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How Green Can An Ocean Cruise Really Be?

Posted By Jennifer Buonantony On March 30, 2009 @ 1:00 am In G Living,Traveling & Cool Stuff To Do | 1 Comment

As the cold, wet and dreary winter months creep upon us, it’s hard not to fantasize of hotter things – like a luxurious cruise ship heading to tropical locale. But even though cruising has become one of the fastest growing areas of the U.S. tourism industry, it’s also become one of the most highly criticized by environmental groups.

Is there such a thing as a green cruise ship? Well…

It’s no secret that cruise ships produce waste. After all, they’re like floating hotels, casinos, restaurants, and spas rolled into one. These “floating cities” carry with them thousands of passengers, tons of food, and hundreds of amenities all under one roof. Much of the appeal of cruising is the feeling of being pampered with countless activities at your fingertips doing so while en route to remote islands, historic cities, and multiple ports in a span of only a few days.

But cruise lines have come under scrutiny by environmental groups such as Oceana and Bluewater Network for the waste they discharge into the sea, the emissions they expel into the air, and the damage they can leave behind to the ecosystems their ships visit. All of which is not hot. Especially when you look at the statistics.

In the United States, from 1993-1998, cruise ships were involved in over 100 detected cases of illegal discharges and shelled out more than $30 million dollars in fines. That’s a lot of bad green. And most recently, Royal Caribbean pleaded guilty to an astonishing 21 counts of routine and deliberate dumping of hazardous wastes into U.S. waters and was fined more than $18 million dollars.

With black marks like this, it’s no shock that cruise lines have been working hard to improve environmental performance. And the good news is, there have been some positive changes.

Over the past five years, the major cruise lines have spent an average of $2 million dollars per ship to upgrade vessels with better systems for dealing with waste management and emissions. And while the industry has grown 7.6% annually over the last decade, cruise ships have cut waste almost in half, which is an amazing figure. Some cruise lines have gone above and beyond government regulations and standards established by the International Council for Cruise Lines (ICCL).

For those of you planning you winter trips, here are some of the cruise lines making good waves:

Holland America was named 2007’s most eco-friendly cruise line for its commitment to responsible environmental practices and the unveiling of its new $1.5 million emissions system designed to reduce air pollution by using sea water to “scrub” smokestack emissions. In addition, Holland America is employing a new hybrid power system combining traditional diesel-electric and newer gas-turbine engines in its new Vista Class fleet.

Carnival Cruise Lines retrofitted the Paradise with the first “earth-friendly” dry-cleaning system, which uses environmentally safe detergents and reduces hazardous chemical runoff. In addition, Carnival has also been at the forefront of engine design, and their new class of ships features a “highly efficient” diesel-electric propulsion system known as the “enviro-engine”, which nearly eliminates visible smokestack emissions.

Royal Caribbean and Celebrity cruise lines have added General Electric’s alternative engine technology — gas turbine — to their newest ships. This system reduces nitrous oxide emissions by 80% and sulfur oxide by 98%. As an added relaxation bonus, the engine is less noisy than traditional ones.

Princess Cruise Lines has reduced air pollution created by idling vessels in port by modifying their engines so they can be turned off while docked and plugged into a nearby land-based hydro-electric power plant. The electricity from the plant is transferred to the ships via specially designed cables. While this currently exists in only one port — Juneau, Alaska, at the cost $4.5 million dollars — the cruise line feels it’s worth the environmental investment and hopes to expand this inventive solution.

Even smaller cruise lines are making a splash. This past September, when Conde Nast Traveler highlighted the top companies in the tourism industry going green, Adventure Smith Explorations was its cruise of choice. Adventure Smith specializes in ship adventures and eco-tourism.

Using small cruise vessels and yachts, Adventure Smith offers an up-close look at nature and wildlife in Alaska as well as an intimate cruise experience. More importantly, they started the first ever Carbon Free Cruising Campaign, which keeps track of exactly how much fuel and oil is burned per cruise and per passenger.

Adventure Smith is partnered with Sustainable Travel International’s (STI) MyClimate program, which calculates how many tons of CO2 are released on each cruise. When a cruise is purchased, AdventureSmith contributes a portion of the cruise fare to STI’s carbon offset program to support climate friendly projects around the world. These projects include methane collection and electricity generation in South Africa, solar collectors in Costa Rica, biomass energy in India, wind energy in Madagascar, and weatherizing low-income housing in the U.S., to name a few.

In addition, Adventure Smith started the Carbon Free Cruising campaign, which hopes to educate their travelers about global warming while helping them take individual steps to reduce their own carbon footprint.

As a traveler, we all have a part to play. Luckily, you don’t have to sacrifice comfort or relaxation on your next cruise. All you need to do is research your options and make smart choices. It is possible to pamper yourself without letting your eco-consciousness be washed out with the tide.

For more facts about responsible cruising and tips on how you can reduce your eco-footprint as a cruise passenger, check out the ICCL homepage.

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