March 2, 2024

Sailing towards sustainability

The ferry industry claims to be at the forefront of sustainability in shipping. Stuart Forster looks at progress so far...

More than 4.27 billion passengers travelled by ferry in 2019, contributing $60 billion to the global economy. The ferry industry accounted for 1.1 million jobs worldwide, and, as in other transport sectors, sustainability is fast moving up its agenda.

Mike Corrigan is CEO of Interferry, the voice of the global ferry industry with over 270 members.

“When it comes to sustainability, ferry operators are the frontrunners in the shipping industry. New methods and technologies are constantly being developed and implemented to make our operations more efficient and sustainable…Together, we work to promote large and small initiatives, all of which contribute in a positive way to reducing emissions,” he says. 

Onboard changes

UK operator Wightlink launched its first Green Agenda back in 2016, replacing single-use plastic cutlery with wooden knives, forks and spoons, even though those were more expensive. 

Keith Greenfield, Chief Executive, explains: “Every day our ferries sail through some of the most beautiful coastal waters in the country…We are very conscious of our responsibility to protect the environment and do all we can to look after it.”

The company also has initiatives to reduce food waste and promote recyclable materials as part of its mission to achieve net zero, and has plans to establish an on-site waste-processing centre. 


DFDS has upped its local sourcing

Bottom-up initiatives

Denmark-based DFDS carries around five million ferry passengers a year and in 2022 tasked its onboard services team with identifying ways of reducing its eco-footprint. 

By working with suppliers, the team is now using locally sourced or produced food, including sustainably caught fish, to reduce the supply chain footprint. Vegetable oil used in cooking is converted into biodiesel to power the company’s logistics vans. And measuring food waste on Baltic routes helped cut waste from 13.5% to 9% in six months. That remains an area of focus for 2023.

Using six battery-hybrid ferries, Scandlines transported 3.5 million guests between Germany and Denmark in 2021. 

“We have taken decisive steps to build a more sustainable transport business through sizeable green investments and key commitments for the years to come. Our effort to improve waste segregation across the business, to reduce waste and replace conventional food products with organic, sustainable, fair-trade and labelled (fish) products will continue”, says Carsten Nørland, Scandlines’ CEO. 

That includes serving made-to-order food and placing smaller amounts on the buffet at any one time. Leftovers are weighed as part of efforts to monitor food waste. And the steam cleaning machine installed in the M/V Berlin’s kitchen introduced bio-cleaning detergents, to reduce chemical use. 

Among other initiatives, traditional tablecloths, clothing and plastic bags were replaced with products made of recycled material. And individual waste baskets, lined with a bag, were replaced with bins in common areas. Employees now sort waste on emptying. 

Scandlines has invested in upgrading interior fittings and ensuring an eco-friendlier profile of materials onboard. A trial, replacing paper towel dispensers with electric hand-dryers to reduce paper consumption was a success and is being rolled out further.

With 39 vessels on 18 routes in Europe, Stena Line is one of the world’s largest ferry operators. The Sweden-based company compiles sustainability initiatives on its Green List, which is shared publicly and has more than 70 entries. For example, the company has replaced recycled plastic bags onboard with ones made from paper. Salad bowls are made from bagasse while cups are also made from plant-based material. The company’s vessels are now cleaned with micro-fibre cloths and electrochemically activated water (ECA), minimising the use of detergents.


Scandlines has cut waste by putting less out of the buffet at one time

Additionally, ‘Better Choice Options’ are available across all onboard departments, including shops, bars and restaurants. They indicate the more sustainable products and include vegan, organic, recyclable and reusable choices.

“Stena Line has a history of being innovative in sustainability, for example being the first in introducing methanol as fuel,” says Maria Tornvall, Stena Line’s Head of Sustainability.

“We aim to be a leader in sustainability and that means taking responsible actions in all areas on our value chain, where we can make a difference. We see sustainability holistically as an opportunity to contribute to a more sustainable future in all areas of business and daily work.”

New eco vessels

The introduction of the state-of-the-art P&O Pioneer, a new Fusion Class vessel propelled by fuel and battery power, is set to reduce cross-channel carbon emissions by 40%. It brings advanced sustainable technology to the Dover-Calais crossing between the UK and France.

While Finnlines, part of the Grimaldi Group, will have new Superstar vessels operating between Naantali in Finland and Kapellskär in Sweden from autumn 2023. These offer 5,200 lane metres for vehicles and carry up to 1,100 passengers.

Kristiina Uppala, Finnlines’ Head of Customer Service, Passenger Services & Newbuilding Developments, says: “The Superstars include a smart cabin system, where every cabin’s lighting and air-conditioning is remotely and automatically maintained. Both can be switched off for energy saving in unoccupied cabins.” 

In addition to large windows, reducing the need for artificial lighting while maximising opportunities to view the coastline, the ferries have an efficient central vacuum cleaner system that helps maximise air quality. Also, conceived as paperless, the ships feature digital menus and travel programmes plus electronic shelf labelling in the onboard shop and at the buffet.

Tallink has made significant eco headway by embedding circular economy practices in its operations and is working with partners to reuse and recycle. The company has partnered with a local authority in western Estonia which provides employment by converting used bed covers and curtains into items such as shopping bags.

Katri Link, Communications Director at Tallink, explains that revised key performance indicators are coming into effect and says: “We will also continue to work with all our partners to review and revise where they can help us achieve our sustainability goals. This is only possible if we continue to work very closely together.”

The recognition that sustainability goals are most effectively achieved by collaborating and cooperating is becoming ever more widespread across all sectors of the travel industry.

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