Cruise ships: on course for sustainability?

Recently, we raised the question if long-distance flights can ever be kind of eco friendly? Today, we would like have a look at cruises. The cruise industry is booming: According to Statista, 22 million people were passengers on board cruise ships in 2016. However, the environmental balance for ships of European companies is still poor. This is the result of the current Cruise Ship Ranking by the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU). What can the cruise ship industry do to respond to this high demand with sustainable initiatives? And what should you pay attention to, when you decide for a company?

Alternative fuels


In general, the main fuel for cruise ships is still heavy oil. This endangers delicate maritime ecosystems and heavily pollutes the air of ports that include cruise and ferry terminals with fine particulates. However, there are still no particle filters. Liquid gas is an alternative to heavy oil, as it does not cause sulphur oxide or soot particles and reduces the nitrogen oxide and carbon emissions. The first cruise ships running on liquid gas will set sail in 2018. Nevertheless, the cruise ship industry’s ambitious goal to act completely carbon free can only be achieved by consistently switching to hydrogen as a fuel.

The cruise ship of the future


Reducing the fuel consumption by constructing lighter ships is a useful measure as well. Steel could be replaced by light metal alloys, foamed aluminium, carbon fiber or fiberglass. The Japanese NGO Peace Boat strives for an ecological revolution of cruises with their Ecoship. Aside from the light construction it is planned to generate solar power on 6.000 m2; wind generators will produce additional power. By means of a special cleaning system, 100 percent of the used water will be recycled. The four different combustion systems will work on bio gas, fluid gas, bio diesel and diesel oil. And a garden on board the ship will provide fresh air.

Saving energy on board the ship


In Hamburg, cruise ships can resort to shore power from renewable resources since the summer of 2016. This requires an upgrade of the existing vessels, but in this way the diesel engine does not have to keep on running continuously. An upgrade in the cabin also benefits the energy balance. Due to a shower designed by the Swedish Start-up Orbital Systems, 80 percent of the energy consumption can be saved – and even 90 percent of water compared to conventional showers. Furthermore, façades that adapt to sunlight, shadow and different temperatures in various climate zones have been developed to heat or cool the ship’s cabins. Using furnishing that is recyclable or biodegradable reduces the carbon footprint as well.

Solidarity across boundaries


Of course, sustainability does not only include ecological, but also socio-economic aspects. In this respect, it is worth taking a look at the companies’ commitment. For instance, Royal Caribbean Cruises (RCCL) supports school and learning projects worldwide. Moreover, it organizes action days for RCCL-employees to help in social institutions. The objective of these actions is to establish a bond between the communities ashore and aboard and to develop a collective awareness for a sustainable life.

TUI Cruises has been supporting social initiatives close to the company’s locations in Hamburg and Berlin with annual sponsorships since 2014. Additionally, the enterprise invests money into a so-called spontaneous assistance fund. Thus, it has been able to provide emergency economic assistance for example after the powerful typhoons in the Philippines in 2013.

Responsible-minded land excursions


The character of land excursions can also make a great difference to the communities in the destinations. The various green and fair excursions by TUI Cruises give guests the opportunity to become acquainted with the country and the people in an authentic way. Leaflets raise awareness for the topic and 5 euros per booking of an excursion are donated to local sustainability projects. AIDA Cruises also offers sustainable land excursions as well as around 230 biking and e-bike excursions. In addition, passengers have the option of compensating their carbon emissions. The money is paid directly to a biomass power plant in Northern India that produces power from green harvest residues and creates jobs in the region.