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Is Green Cruising Possible?

I mentioned that in January, Jason and I went on vacation—on a cruise through the Panama Canal. Jason had read David McCullough’s Path Between the Seas, about the construction of the canal, and he really wanted to see it himself. But I worried about the environmental impact of the trip—cruise ships are notoriously wasteful. They’re basically giant luxury hotels propelled hundreds of miles through the ocean. So I did some research to find the cruise line that has the best environmental reputation.

Holland America's MSS Statendam

We chose Holland America because it’s been highly rated by Treehugger and its transparency in sustainability reporting is impressive. See its 2009 sustainability report as an example. Since 2006 the ships have been managed in accordance with the ISO 14001 international environmental management standard, as certified by the independent auditor Lloyd’s Register Quality Assurance. ISO 14001 is voluntary, on top of the flag state, port state, local, and international regulations (like MARPOL) that the ships must comply with.

While onboard the MSS Statendam, I got to talk to to the ship’s safety, environmental, and health officer, Jason Grimes. He held a presentation about what Holland America is doing to reduce its impact (watch the video) and gave me some hard numbers on their actual improvements from 2010 to 2011:

  • Goal: Reduce total quantity of solid waste by 5%
  • Actual: 8.9% decrease, 11/11 versus 11/10 (cumulative decrease of 8.7%)
    • Goal: Increase total quantity of recyclable materials generated by 5% from 2010
    • Actual: 94.8% increase, 11/11 versus 11/10 (cumulative increase of 24.8%)
    • Goal: Reduce copy paper use by 10% from 2010
    • Actual: 38.1% decrease, 11/11 versus 11/10 (cumulative decrease of 12.1%)
  • Goal: Implement a sustainable seafood program
  • Actual: 100% of all fish served are sustainable in November 2011
  • Goal: Reduce fuel consumption by 2% below budgeted amounts
  • Actual: 5.6% below budgeted amounts in November 2011
  • Goal: Reduce refrigerant releases 10% from 2010
  • Actual: 32.3% decrease, 11/11 versus 11/10  (1,351kg)

It’s especially impressive that they’ve been able to do this while adding more ships to their fleet. Outside of these larger goals, Holland America takes many other actions to reduce its impact.

Wastewater – A wastewater purification system treats water to a higher quality than most municipal treatment systems, and the discharge is “clean enough to meet drinking water standards in many communities.” Digestive bacteria, filters, UV light, and oily water separators are all used to clean the different types of wastewater: black water (sewage), gray water (from all other uses), and ballast.

Water use – Outside of water conservation that’s familiar from hotels, like towel reuse and low-flow showerheads, faucets, and toilets, freshwater evaporators use waste heat from the engines to make freshwater from seawater. Condensation from cooling units provides enough water for cleaning purposes.

Emissions – Holland America’s voluntary air emissions standards are stricter than U.S. standards. Some ships, like the Zaandam, even have a seawater scrubber that removes sulfer and particulates from emissions.

Other things they do:

  • Use environmentally friendly cleaning supplies from Ecolab.
  • Encourage crew compliance with recycling by depositing savings from recycling into a recreation fund for the crew.
  • Paint hull with silicone-based paint (refreshed every three years) to reduce growths on the hull and therefore friction, leading to a 5.6% savings on fuel.
  • Dry clean without perchloroethylene.
  • Print with soy inks.

As a testament to its commitment to the environment, Holland America is the only major cruise line that still sends ships to Antarctica, after increased regulations prohibited heavy fuel oil (diesel) use in Antarctic waters.

There are definitely some smaller National Geographic/Lindblad and sailing cruises that would be more environmentally friendly than a traditional cruise, but those can cost twice as much—prohibitively expensive for us. Maybe someday…

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Time February 21, 2012 at 5:10 pm

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