Smooth sailing for Royal Caribbean's sustainability voyage

The cruise line is addressing energy efficiency, water consumption and treatment, and waste management one vessel at a time.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

When it comes to sustainability management, a cruise ship offers a microcosm of all the strategies you'd need to deal with in a local municipality. That's why for Royal Caribbean Cruises, sustainability management impacts virtually every operational decision that the hospitality company makes.

"People don't want to cruise on polluted waters, they don't want to go to degraded destinations," said Jamie Sweeting, vice president for environmental stewardship for Royal Caribbean. "How do we do everything we can to minimize the operational of footprints of our ship."

There are 42 ships across Royal Caribbean Cruises' management, under five brands: Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Pullmantur Cruises, Azamara Club Cruises and CDF Croisières de France (plus Royal Caribbean Cruises has a 50% stake in TUI Cruises).

It turns out you can pretty much divide Royal Caribbean's sustainability focus into three areas:

  1. Energy and air: Sweeting actually argues that Royal Caribbean IS an energy company, since it runs power plants on its vessels and constantly has to worry about their efficiency. More on that in a moment, but it is important to note that Royal Caribbean is using 50 percent less energy per guest on each of its ships today than it did 10 to 12 years ago.
  2. Water and waste water: The cruise line has made major commitments in water and chemical treatment. Although Royal Caribbean is allowed to discharge untreated water more than 12 nautical miles offshore, the company purifies it first to "near drinking water" quality. It uses highly sophisticated bio reactors to do so. The investment in those systems was more than $100 million, and it involves taking the ship out of commission for at least four months. The company boasts that it consumes 20 to 50 gallons less fresh water per person per day than an average person living in the United States.
  3. Waste: The goal of the cruise line is to operate in a fashion such as the waste stream produced by each guest on a daily basis is less than it would be if they stayed at hom. Sweeting figures that approximately 1.1 pounds of trash are produced each day by a passenger; that compares with 4.3 pounds per day per person for the average American household.

There are a number of specific actions that Royal Caribbean has undertaken to improve its sustainability message, and it is important to remember that this is an evolving mission. Some ships have better messages than others.

For example, the Oasis and the Allure of the Seas boast a reuse rate of 90 percent to 95 percent, which is higher than other ships in the fleet. The Celebrity Silhouette features some of the company's most advanced solar technology, glass panels that generate 19.5 kilowatts of power and have a longer life in seawater environments. The Solstice was the industry's first ship to use solar energy. It has 216 solar panels that generate enough power to operate more than 7,000 LED lights.Sweeting, and Harri Kulovaara, executive vice president, Maritime, for Royal Caribbean, shared some of their thoughts about what has made the cruise company's sustainability voyage relatively smooth so far:

  • Addressing culture. The decision to appoint an environmental officer for every ship (that decision made back in 1996). It doesn't stop there, though. The reuse, recycle and repurpose mindset is one that is engrained into cruise line employees from the beginning.
  • A focus on hydrodynamics. Kulovaara said that 25 percent of the resistance that a ship experiences as it moves through the water is from friction, and 80 percent of that friction comes between the water and the ship's hull. The company is committing technology, and research and development resources to improving that ratio. You will also see it build fleets that are smaller and lighter. In 2014, Royal Caribbean will unveil the ships in its "Project Sunshine" line. They will weight 158,000 tons, compared with the 226,000-ton Allure of the Seas.
  • Return to sender. Many of the drums used to deliver products to ships are refilled and returned to vendors, in order to minimize the waste stream.
  • Embrace renewable. All the ships delivered since the Solstice have solar panels as part of their energy generation profile, and this will continue. Royal Caribbean is also studying wind turbines, although they are difficult to use because of the air resistance.
  • Experiment. The Celebrity Solstice was the first ship to feature a green roof, which the cruise company bills as its "lawn club." This isn't just something nice for passengers. The lawns absorbs heats from the sun and helps decrease the ship's air-conditioning load.

Which leads me to one last thought. Most Royal Caribbean passengers probably don't pick the line for a trip because of its environmental commitment, Sweeting said.

"We really aren't there as a society in general," he said. But the fact that many of the systems and changes that the sustainability team has put into place mean that Royal Caribbean's ships use less fuel than its competitors is a message that they repeat loudly, and often, to shareholders and stakeholders.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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