-zero emissions targets set by the United Nations for 2050. Cruise ships and other maritime vessels currently account for nearly 3% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions. A Pacific Standard report found that a person’s average carbon footprint triples while on a cruise, making it worse than flying in terms of carbon emissions per passenger.
The largest trade association representing the cruise industry, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), has committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and a 40% reduction in carbon rates by 2030 (as compared to 2008 levels).
However, industry watchdogs claim that there is a lot of greenwashing because of those goals. According to Marcie Keever, a director at the environmental group Friends of the Earth, which publishes an annual cruise line “report card,” “many of the claims of sustainability are just greenwashing or are the same types of “sustainability” measures that have been happening for years in land-based tourism.”
This can be seen in lines’ efforts to switch from carbon- and sulfur-releasing HFO to cleaner, alternative fuels. More than half of the new cruise ships being ordered by CLIA members feature LNG as their primary propulsion, making lower-carbon liquefied natural gas (LNG) widely regarded as a “stepping stone” fuel solution.
However, environmentalists and scientists warn that LNG is a finite and polluting fossil fuel that may, in the long run, cause even more harm to the environment than HFO.
Dr. Mark Jacobson, who is the director of the atmosphere/energy program at Stanford University and the author of “No Miracles Needed: How Modern Technology Can Purify Our Air and Save Our Climate.” He claims that despite the fact that LNG’s “direct air pollution emissions are less than heavy fuel oil, they are still substantial – and its upstream emissions and footprint are larger than heavy fuel” as a result of factors like unsustainable extraction practices (like fracking) and methane byproducts, LNG’s emissions are still significantly lower than those of heavy fuel oil.
According to specialists like Jacobson, the sector ought to concentrate more heavily on emerging zero-emissions energy technologies. According to Jacobson, “in either case, all emissions from the ship – aside from water vapor in the case of hydrogen fuel cells–are eliminated.” “The far cleaner solutions for ships are battery electricity and green hydrogen fuel cell electricity.”
According to CLIA, more than 15% of the upcoming cruise ships will be outfitted with hydrogen fuel cells or electric batteries.
The industry’s move toward zero-emission docking is another promising sustainability development. The vast majority of new ships built today are equipped with the ability to turn off their fuel-burning engines and connect to the local grid while in port, thereby reducing air pollution and health problems associated with it. The catch: Just 29 of the 1,500-odd ports visited by CLIA sends as of now offer viable framework.
Keever warns that “cruising continues to be one of the dirtiest vacation choices” and that there is still a long way to go. However, the following five cruise lines are leading the pack with their eco-conscious initiatives.