Green Cruising

The cruise industry has work to do in repairing its environmental image, even though green initiatives have been growing for a decade

By: By Marilyn Green

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Cold Ironing: Shore Power for Ships

West Coast ports have been quicker to embrace cold ironing — plugging ships into shore power when in port and turning off the engines — as a cleaner solution than running generators under ship power. Now, major ports worldwide are studying the costs and results of this process, also called Alternative Marine Power (AMP), to see whether it should become the norm.

Princess Cruises pioneered the use of shoreside power in the cruise industry in 2001 when Juneau, Alaska, became the first city to create such a connection. Currently, nine Princess ships have the capability to turn off their diesel engines and plug in via a custom-built electrical connection cabinet.

In the years that followed, the system has begun to see much wider use along the West Coast in Seattle, Vancouver, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Now, other ports on the East Coast and around the world are examining the installation of shore power capability. On the ship side, cruise lines with vessels currently capable of accessing shore power include Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) and Costa Cruise Lines.

NCL has signed a multiyear agreement with the Port of Los Angeles that includes the use of AMP on its Norwegian Star, which homeports in the city, and other California ports are leading the way. Now, Port Everglades and Royal Caribbean International are exploring the possibility of being first on the East Coast.

While the West Coast has accepted AMP as a substantial move toward cleaner air, European studies are more conflicted. A May presentation by European Commissioner Joe Borg to the European Cruise Council this spring was positive, indicating that the promotion of shoreside electricity is an effective way to tackle local pollution concerns.

“I am optimistic that we will soon get the required impetus for investments to make shoreside electricity a reality in many ports, including in neighboring countries in the southern Mediterranean,” Borg said.

However, a European Commission study released in September suggests that AMP may not be a solution that fits all. The study concluded that shoreside electricity is “relatively unattractive” from an economic perspective and has “several inefficient aspects” environmentally. For instance, the idea that shore-generated power doesn’t create significant emissions can be far from the truth, especially in the busiest cruise regions.

Cold ironing, it said, is likely to make little difference in some of the key centers for cruising, including Spain and Greece, which generate most of their shoreside electricity from emission-intensive coal, while in countries like France and Sweden that produce high amounts of electricity from renewable sources or nuclear power, the difference may be substantial. So, it may be that the region where a ship is deployed will dictate whether a cruise line invests in the retooling for land power use in port. It would also help if all such operations used the same specifications so one set of equipment would fit all.

The world’s clear blue waters, pristine beaches and mountain ranges, broad rivers and ancient towns lie at the heart of cruising’s popularity. For cruisers, the desire to see animals and plants in their natural environment and to have contact with different civilizations is just as strong. Accordingly, it is obvious that the cruise lines’ best interests lie with clean waters and shorelines where life can flourish.


Green cruising // (C) 2009 Jamie Farrant

The cruise industry has some real work to do in repairing its environmental image, even though abundant green initiatives have been growing for a decade among both river and seagoing vessels. Passengers might notice simple actions, such as the use of energy-efficient LED light bulbs and high-efficiency appliances, that reduce energy consumption, but ships are also plugging into shore-based power and using solar panels that sustainably power onboard amenities. The industry’s most recent vessels are designed and operated to sail more efficiently all over the world.

Even if environmental stewardship were not in the industry’s best interests, cruising is highly regulated and must meet strict environmental regulations set forth by the International Maritime Organization and overseen by the U.S. Coast Guard, which enforces both international and U.S. environmental laws.

A New Generation of Green
New ships are being built with even better environmental technologies, offsetting concerns about size. For example, Royal Caribbean International (RCI) announced that the 5,400-passenger Oasis of the Seas actually consumes less fuel than the line’s Freedom-class ships, which carry around 3,634 passengers. On Oasis, all wastewater — black, gray, galley, laundry and food waste — will be treated to a higher quality than Alaska’s Cruise Ship Wastewater Discharge Standards, currently the most stringent in the world.

The new breed of ships has diesel electric engines that allow flexibility in accessing engine power depending on need, reducing fuel usage and air emissions; hull designs and coatings that reduce ship drag and support extremely efficient heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems. Some ships are now built with Interceptor plates designed to lift the body of the ship, cutting propulsion power demand and energy consumption.

Cruise lines are using window coatings to prevent the sun’s heat from penetrating glass, thus reducing air-conditioning needs and saving energy. The industry is using LED light bulbs that last 25 times longer than conventional ones; in addition, they use 80 percent less energy and generate 50 percent less heat.

Disposal of wastewater has been a central issue along the coasts and, while they are not required to do so, Cruise Lines International Association members treat all blackwater before it is discharged anywhere in the world. Additionally, many lines are in various stages of installing and using advanced wastewater purification systems that produce cleaner water than what is discharged from most municipalities, close to drinking-water quality.

These systems are not required by any regulatory body, and they are being installed despite sizeable price tags of between $2 million and $10 million per ship. RCI alone is investing more than $100 million in the process, which takes approximately four to five months to manufacture and four months to install onboard. Then, it requires approximately two months to commission the system, which includes a sampling period to ensure that it meets standards comparable to the U.S. federal standards for ships operating in Alaska, regardless of where the ship is actually sailing. Again, new vessels such as Celebrity’s Solstice-class ships were designed with these systems in place, along with reduced-flow dishwashers and low-consumption laundry equipment. Every ship in the Celebrity Cruises fleet also houses low-energy reverse osmosis plants (water-makers) to produce its own fresh drinking water.

Another example of measures that go above and beyond what the law requires is waste disposal. By law, ships are allowed to dispose of waste into the oceans depending upon the waste material and how far the ship is from shore. However, lines, including Carnival Cruise Lines (CCL) and Princess Cruises, do not dispose of unprocessed non-biodegradable solid waste into the ocean. Instead, they recycle, incinerate, treat or offload waste materials for disposal on land at approved facilities. Solid waste is processed and incinerated onboard whenever possible. Companies including Regent Seven Seas Cruises (RSSC) and Oceania Cruises do not permit any type of disposal at sea.

Green Innovations
While it is impossible to describe the hundreds of green initiatives launched by the various cruise lines, a sampling includes Silversea Cruises’ upcoming ship, Silver Spirit, with an engine design that will reduce fuel usage and air emissions, and its non-toxic hull coatings, such as silicone-based paints, that lessen frictional resistance and reduce fuel usage and emissions. Carbon emissions from Silversea’s expedition ship, Prince Albert II, are offset in collaboration with the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation.

Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) has been a leader in recycling used lube oil, and ships are fitted with incinerators that burn oil, paper, cardboard, some plastics and, on some ships, bio sludge and dried food waste. Food waste is the only solid waste discharged to the sea by NCL ships. The company also introduced a pilot program in 2007 in which some 15,000 gallons of used cooking oil were offloaded and then converted into useable biodiesel for farming equipment in Florida.

Environmental training for staff members is crucial for an effective ecological program and several cruise lines have been very active in this area, appointing dedicated environmental officers and providing extensive training and supervision at every level; one example is Costa Cruise Line, which logged 30,912 environmental training hours in 2008.

Among Holland America Line’s (HAL) many environmental initiatives is the replacement of perchloroethylene-based dry-cleaning equipment by machines using non-hazardous detergents formulated with soy, banana and orange extracts. Digital technology has been implemented onboard to eliminate the chemicals used by traditional X-ray machines and all onboard materials are printed with environmentally friendly soy-based ink. All staterooms have low-flow systems for toilets and showers, as well.

Alternative sources of power are being explored on small and medium-size ships. Ecoventura, a family-owned company in Ecuador that operates cruises in the Galapagos, recently unveiled a hybrid-energy motor yacht, sponsored by Toyota. The ship, which carries 20 passengers, has 40 solar panels and two wind turbines on the upper deck, expected to provide about 17 percent of the energy previously produced by a pair of carbon fuel-based generators.

Among the river cruise lines, Viking River Cruises’ new Viking Legend has engines roughly similar to hybrid car engines. They not only reduce fuel use by 20 percent, but they also lower emission levels along with engine noise and vibration.

Celebrity Solstice has 216 solar panels — enough to power all of the ship’s guest elevators or more than 7,000 LED lights. Celebrity began transitioning from higher wattage halogen and incandescent bulbs to longer-lasting fluorescent and LED lights more than a year ago, as they generate less than 50 percent of the heat of the bulbs previously used, resulting in reduced energy consumption and more efficient air conditioning.

Companies such as Windstar Cruises that travel under sail as well as conventional engines are, of course, using age-old technology to heavily cut pollution. Passengers express amazement that ships as large as the 312-passenger Wind Surf and Star Clippers’ 227-guest Royal Clipper can speed through the water on sails alone.

Measures that may appear small definitely add up. Crystal Cruises has introduced 100 percent recyclable EcoHangers on its ships, an alternative to the nearly 9 billion wire and plastic hangers filling landfills each year. Additionally, Crystal utilizes washable, reusable garment bags rather than plastic bags for onboard laundry presentation. An in-house audit of its ships’ lighting and energy consumption resulted in measures that have saved more than 960,000 kilowatts — equivalent to eliminating more than 5,000 light bulbs, or nearly 200 tons of fuel, per year.

We’re All in This Together
The cruise lines have also created partnerships with various conservation organizations, supporting them financially and through education efforts, and have even used the vessels themselves in an active data-gathering role.

For nearly a decade, RCI’s Explorer of the Seas has hosted the University of Miami’s Oceanographic and Atmospheric Laboratory Program, focusing on gathering environmental information. RCI has also donated more than $10 million to a
variety of nonprofit groups and institutions involved in marine conservation through its annual Ocean Fund grants. These activities cover ocean science and conservation projects that relate to climate change, key marine species and technology.

Likewise, CCL has formed an alliance with the International SeaKeepers Society and has installed a scientific data-gathering device on the Carnival Triumph and Carnival Spirit to monitor ocean water quality. In 2006, the National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recognized the Carnival Conquest with the Voluntary Observing Ship Award for its efforts in helping monitor and collect data on Caribbean weather conditions.

Sometimes the relationships feed into educational programs onboard, as in the case of RSSC’s longtime partnership with Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society, educating adults and children on marine conservation in various parts of the world. Cruises like the 30-day Callao to Rio circumnavigation of South America departing Jan. 24 on the Seven Seas Mariner feature lectures by Cousteau himself.

Virtually all cruise lines have some educational component centered on conservation and ecology, and raising the awareness of younger cruisers is high on the list of their goals. Park rangers and locals lead children through onboard activities in Alaska and other destinations, and cruise lines incorporate computer programs and activity books for children along with direct experience. An example is the youngsters’ programs on NCL, where children in the Kid’s Crew program learn about the importance of clean water and the effects and prevention of marine pollution through Officer Snook’s Water Pollution Program. The program’s teen component allows high-school students to earn between one and five community service hours depending on their level of involvement in the program.

The cruise lines’ efforts have received extensive acknowledgement from conservation and environmental groups. HAL, for instance, was awarded the NOAA’s Conservation Partnership Award for its Whale Strike Avoidance training program in which crews learn to assist in the safety of all whale species.

Sven-Olof Lindblad, founder of Lindblad Expeditions, recently received a Climate Champion Award from Clean Air-Cool Planet for his leadership in corporate climate action. The award was presented to Lindblad for his ongoing pioneering work in sustainable travel, including an Arctic expedition in the summer of 2008 in which more than 100 diverse opinion leaders convened aboard the National Geographic Endeavour in Svalbard, Norway, to work together to find new solutions to climate change.

In September, Costa was awarded the ABB Energy Efficiency Award in recognition of its efforts and progress in improving energy efficiency in its motor and drive systems.

Costa qualified for the award by installing inverters on its ships, designed to control the supply of electrical power and find the point of peak efficiency.

Costa’s Atlantica was the first cruise ship to receive a Rina Green Star, followed by the rest of the Costa fleet and a number of ships from other companies, including Carnival’s four Spirit-class ships. The Green Star is among the most coveted awards since the Italian Shipping Register, which assigns the award, was the world’s first classification body to establish stringent environmental requirements for shipping. Newbuilds, such as Seabourn’s new Odyssey and her future sister ships, are designed to meet Green Star standards from the outset.

In addition, NCL was named a finalist in Conde Nast Traveler’s 2008 World Savers Awards. The awards honor 38 travel companies from around the world for their leadership in social responsibility in five key areas: poverty alleviation, cultural and/or environmental preservation, education, wildlife conservation and health.

A Spotlight on Green Cruises
While ecological experiences are offered on most cruises, the environment itself is the theme for a number of sailings next year, including Hurtigruten’s 11-day Climate Pilgrimage to northern Norway and the Arctic island of Spitsbergen. Guests visit research stations, track wildlife, participate in field studies and meet with some of the field’s top research scientists, and Antarctic tours divide their time between the region’s changing ecology and the animals who are adapting.

In addition, Cruise West is offering 12 Whales and Wildlife seven-day theme cruises in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez through March and, next year, the line has announced a new six-night trip to Costa Rica’s Cocos Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site described by Jacques Cousteau as “the most beautiful island in the world” and inspiration for the film “Jurassic Park.” The company also has a freshly revised nine-night itinerary, Between Two Seas, from Panama to Costa Rica with a zodiac excursion to visit the Embera, a tribe basically unchanged by modern culture.

Ultimately, it is the consciousness of the people that determines the fate of the Earth’s ecosystems, and green cruising is as dependent on passengers as it is on improved technology and practices. In the words of Canadian author and cultural analyst Marshall McLuhan, “There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew.”