Home Cruise Safety How Cruise Travel Is Sailing Into a Sustainable Future


The cruise industry is focusing on sustainability
The cruise industry is focusing on sustainability. (photo via Seatrade Cruise)

Article written by John Sifling, Principal, Broad Reach Maritime LLC

The cruise industry has embarked on a sustainability revolution – pursuing innovations including renewable resources, regenerative travel, tech-informed energy solutions, wildlife conservation and more. Now, met with tightening regulations and a new generation of environmentally conscious travelers, cruise lines are adapting to ever-changing times and approaching sustainability from an integrated perspective.

Recognizing the need for action and support, industry leadership and advocacy groups have prioritized sustainability efforts. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted its initial strategy on the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from ships in 2018, striving for the industry to reduce the carbon intensity (rate of carbon emissions) of its fleet by at least 40 percent by 2030. Following suit, members of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) not only committed to IMO’s 2030 goal but are also pursuing net carbon neutral cruising by 2050 across the global fleet.

Advancements in shipboard decarbonization, investments in “green” infrastructure at destinations and ports of call and prioritizing wildlife and ecosystem conservation are the three key initiatives currently leading the way for sustainability at sea.

Innovating Low-Carbon, High-Efficiency Vessels

Improving fuel economy for ships and reducing emissions continue to be major focuses industry-wide. Cruise lines are implementing numerous technologies designed to achieve long-term carbon reduction objectives at an incremental pace. Currently at the forefront is the introduction of liquified natural gas (LNG) fueled ships, producing virtually zero sulfur emissions and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by up to 20 percent – as well as fuel cell technology, a hydrogen-based system that (in a prototype new build) is designed to carry the energy load of a ship’s entire hotel operations. Committing to meeting aggressive environmental goals, CLIA member cruise lines have already introduced four LNG-powered ships, with 22 more vessels on order or under construction.

Understanding that energy efficiency is critical to greenhouse gas reduction, cruise lines are also investing broadly in a myriad of systems to improve fuel economy. For example, some ships are now equipped with air lubrication systems and special paint coatings to improve hydrodynamics. To further reduce SOx and NOx emissions, many ships are fitted with exhaust gas cleaning systems and are able to utilize shore-side power when in port.

Extensive research and development efforts devoted to the identification and production of alternative sustainable fuels, propulsion systems and related technologies are necessary to achieve zero carbon emissions in the global maritime fleet. The cruise industry has joined other maritime partners in efforts to establish the world’s first collaborative shipping R&D Board, which aims to generate an estimated $5 billion over a ten-year period to pursue environmental solutions.

Greening Global Ports

As cruise lines make strides in ship design and guest experience, global ports are achieving notable innovations of their own. From solar-powered terminals to smart waste separation and electric transportation, ports play a vital role in moving the needle for industry-wide sustainability improvements.

Throughout Europe, Asia and Canada, ports are providing shoreside power to reduce ship emissions while docked. Others are implementing technologies to offer shore power from 100 percent renewable energy or looking to optimize quays with high voltage, all in the next few years.

Cruise lines have committed to sustainable practices
Cruise lines have committed to sustainable practices. (photo via Seatrade Cruise)

Connecting With the Environmentally Conscious Traveler

Significant growth in consumer interest for brands with strong, proven sustainability practices and principles is shaping the industry’s approach to the modern cruise journey. Recent data indicates millennials are especially environmentally conscious when it comes to travel, being twice as likely to consider the impact of their travel-related carbon emissions.

Keeping guests informed, educated and involved with the latest product improvements and actionable plans is now more important than ever in cruise lines’ direct-to-consumer approach. Catering to a new age of travelers, cruise lines have committed to sustainable practices like eradicating the use of single-use plastic, offering sustainably sourced food, partnering with wildlife organizations to create shipboard fundraising and educational programs and taking efforts beyond their ships to support local communities through their ports of call.

As travelers rapidly return to cruising over the next year, some in search of more intimate, regenerative experiences that spark growth for destinations, many cruise lines are shifting their focus to shoreside offerings. Expedition and small ship operators are especially focused on working with native communities and tour operators to curate authentic experiences, ensuring there is positive economic impact for these communities. Cruise lines also continue working with organizations such as the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) — which ensures that the culture, environment and laws of international destinations are protected — to offer thousands of GSTC-certified excursions across global destinations.

As the new cruise journey takes shape in a post-pandemic world, cruise lines – and the maritime industry as a whole – are collaborating in an effort to develop responsible environmental practices for a sustainable future. Tap into the latest updates, trends and emerging technologies in cruise sustainability as the industry reconvenes for its largest annual gathering during Seatrade Cruise Global 2022 in Miami, FL, April 25-28, 2022.

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