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Sustainability has become a buzzword for the tourism industry, but as far as the cruise sector is concerned, it's been a choppy year of ups and downs when it comes to the environment.
In June 2016, environmental campaigners Friends of the Earth released its annual cruise ship report card, which gave most of the major cruise lines a set of rather underwhelming grades. The guilty plea from Carnival Corporation in an illegal ocean pollution case in December 2016 then saw the cruise giant ordered to submit 78 cruise ships across its eight brands to a five-year environmental compliance program.
It sounds all doom and gloom, but there were also many positive strides made.
Recycling, incinerating and waste processing are now commonplace, with green technologies such as solar panels, more efficient hulls and energy-efficient appliances also being employed on a growing number of vessels.
Both Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean announced they would build new vessels powered by Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), the cleanest burning fossil fuel in the world.
The Intrepid Group further ramped things up with the launch of the world's first carbon-offset cruises under its Peregrine brand, with the itineraries placing substantial emphasis on sustainable itineraries that benefit local communities while providing an authentic experience.
To top it all off, December 2016 saw the Australian debut of Ovation of the Seas -- described by Royal Caribbean International as "one of the greenest ships to ever visit Australian shores". The cruise line claims the mammoth vessel "sets a new standard in environmental stewardship technology" with air lubrication systems on the hull to reduce fuel consumption.
Here is a summary of the latest green practices of the major mainstream and luxury cruise lines:
Carnival Cruise Line
Carnival Cruise Lines, which operates Carnival Spirit and Carnival Legend in local waters, places an emphasis on incinerating solid waste onboard where possible. Anything else, like plastic, glass, cooking oil, electronics, is recycled where possible or offloaded for disposal on land.
Oily bilge water is subjected to a three-step engineering process.
Instead of sending items such as unwanted furniture, mattresses, linens, small appliances, kitchenware and clothing to landfills, these items and many others are instead donated to charities.
All Carnival Cruise Lines employees attend a training course on shipboard waste management. The cruise line also provides specialised or advanced training to all shipboard and relevant shoreside employees. All ships have environmental officers.
Through an alliance with the International SeaKeepers Society, Carnival has installed scientific devices on four ships, including local vessels Legend and Spirit, to monitor ocean water quality and other climatic info.
The data is sent by satellite to environmental groups, governmental agencies and universities, helping them assess ocean pollution, climate change and weather patterns.
Specially marked containers are scattered throughout each ship in the fleet to encourage cruisers to recycle. Designated bins collect food, glass, aluminium and plastic products; recycling bins are also located in steward stations, galley and crew areas, room service pantries and bar pantries.
Technological solutions are a major area of focus with equipment such as Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems installed to help the cruise line adhere to new requirements for low sulphur fuel as cost-effectively as possible. All of P&O's vessels comply with all current environmental emissions requirements.
The entire P&O fleet is outfitted with advanced water systems using membrane filtration and ultraviolet light as well as onboard treatment facilities to deal with sewage and oily bilge water.
Each P&O ship has its own Environmental Officer with full-time responsibility for implementing the cruise line's Planet P&O program.
Their responsibilities include overseeing all of the above onboard policies as well as several different waste management systems and working to reduce the amount of solid waste generated onboard.
Each member of the P&O crew undertakes specific environmental training, teaching them to be more aware of the issues encountered in this area.
They are asked to implement all environmental policies by conserving water, throwing nothing overboard and minimising the amount of waste they generate as they go about their daily life at sea.
P&O has launched a holistic environmental program called Planet P&O to encourage and inspire its crew members and cruisers to be good stewards of our environment and the oceans.
Turning off taps when not in use, reporting leaking taps and reusing towel and linens are some of the ways P&O passengers are encouraged to do their bit for the environment while onboard.
Even though it was Princess Cruises at the heart of last year's ocean pollution scandal, the cruise line is insistent the environment is a cause close to its heart.
Each Princess ship has its own Environmental Officer with full-time responsibility for implementing its Planet Princess program and many of its ships have been outfitted with shore power connections (although these aren't of much use yet in Australia).
The cruise line has invested "millions of dollars" in pollution prevention technology such as Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems, which aim to meet new requirements for low sulphur fuel in a cost-effective manner. By 2020, 14 Princess ships will have EGCS installations.
Onboard treatment facilities also help breakdown and disinfect "black water" from toilets and reduce the oil content in "bilge water". By 2020, 80 per cent of the Princess fleet will have advanced water systems using membrane filtration and ultraviolet light.
There is also "state-of-the-art" waste management equipment as well as a number of steps in place to reduce the amount of solid waste generated onboard -- for example, plastic laundry bags have been replaced by paper,
Princess' crew has been trained not only on equipment use, but also to be "environmentally sensitive". That means they undertake environmental awareness training for crew members, who are also made well aware of the strict disciplinary procedures that apply to any violations of regulations.
Crew are also asked to wash full loads in galley and laundry washing machines and to save water during shower, shaving, and brushing teeth.
In 1993, Princess launched a holistic environmental program called Planet Princess to encourage and inspire its crew members and cruisers to be good stewards of our environment and the oceans.
Cruisers are asked to conserve water by turning off taps when not in use and reporting any leaks. They are also encouraged to reuse towel and linens.
Holland America Line
Aboard every HAL ship, you'll find an Environmental Officer responsible for training staff and ensuring the operation complies with laws, regulations and company policies.
They'll also make sure that features such as bilge water treatment systems and marine sanitation devices, which are present on all vessels, are doing exactly what they're supposed to -- preventing the discharge of oily bilge and black water (aka sewage) into the ocean.
In addition, five of its ships -- MS Westerdam, MS Noordam, MS Oosterdam, MS Amsterdam, Ms Zuiderdam -- have been outfitted to use shore power in a bid to reduce engine emissions (although this capability is not yet available in Australian ports).
And then there are the waste management systems. A whopping eight tonnes of garbage are collected onboard each ship during a seven day cruise, so HAL employs a number of practices to help minimise and manage this waste such as quantity control and minimising the use of packaging. Plastics are also ditched in favour of paper or washable cups, wooden stirrers, paper bags and glass, metal or recycled packaging wherever possible. Bulk dispensers are provided for individual condiments and cream.
Cleaning products are environmentally friendly, with a strict protocol in place for garbage handling with an emphasis on recycling. Other waste is disposed of according to international requirements. Dry cleaning machines have been replaced with soy, orange and banana oil based "wet cleaning" machines and onboard x-ray facilities have been converted to digital technology, as have the photo labs.
All crew members receive basic environmental training to educate them on the requirements and procedures necessary to protect the environment.
Training also aims to get crew members to use products fully, reuse when possible, and to sort garbage properly when disposing of material. All ships also have crew members that are especially trained and responsible for final sorting, processing, storing, recycling and disposal.
To aid in the recovery and survival of all whale species, HAL has developed an online training program called "Avoiding Whale Strikes" which has been completed by all deck officers on its vessels.
HAL passengers are invited to watch an environmental stewardship video presented by the Environmental Officer. This 20-minute video describes the cruise line's environmental protection practices, and is followed by a question and answer session.
Passengers are also invited to participate in its onboard environmental programs by depositing their rubbish into the segregated waste containers positioned throughout the vessel. In addition, they are also encouraged to reuse bath towels, close exterior doors and reduce water and power usage.
Ships travelling to Alaska and Antarctica also have special presentations for cruisers to ensure their sensitivity to the special environmental conditions that exist in those regions.
Celebrity Solstice is considered the "showcase" of Celebrity's environmental efforts with a number of green initiatives implemented on the vessel from the word go -- even during its construction.
For example, the ship has more than 4,000 LED lights onboard which require 80 per cent less energy and generate less than 50 percent of the heat of normal bulbs -- helping slash energy consumption and reducing the amount of waste bulbs.
It is also the first cruise ship to be equipped with solar power technology -- 216 solar panels have been installed over a 500 sq.m area of the ship, producing enough electricity to power the ship's elevators or about 7,000 LED lights.
It doesn't stop there. Wastewater purification systems, water-reduction technology, high-efficiency appliances and glass windows designed to prevent the penetration of solar heat are among its other environmentally friendly features.
A smoother silicone painted hull reduces the amount of energy needed to travel through the water, saving as much as 5 per cent of fuel usage while the engines are designed to reduce NOX emissions.
And what about those ice beds, so commonplace in cruise ship buffets? Celebrity now uses river rocks instead.
Crew members each receive environmental training as part of RCL's Save the Waves program.
During their working day, they are tasked with reducing air-conditioning energy waste by setting thermostats to a neutral position when staterooms are not in use, and ensuring balcony doors are closed.
Staff are also advised to turn off lights and appliances in passenger and crew areas when not needed, adjust temperature thermostats to comfortable levels when no one is present, and conserve energy through freshwater saving initiatives.
The cruise line is part of RCL's Save the Waves program, which includes environmental officers onboard each ship, a comprehensive waste management program that addresses each onboard waste stream, and environmental training for every crew member.
Cruisers also are encouraged to participate in RCL's Save the Waves program by saving energy and reducing air emissions by turning off the water while brushing their teeth or shaving, turning off the lights and all appliances when they leave their room, and using towels and bed linens more than once before laundering.
Royal Caribbean International
Royal Caribbean has also placed an environmental officer aboard each of its ships who is responsible for overseeing the company's environmental program, waste and chemical management procedures as well as ensuring every crew member gets environmental training. That forms part of its Save the Waves program, as do wastewater treatment systems on its ships, and waste reduction initiatives.
To cap it all off, the cruise line claims that its newest addition to its Australian fleet, Ovation of the Seas, is "one of the greenest ships" to ever visit Down Under with innovative technology that includes air lubrication systems on the hull to reduce fuel consumption, LED-only lighting and a multi-stream exhaust gas cleaning system.
In October, the cruise line confirmed its newest class of ships would be powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG) and introduces the use of fuel cell technology, which will dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
RCI's Save the Waves program has been integrated into each crew member's daily duties and is described by the cruise line as the "backbone" of daily operations aboard its ships.
Crew members are expected to not throw anything overboard, to reduce waste generation by reusing and recycling where possible.
In addition to its Save the Waves program, RCI last year announced a five-year global partnership with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to help ensure the long-term health of the oceans.
Under the tie-up, the partners will set measurable and achievable sustainability targets with the aim of reducing Royal Caribbean's environmental footprint while raising awareness about ocean conservation among the company's more than five million cruisers and supporting WWF's global oceans conservation work.
Passengers are asked to follow instructions for recycling in marked bins throughout the ship as well as not to throw anything overboard and to ensure all personal items are firmly secured so there is no risk of them blowing overboard.
They are also asked to reuse towels where possible rather than having them replaced every day, to conserve energy by closing their balcony doors when not in use and to switch off the lights when they leave their room.
On the food front, cruisers are reminded not to overload their plates in the Windjammer restaurant to help reduce food waste. Instead they are invited to go back for a second helping if still hungry.
When heading off the ship, passengers can select a shore excursion from the 'Caring Discoveries' range, which offers activities and tours whose proceeds benefit local wildlife, environment and community initiatives. While on shore, they are asked not to remove coral or shells, and to respect the environment and local culture.
The cruise line is working to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions with a fuel reduction program that includes hull cleaning and hi-tech coating, propeller polishing, fuel additives, careful itinerary planning and the reduction of electricity usage. Emissions are continually monitored to ensure they stay within restrictions.
The cruise operator also attempts to conserve energy onboard its ships by using "optimal" lighting settings throughout its ships, LED corridor lights and infrared coating lamps.
Low-flow showerheads; water restrictors, reverse osmosis plants and a water filtration system have been installed to reduce water consumption.
On the waste disposal front, Crystal has a "nothing overboard" policy. Solid waste is either incinerated or landed ashore with non-bio-degradable items recycled. Where possible, mattresses, bedding and other items no longer used on board are donated to charity.
Efforts are being made to reduce onboard waste, too. For example, disposable plastic laundry, shoeshine and dry cleaning bags in passenger staterooms have been replaced with reusable cloth bags. Environmentally friendly cleaning products are used where possible along with phosphate-free soap for exterior cleaning.
Crystal's ships have also been designed to minimise noise and vibration underwater in order to minimise the impact on sea life.
As part of the cruise lines CO2 Diet Declarationcampaign, all employees are asked to commit to small changes to their daily routines in order to help reduce CO2 emissions even when not at sea. These include turning off water while brushing teeth or washing their faces, not letting their cars idle unnecessarily, buying local produce and adjusting their refrigerator temperature.
Last year, Crystal Cruises saved about 30,000kg of CO2 through the Diet Declaration.
Crew members are also required to participate in an environmental training program every year, and are also invited to take part in the cruise line's parent company's annual e-learning program. They also receive a monthly environmental email newsletter on a green theme.
The cruise line's Crystal Clean Initiative incorporates a range of measures used to prevent pollution, comply with worldwide regulations and improve its environmental management system.
In addition it has partnered with non-profit organisation Clean the World, which takes its used soaps, shampoos, lotions, and other hygienic products then recycles, sterilises, and transforms them into fresh personal cleaning products. These are then distributed, along with educational materials to impoverished countries around the world where hand washing with soap can reduce hygiene-related illnesses, actually saving lives.
Then, there's its You Care, We Care voluntourism program, which enables passengers and crew to get directly involved in worthwhile causes in the destinations it visits.
By partnering with "eco-conscious" companies involved in the protection and preservation of wildlife in various ports-of-call such as South Africa and Australia, Crystal's cruisers see the wildlife upfront and learn about preservation efforts. They also get a personal education about wildlife challenges and further opportunities to help local protection efforts.
In environmentally sensitive areas, the cruise line brings lecturers onboard to educate passengers and crew about the surrounds as well as how to help protect the local wildlife.
Cruisers are also asked to help the environment by reducing their changes of linen and towels.