December 5, 2023

Cruising towards sustainable targets

Stuart Forster looks at the adoption of sustainable practices and policies by cruise lines…

In February, Monterey City Council, in California, voted to cease offering incoming cruise ships passenger landing services. It was argued that environmental risks to Monterey Bay outweighed financial benefits brought by cruise tourists. Indicating that cruise ships are not desired, Monterey’s vote follows in the wake of debates elsewhere about the environmental impact of cruise ships and cruise-related mass tourism in destinations such as Venice, Italy, and Barcelona, Spain.

The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has already developed voluntary standards for environmental responsibility, covering matters such as greywater discharge, which exceed those outlined by the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL).

Environmental awareness

And broader change is afoot in the cruise industry according to Andy Harmer, CLIA’s UK and Ireland Managing Director: “Cruise lines are increasingly including environmental education in their communications, marketing and onboard offerings – and that is increasing awareness of the importance of environmental protection and advancing a green agenda. 84% of people who have cruised in the past 12 months are more aware of the importance of the environment than they were before they cruised.”

In turn, shifting sensibilities among customers mean that cruise operators look set to benefit from adopting more sustainable practices.

“50% of cruisers and those open to cruise say they are more committed to making travel decisions based on environmental impacts than they were three years ago,” says Harmer.

Commitment to responsibility

Swan Hellenic has made a commitment to responsible cruising with the company’s sustainability policies reaching beyond a purely

environmental focus to six areas embracing the broader United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. They include equality, diversity and inclusion policies that promote equal opportunities for employment and professional development, “irrespective of gender, ethnicity, culture, religion, age, sexual orientation, functional ability and political view.”

Relating to provisioning, Swan Hellenic states that the fish and seafood served aboard its vessels meets World Wildlife Foundation-approved sustainability criteria. And a selection of beers, wines, spirits and speciality foods are sourced locally to support local economies and reduce the carbon footprint of sourcing food and drink.

Founded in 1954 – 62 years before the city council in Darebin, Australia, became the first governing authority in the world to declare a climate emergency – Swan Hellenic operates expedition cruises. SH Minerva was launched in 2021 and followed by SH Vega in 2022. A third state-of-the-art expedition ship, SH Diana, is scheduled to join the fleet in the middle of this year.

Plastic policy

Inside their staterooms, passengers will find toiletries and soaps that are free from ingredients such as cocamide, parabens and silicone. They are dispensed from recycled plastic units in line with the strategy, now widespread within the cruise industry, of minimising single-use plastics. That extends to using refillable water bottles in staterooms and carafes in restaurants, minimising packaging and using paper rather than plastic straws.

The cruise line operates a paperless policy but prints on forest-certified or recycled paper when necessary. The Swan Hellenic phone app and supply of information via smart televisions in staterooms support that policy.
Interiors are decorated prioritising materials that are sustainably certified and natural or recycled and recyclable. Textiles and surface coverings, meanwhile, are low-solvent. They are cleaned with biodegradable products made from materials of natural origin.

And when it comes to uniform fabrics for Swan Hellenic crew members, the use of fleece fabrics is avoided as they shed high volumes of microplastics while being washed.

Wind-powered sailing

Cruising is often associated with ‘floating hotels’ capable of housing thousands of guests but is a diverse industry offering a broad variety of experiences and ship sizes. Sea Cloud Cruises operates sailing ships that, whenever possible, unfurl their sails to make use of the renewable energy source long associated with powering seafaring. “The principles of gentle tourism and sustainable trade have been inscribed on the DNA of Sea Cloud Cruises ever since its inception over 40 years ago,” says Anja Ringel, the company’s Director, International Sales & Marketing.

Its 32-cabin flagship, the windjammer Sea Cloud, was launched in 1931. According to Ringel, it is a manifestation of Sea Cloud Cruises’ commitment to sustainability. That is reflected in onboard details such as reusable glass drinking straws at the onboard bar and menus featuring ingredients purchased by chefs at local markets.

Special relationship

“Shipping companies and crews maintain a special relationship with the regions that our ships visit. It’s taken as read that everyone treats the people there, their culture and nature with respect. Wherever possible too, the shipping company cooperates with local partners so that the value chain of each trip includes the people ashore and does not simply stop at the railing,” adds Ringel.

That and the relatively small size of Sea Cloud Cruises’ vessels means the ships are “always welcome” in ports such as Barcelona, Dubrovnik and Venice.

APT is a luxury river, small ship and expedition cruise specialist. Its sister brand, Travelmarvel, offers a flexible four-star and value alternative, including river cruises on the Nile and Ganges.

“The way that river cruise lines manage their procurement can have a big part to play in the creation of a socially responsible travel model. River ships are smaller than their ocean-faring cousins, meaning that they have reduced space for storing consumable goods on board. As we dock in different towns and cities along the rivers for our guests to explore, our chefs are also stepping ashore to source local produce from suppliers and markets throughout the cruise,” says Brad Bennetts, APT and Travelmarvel’s Head of Sales and Business Development.
He explains: “This has myriad benefits. Not only do our guests get to enjoy the very freshest ingredients and sample truly local specialities from the regions they sail through, but the company’s F&B investment directly benefits the communities that we visit, allowing us to support independent producers and protect their artisanal techniques and cultural heritage.”

“We do all we can to create responsible travellers. One way in which we achieve this is by encouraging our guests to explore beyond the tourist traps, spending their currency in a way that will directly benefit the local economy,” he adds, pointing out that the structure of cruises reinforces that. They are not all-inclusive and dock overnight on Adriatic islands during Croatian yachting itineraries which enable guests to visit local restaurants and bars.

“While enjoying these magical moments, our guests are directly supporting the economies of these beautiful places, contributing towards their longevity. It’s a win for everyone,” says Bennetts. Could widespread application of such thinking help Monterey City Council reassess its decision?