Taking a Cruise? How to Look for the Greenest Option


Environmentalists have been up in arms for years about the damage cruise ships cause in the name of leisure. The ocean has suffered from their oil spills, garbage dumps and toxic fumes for so long, we are almost immune to the headlines.

Yet, cruise ships remain one of the most sought-after holiday destinations for millions around the world.

The idea of a few days (or weeks) on a cruise ship evokes excitement, a taste for the exotic and an air of mystery. It summons our wanderlust. Expectations of luxuriousness burst forth from the pages of a glossy brochure.

So, what’s the harm in enjoying a few days on these floating theme parks? It’s not like anyone is throwing the trash overboard anymore, right? Maybe.

It’s time to open our eyes as responsible world citizens, and to open up the cruise ship industry, who are often unapologetic in their opaque business policies and practices. The appearance of environmental care is not quite the same as taking practical steps towards a greener business as a whole.  

However, there are some cruise companies making an effort, and a small beginning is better than nothing at all. You can support conservation efforts by being aware of the dangers. Choose to spend hard-earned vacation money only where there are proven changes taking place to a cruise fleet. Consequences of poor choices now could mean the absence of thriving marine holiday destinations for future generations. It is that serious.

The transformation of the ocean liners lies purely in the hands of customers. Before booking your next cruise, here are six of the key measures towards a greener footprint to look out for:


1. Water

The burden cruise ships impose on the ocean is a major concern. Diesel-related pollution from giant, inefficient engines wreaks havoc on marine ecosystems. Vessels are now being designed to be more streamlined, reducing fuel consumption.  

Water use on board is another area of focus. Disney Cruise Liners use condensation from air-conditioning to wash their decks, for example, saving thousands of liters every year.


2. Air

Ship exhaust emissions create massive air pollution problems across all oceans. Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) has estimated that one medium-sized cruise ship emits as much air pollution as five million cars over the same distance!

Compared to road emissions, ocean vessels have it easy. They are starting to take it a little more seriously, though.

Cruise ships have a huge opportunity to change the face of maritime travel, for the good of the environment. New ships are now installing exhaust gas cleaning systems (ECGs) to minimize fumes, for example. There are also alternative fuel options being developed.

While reducing sulfur emissions is a good idea, this usually means it is redirected from the air to the water – what’s the point! Cleaner fuels (like LNG) coupled with meaningful emission monitoring and reduction is far better.


3. Biodiversity and Consumerism

Partnering with ocean institutes and research centers is a great way to provide data about ocean life. Putting measures in place to protect the seaside destinations along the way is also beneficial; like enforcing “no stepping on coral” and littering, and not supporting illegal vendors selling marine products, like shells, at local markets.  

These ecosystem protection policies are what makes for environmentally-responsible tourists, too, so don’t wait for a cruise company to take the first step.


4. Waste

Waste reduction and recycling are not the only indicators of a responsible company. What are they doing with their trash and their sewerage? Are they disposing of it in the ocean (cleverly maintaining the bare minimum compliance with environmental policies)? Or are they finding ways to not dump at all, even to use the waste for fuel and repurposing?


5. Dialogue

Talk about it. Tweet about it. Share views and information on the best (and worst) cruise liners according to research and experience. Encourage followers to take measures against shipping pollution, in big ways.

By all means, applaud greener policies on a public platform, but only after considering how much further the industry itself has to go. Don’t forget to look at the source behind and motivation for any provision of information. The shipping industry is notoriously non-transparent.


6. Energy

More efficient energy use is always a plus. Conversion appliances and solar panels are the basics. Other measures may include cooking oil recycling and reusing excess heat from generators for desalination processes.

Lastly, get creative. Dream up futuristic eco-ships like this one, and maybe you’ll change the world!

The bottom line is that cruise ships are not even close to ‘going green,’ nor in some cases, even environmentally-aware. The sad truth is not one single cruise ship could be recommended by the NABU, who ranks how environmentally friendly each cruise company appears. Not one.

Small things matter, too. Does the cruise ship still offer plastic straws, individually plastic-wrapped croissants and disposable coffee cups? It isn’t doing enough.

If you truly want to make a difference to the carbon footprint of the human race, take a hiking or bicycle tour, go horseback riding, sail a yacht around a few South-East Asian islands and collect bits of plastic spotted on the way.

Sand, sea and surf are all you need to be happy!

Some of the specifics of ‘Green’ cruising practices have been listed by Elissa Garay of Cruise Critic. Check out the details here.

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