Carbon Footprint of Cruises: Analysis and the Path Towards Greener Waters

Carbon footprint of cruises

Cruising, a popular form of vacation, has long been scrutinized for its environmental impact, particularly its substantial carbon footprint. As the world becomes increasingly eco-conscious, the cruise industry faces the challenge of adapting to sustainable practices. This article delves into the factors contributing to the carbon footprint of cruises, compares it with traditional air and hotel vacations, and explores the potential of new fuels in steering this sector towards a greener future.


Factors Contributing to Cruise Carbon Footprint

Fuel Consumption and Emissions: The primary contributor to a cruise ship’s carbon footprint is its fuel consumption. Most ships use heavy fuel oil, notorious for high carbon emissions. The enormous size of cruise ships and their constant operation, including powering onboard amenities, exacerbate this issue.

Energy Usage: Beyond propulsion, the energy needs for lighting, air conditioning, and entertainment onboard cruise ships are colossal, directly impacting their carbon emissions.

Waste Management: Cruise ships generate significant amounts of waste and sewage, which, if not managed properly, can harm marine environments and add to their overall environmental footprint.

Port Activities: The impact extends to the ports, where the arrival and departure of massive cruise ships contribute to local air pollution and ecological disturbances.


Cruise vs. Air Travel and Hotels: A Carbon Footprint Comparison

A week-long cruise can be more carbon-intensive than a similar duration stay in a hotel combined with air travel. The continuous operation of cruise ships, even when docked, leads to constant fuel burn and emissions. In contrast, the carbon footprint of a flight is confined to the travel duration, and modern hotels increasingly adopt green practices, like energy-efficient lighting and renewable energy sources.

However, this comparison varies significantly depending on the distance of the flight, type of aircraft, the efficiency of the cruise ship, and the sustainability practices of the hotels involved. Generally, air travel emits more CO2 per passenger kilometre than sea travel, but cruises extend over longer periods, often tipping the balance.


Measures of Carbon Footprint from Cruises

With reference to a recent study by Friends of the Earth, titled ‘Cruising Versus Land Vacationing: An Analysis of Vacation Carbon Footprints in Seattle’. The report found that the calculated that a person staying in a standard double-occupancy cabin on a seven-day cruise generates a daily carbon footprint of 300 kilograms.

The daily greenhouse gas emissions for someone staying in a suite amount to 357.14 kilograms. For those in a penthouse, this figure rises to 542.86 kilograms. Averaging the emissions from the most basic and most luxurious accommodations on the cruise, the typical passenger is responsible for emitting approximately 421.43 kilograms of CO2 each day.

A request for information was sent to P&O Cruises asking for carbon footprint per head per route, per ship type or similar. The following was the polite response.

Thank you for contacting us. Unfortunately, we do not have this information to provide. However, you may find some useful information at the following link:

Cruise companies know that their service is not sustainable in its current form. Moving very large ships on fossil fuels, port to port, for holidays and entertainment only. The question is how to reduce the impact.


The Future: Greener Fuels and Sustainable Practices

The options for reducing carbon emissions from cruise ships include.

Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG): A promising alternative, LNG burns cleaner than heavy fuel oil, producing less CO2 and sulphur emissions. Cruise lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean are investing in LNG-powered ships.

Hybrid and Electric Technologies: Like the automotive industry, hybrid and electric propulsion systems are being explored as a sustainable alternative for smaller cruise vessels.

Energy Efficiency Measures: Implementing energy-saving technologies, such as LED lighting, efficient air conditioning systems, and advanced hull designs, can significantly reduce energy consumption.

Waste Management and Recycling: Enhanced waste processing and recycling onboard can minimize the environmental impact of cruises.

Shore Power: Allowing ships to shut down their engines and connect to local electric grids while docked can drastically cut emissions in port cities.

Offsetting Emissions: Some cruise lines are investing in carbon offset programs to mitigate their environmental impact. These programs involve funding renewable energy projects or reforestation to compensate for the CO2 emissions produced by the ships.


The cruise industry, while currently a significant contributor to carbon emissions, shows potential for substantial improvement. The adoption of LNG, exploration of electric technologies, and enhanced energy efficiency practices are steps in the right direction. However, a holistic approach, including better waste management and the use of shore power, is crucial for a truly sustainable transformation.

As technology advances and regulatory pressures increase, the future of cruising could be much greener, offering a more environmentally friendly option for travellers. Meanwhile, tourists’ conscious of their carbon footprint might consider the type and duration of their cruise, alongside the sustainability practices of the cruise line, when planning their vacations.


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