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Going green

What is the environmental impact of cruise ships?

Cruise ship sustainability is a hot topic these days as businesses and individuals strive to protect the environment – so, what are cruises doing about sustainability?

Cruise ship sustainability has improved in recent years as major cruise lines vie to show off their eco-friendly credentials.

Indeed, in December 2018, CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) cruise lines made a global fleet-wide commitment to reduce the rate of carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030 compared to 2008 levels.

Virgin Voyages is one of the newest cruise lines on the scene and has ensured its two existing cruise ships, Scarlet Lady and Valiant Lady, and two future ships, have cruise sustainability at the forefront, with the brand committing to achieving New Zero Carbon emissions by 2050.

What is the environmental impact of cruise ships? You may wonder, so we’ve taken a peek at what Virgin Voyages sustainability looks like…

What are cruises doing about sustainability?

Clever cogs

Innovative tech

Virgin Voyages has pioneered new technologies to optimise and reduce fuel consumption and is an early adopter of Climeon technology for generating electricity.

Climeon uses heat from the ship’s engines to generate electricity, thereby reducing some of the fuel demand. Each of Virgin’s ships has six 150-kilowatt Climeon units onboard – enough to power more than 750 average US households!

Virgin Voyages also uses a selective catalytic reduction system to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions, cutting up to 75 percent of nitrogen oxide emissions from fuel to ensure sustainable cruise ships.

What’s more, all ships are configured for shore power and will have the technology installed as onshore power supply becomes available in Virgin’s ports of call.

In addition, Virgin Voyages has exhaust gas cleaning systems (EGCS) to improve cruise sustainability. These lower sulfur oxide levels by as much as 98 percent, typical total particulate matter of 50 percent or more (including elemental and organic carbon and black carbon) and nitrogen oxides by up to 12 percent.

In September, Virgin announced it was partneing with independent sustainability experts along with three leading waste-based sustainable fuel providers to deliver low carbon fuels to the marine industry.

Recognizing there is currently no one-size-fits-all, low-carbon fuel solution, Virgin Voyages will enter into long-term agreements for sustainable marine fuels with these providers, which includes plans to add others over time.

Adopting drop-in sustainable fuels, such as those made from abundant, problematic waste or direct air capture of CO2, is paramount for reducing emissions and reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Virgin Voyages estimates that by switching to sustainable marine fuels, the line will reduce its life-cycle carbon emissions from fuel by 75 percent or more.

Tom McAlpin, CEO of Virgin Voyages said of the decision: “In order to significantly reduce our carbon footprint further, we must transition to lower-carbon fuel sources as soon as possible.  We could do this today with our existing engines if more sustainable ‘drop-in’ fuels were available in our ports of call.

“Unfortunately, these fuels are not yet widely available, and in most cases, are not cost competitive. We want to work with partners to pioneer the essential change.”

Intelligent design

Smarty pants

Virgin eco-friendly ships have been designed for optimal efficiency to boost cruise ship sustainability – hulls are fuel-efficient, paint is low friction to reduce drag (reducing fuel consumption by up to five percent) and diesel engines have been built with the capabilities to switch to cleaner-burning fuels as they become commercially viable and available.

Tinted windows (which capture and recycle heat), LED lighting (which lasts 25 times longer and uses 80 percent less energy) and room sensors (which can auto-close curtains, adjust air conditioning settings and turn off lighting) all help consume less energy and contribute to cruise sustainability.

Water use is smart on Virgin Voyages sustainable cruise ships too, thanks to low-flow water fixtures, water-efficient dishwashers, tunnel washers in the laundry, eco-friendly dry cleaning, and vacuum flush toilets (which use one litre per flush compared to conventional toilets which use four litres).

Minimal wastage

Waste not...

Virgin Voyages has scrapped unnecessary single-use plastics including straws, water bottles, shopping bags, food packaging, stirrers and takeaway cups to ameliorate cruise sustainability.

In fact, Virgin has estimates that eliminating bottled water alone prevents more than two million single-use plastic bottles from entering the waste stream annually per eco-friendly ship!

You needn’t worry about going thirsty though – still and sparkling water is free and there are onboard water bottle refill stations throughout the ships.

Furthermore, the company has reduced the use of disposable hospitality items by more than 60 percent while any disposable products are sustainably sourced and diverted from landfill through an onboard recycling program, with metals, glass, plastics, and soft goods collected for offloading in primary ports.

Impressively, according to CLIA, cruise lines recycle 80,000 tons of paper, plastic, aluminium and glass each year, with the extent of recycling onboard superior to that of many cities that the ships visit!

In another tick in the cruise ship sustainability box, there are no buffets onboard, doing away with food wastage. Instead, all food on Virgin Voyages ships is made to order, saving an estimated 225 tons of annual food waste per ship.

Waste that cannot be recycled or donated is incinerated onboard when the ship is not in port.

Marine protection

Under the sea

Virgin Voyages’ sustainability drive also sees the brand advocating for the current and future health of the world’s oceans.

Sustainable fish and seafood are served onboard and the use of reef-safe suncream is encouraged.

What’s more, passengers are invited to play their own part in cruise ship sustainability by joining Virgin in protecting the oceans and adding one or more dollars to purchases at the Virgin Voyages brand store, with all funds collected going to not-for-profit partners who are advancing ocean health awareness and conservation programs.

Responsibly sourced food and drink

Lastly, it’s made easy for passengers to do good onboard when it comes to food and beverages.

Virgin serves direct trade tea and coffee, uses high-quality ingredients from small businesses, and vegan and vegetarian options are available at every eatery on Virgin Voyages ships.

Set Sail

Dominican Daze with Virgin Voyages

Duration: 5 nights

Where: Miami | Puerto Plata | Beach Club at Bimini | Miami

Ship: Scarlet Lady

Price: From $971 pp

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Published 09.11.22