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  • Writer's pictureJason Leppert

Royal Caribbean and the Environment

It’s very difficult to look at a cruise ship, or any such floating mega ship, tanker or otherwise, and consider it an environmentally friendly vessel. After all, these ships do rate fuel consumption in units of tons per hour. However, as awareness for environmental stewardship increases, so does the implementation of improved environmental policies and initiatives, and Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited is at the forefront of this very charge.

Aboard my last cruise on Celebrity Solstice, I had the privilege to meet James Mitchell, the ship’s Environmental Officer. I attended his panel discussion where he presented the numerous efforts that Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited takes to ensure that the company’s brands, including Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises, uphold environmental protection, and I also had the chance to sit down with him for a one-on-one interview. What I learned from him I wish to share with you below.

Some Background

Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited, or RCCL as abbreviated from here on out, has given considerable attention to the environment for some time since starting the Save the Waves program 20 years ago. Originally this program was concerned primarily with the three pillar concept of reducing, reusing and recycling shipboard waste, but the company’s policies have evolved further to focus on not only waste management but also fuel consumption, greenhouse emissions and exceeding compliance with all local and international environmental regulations such as MARPOL.

RCCL also makes a point to constantly evaluate and improve its own corporate environmental philosophy. For example, the company actively participates in the Ocean Fund by investing money in conservation education and initiatives, and any profit that is made from its recycling efforts is immediately given back to the company’s employees as part of the fleet’s crew welfare program.


Onboard RCCL’s ships, the environmental officer, in conjunction with the ship’s captain and crew, tirelessly oversees the coordinated implementation of all conservation efforts. This includes prohibiting any raw garbage from being thrown overboard – despite surprisingly being still allowed 12 miles away from the coast with the exception of plastics – which goes to show that RCCL’s internal policies are indeed stricter than external regulations.

Instead, all garbage onboard is first sorted to remove and recycle all conducive materials such as plastic, glass and paper. All special wastes such as toner cartridges, wooden palates and cooking oil are also set aside for special processing by approved vendors shoreside. Any remaining garbage is then incinerated – with the ash in some countries being repurposed as road fill, or still in other countries being treated as special waste to be further processed or merely disposed of in a landfill.

Any food that has not been consumed by the guests in part makes its way to the crew galleys, and all remaining food scraps are placed into a vacuum pulper system which discharges a purified paste out at sea. And waste water is similarly filtered and purified into potable water which also makes its way back to the ocean just as the onboard water supply was first produced from seawater via reverse osmosis and evaporation.


The single greatest environmental impactor of a ship is its power generation. With it comes the need to carefully consider fuel consumption and the emission of air pollutants. In the case of the Celebrity Solstice-class of vessels, each ship is outfitted with four hybrid diesel engines which are capable of burning higher and lower grade fuels. At sea, these engines utilize heavy fuel oil which is a low sulfur fuel that is less expensive to burn. In port, the engines instead utilize marine gas oil which contains even less sulfur and burns far more cleanly to help protect the ports-of-call themselves. Some ports like Vancouver are even offering shoreside power from mostly wind and tidal energy sources to allow the option for ship engines to be shut down when docked.

As much as RCCL would prefer to burn clean marine gas oil exclusively, there is always an unavoidable economic consideration, and utilizing such fuel all the time would prove infeasible to both the corporate bottom line as well as each passenger’s ticket cost. This becomes apparent when you consider that marine gas oil currently costs about $125-130 per barrel whereas heavy fuel oil only costs $72 per barrel.

This delicate balance between environmental stewardship and cost was of particular importance to Celebrity’s Millennium-class ships, first outfitted with gas turbine engines – which are only capable of burning the more expensive marine gas oil – at a time when fuel was much less expensive. Due to changing times these four ships have been retroactively outfitted with a supplementary hybrid diesel engine that can also burn the less expensive fuel.

What’s more, 60% of the fuel consumed onboard the Celebrity Solstice-class ships is dedicated to propulsion alone. So it becomes very clear that any improvements to the efficiency of the ship’s conveyance are extremely pertinent. To help in this area, the Solstice was designed with priority given to the hull design before the consideration of any hotel operations. This means the hull is very efficient with the inclusion of the longest bulbous bow at sea to better break up the currents prior to the ship plowing through them. The stern sports an interceptor which is essentially a steel-constructed duck tale that improves stability and allows the ship to maintain efficient speeds even in rough seas. And lastly, the hull is coated with a hydrodynamic, growth-resistant paint and is more efficiently pulled through the water with independently-rotatable azipod propellers.


Even simple concepts such as efficiently planning itineraries to visit ports in proximate succession improve the environmental impact RCCL’s ships have. Further conservation is had with the use of low energy LED lighting, water conserving low-flow shower heads and vacuum toilets, UV and greenhouse effect blocking solar window films, and even more efficient onboard ice makers.

The Future

Renewable energy has increasingly become the way of the future. However, such sources are very unlikely to ever provide enough energy to fully power cruise ships. Still, technologies such as photo-voltaic cells are already being used to supplement the power needs of vessels. The Celebrity Solstice-class ships have energy-capturing solar films applied onto the flat surfaces of their upper decks as do Royal Caribbean’s Oasis and Allure of the Seas which provide enough power to supply the electrical needs of the Viking Crown Lounge.

The long term goal of RCCL is to continue reducing its carbon footprint, and some new ways they are exploring to do that include stack scrubbing technology. This process, currently being tested on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas, utilizes water mist to reclaim particulate matter from the ship’s smoke stacks. Any new environmental technology must be highly customized to be applicable to the limited spaces onboard cruise ships, but should this new technology prove to be successful, it will make its way onto RCCL’s other ships.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited doesn’t believe in carbon offsets and takes full responsibility for their own environmental impact and efforts towards conservation. While the cruise industry makes up a very small fraction of shipping as a whole, it’s great to see how RCCL sets a good example for environmental stewardship in the shipping industry and the world overall.

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