Carnival Corporation sets a new sustainability standard in the cruise industry

Though the cruise industry at large has been criticised for its environmental impact, Carnival Corporation is at the forefront of a range of sustainability initiatives

Carnival Corporation strives for environmental and social sustainability in every aspect of its operations

When cruise ships are described as floating cities, this is not just a reference to their size: as well as housing thousands of people at a time, cruise ships provide all the amenities and infrastructure one would expect from a residential estate, only in a much smaller space. They are tremendous achievements of design and construction.

Looking after such a sizeable population is no easy task on land, let alone at sea. For one thing, large numbers of people produce a significant amount of waste. In the recent past, the cruise industry has received criticism regarding its environmental impact. Criticisms range from how it manages passenger waste to the amount of fumes produced by the massive engines needed to drive ships. However, though it does have its shortcomings, the industry has made tremendous strides in improving both its environmental and social sustainability impacts in recent years.

In the recent past, the cruise industry has received criticism regarding its environmental impact

“Sustainability is a topic that is not new for the cruise industry, but it is one that has gotten more attention through the efforts of industry players to provide more transparency into their sustainability efforts”, said John Haeflinger, Vice President of Maritime Policy and Analysis for Carnival Corporation. Carnival is the world’s largest leisure travel company, operating several cruise brands including P&O Cruises, Holland America Line and Carnival Cruise Lines. Across all its brands, Carnival has been at the forefront of improving sustainability through innovative programmes.

Sustainable future
Haeflinger explained Carnival does not just see sustainability as the company’s impact on the environment, but also its social impact on the countries its cruises visit. “We are proud of the fact that our business can have such a positive economic impact on the thousands and thousands of families that are supported by our diverse international employee base, and on the hundreds of port communities we visit each year”, he said. “On the environmental side, we are focused on driving ship energy efficiency gains, improved water efficiency, and reduced waste generation across the fleet in order to minimise our environmental footprint.”

In 2015, Carnival published a list of 10 sustainability goals, targeted for completion by 2020, prompting company-wide changes in order to ensure its cruise lines remained leaders within the industry. “We have established a set of 2020 sustainability goals, aimed at reducing our environmental footprint while enhancing the health, safety and security of our guests and crew members, and ensuring sustainable business practices across our brands and business partners in three categories”, explained Elaine Heldewier, Carnival’s Sustainability Director.

Technology that works on land can very rarely be implemented on ships wholesale; machinery almost always requires substantial modification before it is shipshape

The first of the three categories covers the business’ environmental targets, designed to reduce the impact cruise liners have in terms of carbon output and waste. Some of the targets include lowering the volume of carbon dioxide emissions, increasing the capacity and coverage of on-board water purification systems, and reducing shipboard waste. From the baseline year of 2005, Carnival aims to reduce the amount of waste generated and improve water efficiency by five percent annually.

The second group of sustainability goals relates to the company’s workforce and the impact ships have on the local communities they visit. Stated goals include building a diverse and inclusive workforce, and working with local organisations to help benefit the people living near ports. The third group of goals targets continued improvements to health, safety and security standards across the company’s cruise lines. Carnival is currently working on tracking the progress of its 2020 goals, while identifying and selecting its next set of targets.

Ship tech
Technology that works on land can very rarely be implemented on ships wholesale; machinery almost always requires substantial modification before it is shipshape. “Among the challenges typically encountered when adapting shore-based technologies to shipboard use are adjustments for space, weight and access limitations, material standards, operating environment, and regulatory approvals”, said Haeflinger. “All of these factors increase the complexity of environmental technology projects in the maritime environment. In order to expedite the process, ships within the fleet are regularly selected to test new technologies and run pilot programmes.”

One such area Carnival is working on is the development and implementation of emission-cutting technology, a specific example being the use of liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a fuel. As Heldewier noted, LNG runs considerably cleaner than the fuel currently used: “LNG emits zero sulphur dioxides and, compared to marine diesel oil, has a 95 to 100 percent reduction in particulate matter, an 85 percent reduction in nitrogen oxides, and a 25 percent reduction in carbon emissions.”

The company first began experimenting with LNG on its ships while they were in port. AIDAsol, a ship operated by Carnival Corporation, became the first cruise ship in the world to be supplied with power via an LNG hybrid barge while in port in Hamburg in 2015. A unique pilot project with Becker Marine Systems, the LNG hybrid barge was designed, constructed and commissioned within three years. In May 2016, another Carnival ship, AIDAprima, began bunkering LNG via truck in Germany. Carnival is currently implementing LNG systems in seven different ships under construction, including three new ships being constructed by leading German and Finnish shipbuilders Meyer Werft and Meyer Turku.

“By late 2018, we will be the first cruise company to use LNG on the open sea and in port when our first LNG-powered ship enters into service”, said Heldewier. “When designing the vessels, we had to analyse their likely itineraries to ensure optimum arrangements were made on board. LNG has about half as much density as conventional fuel; therefore, it requires larger tank volumes.”

Catering for several thousand people at once is a tremendous task, let alone for several days at a time, as cruise ships are capable of. Naturally, waste management will always be a challenge, but Carnival is making sure it is done as sustainably as possible. Heldewier said all of Carnival’s ships have detailed waste management plans in place. “Our waste management strategy includes plans for eliminating waste streams, minimising waste generation, disposing waste ashore, incinerating waste on board, and discharging liquid waste and food waste.”

Carnival evaluates shore-side waste facilities prior to offloading anything from its ships, looking at factors such as whether waste is reused, recycled, incinerated or landfilled by the local authorities. All of these activities are performed in accordance with international and local regulatory requirements, and in some instances exceed regulations.

Water efficiency
Onboard water usage is another key issue. Improved water efficiency is not just necessary for environmental sustainability, but also for continued economic viability, due to the cost of purchasing, storing and processing water while at sea. Karina Spiegel, Sustainability Programmes Manager at Carnival, explained that water use on Carnival’s cruises has improved significantly over the last several years. “As an example, our water use rate is 61 gallons per person per day, compared to the US national average of 90 gallons per person per day. We have also increased the percentage of water we produce on board relative to the total amount of water bunkered, which has helped us to reduce the risks associated with disruption of water supplies in ports.” Carnival ships will also alternate at which ports they take on water, so as to avoid adversely impacting local communities who, for example, may be suffering through drought.

Catering for several thousand people at once is a tremendous task, let alone for several days at a time, as cruise ships are capable of

Spiegel said the methods used to save water are quite varied. “Examples include efficient laundry machines and dishwashers. In addition, to improve our water use efficiency, we have installed sink aerators and low-flow showerheads in cabins and public areas. We also actively encourage our guests to assist us in our water efficiency efforts by making them aware of options available on board to conserve water, such as reusing towels and sheets. Lastly, our crew is trained in water efficiency practices as part of our environmental training programme.”

Cold ironing is another technology cruise lines have started to adopt as a cleaner form of energy consumption. It relates to how ships maintain power while not on the open seas. When docked, a ship still needs to maintain many essential systems like electricity and refrigeration, despite its main engines being turned off. To keep them running, smaller onboard generators are used to supply electricity. When a ship is docked, this is the single biggest source of emissions.

Cold ironing is when a cruise ship is ‘plugged in’ to the port’s local power grid, allowing critical systems to be maintained without the need to run a generator. Spiegel said that, currently, close to 50 percent of Carnival Corporation’s ships are either fully outfitted or preconfigured to allow for shore power connections. “There are only a small number of ports worldwide that have the electrical infrastructure to provide shore power to cruise ships”, said Spiegel. “Regarding cold ironing investments for ourselves and the ports we visit, consideration must be given to the relative carbon footprint of any cold ironing installation and the associated infrastructure cost relative to the expected utilisation of the asset.”

Given the number of ports and communities Carnival visits, the company can truly be said to have a global impact. With this in mind, Carnival is also focusing on making sure its international social impact is a sustainable one

To make sure the company is making the most significant contribution it can, Carnival is prioritising its investments. “Given that our ships spend more time at sea than in port, our preference is to find environmentally friendly solutions applicable to 100 percent of our operational time. This is why we are heavily invested in LNG, while also being open to expanding our fleet’s cold ironing capabilities commensurate with low-carbon-footprint port power capabilities.”

Global community players
Given the number of ports and communities Carnival visits, the company can truly be said to have a global impact. With this in mind, Carnival is also focusing on making sure its international social impact is a sustainable one. The cruise company’s latest brand is Fathom, which offers cruises designed around the concept of ‘social impact travel’. This gives guests the opportunity to make a positive social contribution to the destinations they visit.

In the Dominican Republic, Fathom has partnered with Entrena Consulting and Instituto Dominicano de Desarrollo Integral as impact partners. Both organisations work on reaching socioeconomic objectives in the north of the country through their strong community connections. Their extensive experience is providing Fathom with a greater understanding of the specific needs of the local communities, while their well-established programmes form the foundation that allows Fathom’s guests to make a genuinely meaningful impact.

This follows on from the organisation’s significant investment in the Dominican Republic’s Amber Cove port. The $85m investment in over 25 acres of land represents Carnival’s single largest direct port investment to date, and the largest ever cruise industry investment in the Dominican Republic. The port will provide significant opportunities for economic growth in the region through new local businesses. Carnival employed approximately 500 local residents as part of the construction of the port, and created 250 ongoing positions.

Continued adaptation

According to Haeflinger, Carnival has several more sustainability initiatives currently in development. The company is continually working on improving the fuel efficiency of its fleet, in order to both lower costs and decrease its carbon footprint. The same can be said for the company’s treatment of sewage and water waste. Adding to these efforts, Carnival is also working to improve both the depth and transparency of how it reports its sustainability performance.

Additionally, where ships purchase their supplies from is coming under the microscope. “We are continuing to work with our supply chain through our code of conduct for business partners, and to expand our sustainability commitment to our suppliers in areas such as labour, human rights, health, safety, security and environmental protection, which are essential for healthy societies worldwide”, Haeflinger said. There is also a push towards sustainable food sourcing, with the company recently committing to making sure that by 2025, 100 percent of its eggs are from cage-free hens. Such changes may seem small, but they are testament to how seriously Carnival takes sustainability, and how hard the company and all its cruise lines are working to improve sustainability throughout every aspect of the industry.