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Sustainable ships: The world’s most eco-conscious cruises

Sustainable ships: The world's most eco-conscious cruises

Editor’s Note: Monthly Ticket is a CNN Travel series that spotlights some of the most fascinating topics in the travel world. In February, we’re exploring the people, places and journeys working to make tourism more sustainable.


For travelers who love to cruise but also consider themselves to be environmentally minded, the concept of “green” cruising can seem counterintuitive.

Indeed, sustainability challenges abound in an industry known for its carbon-spewing vessels, excess waste production (spanning trash, sewage, and gray water), and port overtourism – not to mention environmental violations that have resulted in well-publicized penalties.

However, as stricter regulations and global environmental benchmarks set in – and consumers increasingly demand cleaner, greener vacations – there are cruise companies out there that are putting the hard work into making at-sea experiences significantly more sustainable.

“Every cruise line is investing in green initiatives, from looking at carbon footprint to refining emissions. It is top of mind for each cruise line,” explains Colleen McDaniel, editor-in-chief of cruise review website Cruise Critic.

And today, baseline sustainability practices like banning plastic straws or reusing linens simply aren’t enough to move the needle. The real innovators are the lines that are most aggressively chasing decarbonization goals via technological breakthroughs, especially around cleaner alternative fuels and greener infrastructure in port.

The cruise industry transported nearly 30 million passengers and contributed over $154 billion to the global economy pre-pandemic, in 2019; despite the hiccups of the pandemic, it’s on track to surpass those numbers by year’s end. Cruise proponents say that cruising can be a force for good, by supporting local economies and inspiring cruisers’ sense of environmental and cultural awareness.

Yet, the industry’s reliance on polluting heavy fuel oil (HFO) for its ships has put it at odds with the United Nations’ global net-zero emissions targets for 2050. Currently, cruise ships and other maritime vessels are responsible for nearly 3% of global greenhouse emissions each year. Considered to be worse than flying in terms of carbon emissions per passenger, a report by Pacific Standard revealed…

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