The leading cruise companies on environmental reporting

(Image Courtesy: Gliese Foundation)
(Image Courtesy: Gliese Foundation)

The year 2020 was terrible for the cruise sector: the worst since the industry developed its current format in the early 1970s. Statistics are sparse, and it is difficult to find data for previous decades, but more recent numbers show that neither the 9/11 attacks in 2001 nor the Great Recession of 2008-2009 has had an impact equivalent to the COVID-19 pandemic. No other sector of the maritime industry has been battered as heavily as the cruise sector either. The ferry and offshore supply vessel (OSV) sectors have been severely affected by the pandemic, but not as deep as cruise companies.

Despite how tremendous the cruise industry was affected, Gliese Foundation recognizes that the effort to report on its environmental performance did not stop. Let’s not forget that the cruise industry has some of the most environmentally advanced vessels and more ingrained environmental reporting than any other shipping sector. Two main reasons explain that phenomenon. First, contrary to container carriers, bulkers, tankers, OSV, tugs, or dredgers, except for ferries, cruises offer a B2C service, not a B2B. By dealing directly with the final customers—the passengers on board—not with shippers or industrial companies, the cruise industry is evaluated at all times by those consumers. Second, compared to cruises, other types of ships’ environmental issues seem extremely simple even if they are not. That is explained mainly because all of them, except for ferries again, have small crews and no passengers. On the contrary, cruises are like coins, with two faces: they are ships and floating hotels, which means that they must deal with all the typical environmental challenges of ships and then add another entire dimension: the environmental challenges of hotels, and, regarding the largest cruise companies, the environmental challenges of immense hotels, and, since they are floating, they must do it with the utmost care.

Therefore, those two issues explain why the cruise industry has been forced to order the latest technologies on newbuilds and prepare yearly Sustainability Reports. This review will cover not the first issue—the greenery of their fleets—but the second one—the environmental reporting. They started doing that earlier than any other sector; for instance, AIDA Cruises reminds us in its latest report that the company produced its first in 2007. The information one finds in most of these reports is of great quality, similar or even better and deeper than the quality of the top container carriers, the other sector well advanced in the preparation of Sustainability Reports (Gliese Foundation just finished some days ago its independent reviews of the twelve largest container carriers). For the sake of completeness, we must add that the bulk, tanker, and OSV sector lags significantly behind. Ferries are a particular case: although their business is mainly B2C (some also transport cargo), most do not produce Sustainability Reports. That could be due to two reasons: passengers are not as strict as with cruises since they spend some hours on board and not days or even weeks as on cruises, and the sector is very fragmented, with hundreds of companies globally, contrary to the highly concentrated cruise industry.

Another aspect we want to mention is that cruise companies deal with their HORECA business’s environmental reporting much better than the largest hotel chain in the world. We can confidently say so because we looked carefully at the Sustainability Reports of the following chains: Acord, Choice, Hilton, Intercontinental, Marriott, Radisson, and Wyndham. We were frankly taken aback by the superficiality and lack of data of those reports: They were more like long brochures full of self-praising statements. None of them could compare to the HORECA side of the first five companies we rank in this review. Let’s say that the god Poseidon is much more demanding in his domains.

As we said above, we were gladly surprised that many cruise companies produced their yearly Sustainability Reports despite the pandemic. Companies that did not make their own reports are because they belong to a group, and the group report included them, a result of the trend towards consolidation, similar to Maersk, CMA CGM, and other liners after they have acquired regional companies. If we look at the table, the reader may question us for claiming that a significant number of companies have produced a report: the number is only eight (if we exclude Virgin Voyages). However, if one takes the cruise industry’s concentration level, those eight conglomerates must represent almost 90% of the passengers carried or revenue generated by the cruise industry globally.

The table presents the five Sustainability Reports that, according to us, provided the best environmental reporting for their operations for the year 2019. We reviewed only the environmental side, not safety, governance, labor, or other chapters. All the companies included in the table represent at least about 1% of the world revenue for the cruise industry during that year (for the container industry, we used at least 1% of the world container cargo as a parameter). And we emphasize that we are evaluating the environmental reporting, not the environmental performance of each fleet; the latter would have required a large team of experts and a significant budget, a work more suitable for a classification society than for a foundation.

The evaluation of the reports follows a similar methodology to the one we used for the liner industry, but it can be seen that the result is presented much more condensed in this case: rather than twelve independent reviews, we now have only one long independent review. After showing the table and these preliminary comments, we highlight some of the main findings of the three top reports. For easiness, we decided to follow a thematic sequence. Most of the references are from MSC Cruises (the first on the table), followed by AIDA Cruises (the second), and finally by Costa Crociere (the third).

Fuel consumption, GHG emissions, and energy efficiency:

The use of LNG:

The cruise industry is ecstatic about its new LNG vessels or the ordering of LNG newbuilds. The fuzz is even noisier than in the container carrier industry. The cruise industry talks about LNG almost as if it were a green fuel when it is not. The mention of fuel cells or biofuels is marginal, and there is no mention of ammonia or methanol. LNG-powered engines’ benefits are undeniable for SOx, PM, and NOx, but the amount of CO2 remains considerably high, even if it reduces by 20% or 25%. Let’s hope that the cruise industry will not be carried away in the next years by an LNG euphoria, ignoring the maritime industry’s critical challenge for the 21st century—creating the Zero-Emission Vessel (ZEV). Such excitement could be moderated if more cruise industries were to join and commit to the Getting to Zero Coalition (Carnival Corporation joined it in December 2019). Let’s see some of those statements: 

MSC Cruises: “We have committed to powering three of our future ships (plus two options) with liquefied natural gas (LNG) and have invested €5 billion into this project. Our first LNG-powered ship, MSC World Europa, will enter into service in 2022. LNG reduces sulphur oxides (SOx) emissions by more than 99%, and nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions by up to 85%. It also largely eliminates particulate matter in the exhaust. The adoption of LNG as fuel will allow a reduction of carbon emissions by as much as 20% compared with the same ship using conventional fossil fuels.”

AIDA Cruises: “Together with MEYER WERFT, we have built the world’s first cruise ship that is fueled solely using low-emission liquefied natural gas: AIDAnova. We are therefore investing a further two billion euros in the construction of LNG cruise ships. Looking ahead over the next few years, we want to add two new LNG ships to our family. For this reason, all other new ships currently on order will also be fueled completely via LNG.” At least, AIDA Cruises adds the following: “By the same token, it is also clear that the use of LNG is only an intermediate step for AIDA as we recognize that it can make only a limited contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Costa Crociere: “In 2019 we reached an important milestone for the Company with the entry into service of our new flagship Costa Smeralda, the first ship in the Costa Cruises fleet powered by LNG (liquefied natural gas) both in port and at sea. There are currently 3 LNG-powered ships for the Costa Crociere Group (one for Costa Cruises and 2 for AIDA) due to enter service by 2023, thus reflecting the scale of our investment plan.” [The reference to AIDA is because Costa Group operates Costa Crociere and AIDA Cruises].

CO2 emissions

Cruise companies are not ambitious enough regarding their CO2 emissions for the next decades: They support the modest goals by the IMO in its preliminary strategy, but none is committing as Maersk has done—carbon neutrality for the year 2050. The cruise companies are not involved in the long-term discussion about the future’s green fuels; that is disappointing. The most ambitious statement one finds among the top three cruise companies refers barely to 2020: 

Costa Crociere: “One of Costa Cruises’ main areas of engagement is the fight against climate change. Our goal of achieving a 40% reduction in emissions by 2020, ten years ahead of the target laid down by IMO.”

SOx emissions

Regarding SOx the result is not much better: Most cruise companies have opted to install scrubbers rather than for the use of very-low high sulphur fuel oil (VLSFO). No cruise company takes the precautionary approach one sees with some of the container carriers, and, by the way, none of the top container carriers uses more in its Sustainability Report the euphemistically AAQS expression, while several of the cruise companies still use it:

MSC Cruises: “We anticipated this new regulation [IMO 2020] by installing hybrid Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems (EGCS) in 11 of our 17 cruise ships which reduce SOx emissions by 98%.”

Costa Crociere: “In 2019 we continued to install and perfect the Advanced Air Quality System (AAQS, aka scrubbers or exhaust gas cleaning systems), with outfitting fleetwide due for completion by 2021 (…) This includes an independent study carried out by the research organization CE Delft and published in 2019; the results show that open-loop scrubbers (the system mainly used by Costa’s ships) have only a minimal impact on water quality and sediment.”

NOx emissions

MSC Cruises is the only company of the top three to refer to the IMO NOx Tier III regulation. That, of course, does not mean that the other companies are not implementing the IMO regulations; as we have insisted, our review is about environmental reporting, not about the environmental performance of the fleets:

MSC Cruises: “To meet the IMO NOx Tier III requirements, our newest ship, MSC Grandiosa, is the first to have a Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) system to reduce NOx by up to 90%. This advanced emissions control technology can convert NOx from the ship exhaust into harmless nitrogen and water. SCR systems will be fitted in all future ships and we are evaluating the feasibility of retrofitting our longer-serving ships.”

Cold ironing

Since cruises spend much more time than any other type of vessels at ports, cold ironing is critical for their future reduction of GHG emissions. Therefore, the trend is to install the necessary equipment on board to connect to the grid while the ships are at berths. Cruise companies are pursuing that technology decisively and asking port authorities to make the necessary infrastructural investments. Of course, that is not an easy challenge for cruise ports or cruise terminals because the electricity needed by cruises while at berth is much higher than the electricity required by any other type of vessel.

MSC Cruises: “Our latest classes of ships are designed for shore-to-ship power supply. Once ports begin offering this facility, we will be able to plug into the local power grid, shutting down the engine.” 

AIDA Cruises: “We welcome the further expansion of the availability of shore power at the ports that is derived from regenerative energies in order to reduce the local emissions of our ships on a sustained basis. This is because on average an AIDA ship spends 40 percent of its operating time at a port. Where available at the port, we specifically seek to use shore electricity to power our ships during lay times. Ten ships in the AIDA fleet already have a shore power connection or have undergone the necessary technical preparations for this purpose. Our aim is for all AIDA ships built in 2000 or later (twelve out of 14) to be equipped for the use of shore power in the future.”

Costa Crociere: “50% of our fleet will be equipped to use Shore Power by 2020.”

Route optimization

The use of IT solutions to reduce fuel consumption and GHG emissions is not highlighted much in the Sustainability Reports of cruise companies, contrary to container carriers, whose ships do not spend at ports something similar to the 40% AIDA Cruises mentioned above. Here is one mention:

MSC Cruises: “The operations of our ships are continuously monitored by our Maritime Support Centre in London, ensuring that activities on board are being carried out efficiently, and support decision making. Routes, speed, optimum trim, hotel loads, engine performance and machinery measurements are automatically collected and aggregated on our onshore database, enabling our team to use specific algorithms to analyse actual versus optimum ship operations.”

Energy efficiency

This is a critical topic for the cruise industry because it covers the traditional energy efficiency that one finds for other types of vessels, but it adds the HORECA side of the business, which is massively intensive in energy. Hence, cruise companies must do everything possible to improve energy efficiency, and the reporting on the subject is quite detailed. Here we include two examples:

MSC Cruises: “Aside from propulsion, powering the heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) systems on board is one of the most energy-intensive operations. Smart heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems self-adjust according to demand driven by weather conditions and the number of people on board, with advanced sensors adjusting the temperature and ventilation of an area according to number of people present. We will begin upgrading all our ships with these new technologies in 2020, ensuring optimised HVAC systems across the fleet (…) We are making better use of the different temperature requirements throughout our ships: on the newest ships, we have installed heat recovery loops, redistributing heat and cold from the laundry room and machinery spaces to warm up the swimming pools and other parts of the ship (…) The most advanced technologies, including the creation of a digital twin ship, allow us to compare actual operating data onboard our ships with its design parameters.”

AIDA Cruises: “Our innovative ‘Neptune’ data platform acts as a compass for consumption, and the energy management systems of all AIDA ships are connected to it. All data, such as the waste heat recovery or fuel consumption, are continuously monitored and evaluated by the platform, allowing our specialists to identify potential and measures for improving efficiency. In 2019 we again enhanced key existing measures and established new instruments (…) The standard electric motors fitted to AIDAprima, AIDAperla, and AIDAnova comply with the requirements of the highest energy efficiency class. Braking energy generated during the operation of the elevators is fed back into the onboard power supply system. With each new ship, we improve the efficiency of the ship design to save additional propulsion energy via hydrodynamic optimization. Moreover, AIDAprima and AIDAperla have been fitted with the innovative Mitsubishi Air Lubrication System (MALS), which allows the ship to glide over a carpet of air bubbles to reduce friction and thus save propulsion energy (…) After the propulsion machinery, air conditioning systems are the second largest energy consumers on board the ship. Absorption chillers convert excess waste heat into coolants for the air conditioning systems. Moreover, all the cabins of our ships that have been in service since 2010 are fitted with a modern air circulation system including waste heat recovery, allowing individually regulated temperature control (HVAC control system). This reduces energy consumption in the cabins by up to 20 percent.”

Carbon offsetting:

As it is well known, with the very low prices in the voluntary carbon markets to offset a ton of CO2 is extremely easy. Hence, to reach even carbon neutrality is feasible for almost any company, even for the dirtiest of all, coal power companies, if they wanted. Still, MSC Cruises makes a claim:  

MSC Cruises: “Our ultimate goal is to build zero emissions ships. We acknowledge that this will take time, and that climate change is an urgent issue. This is why, while we work on the development of new technologies that will allow this, we have taken the decision to bridge the technology gap by compensating for our ships’ emissions through investing in carbon offsetting projects. We will begin by sourcing high integrity carbon offset projects, with a focus on forest conservation and renewable energy production in developing countries, and we are committed to investing in the blue carbon economy.”

We have taken the following infographics from the three companies to illustrate how they summarize their fleets’ main energy improvements (and others like ballast water systems) or their best vessel. We present them in the same order: MSC Cruises, AIDA Cruises, and Costa Crociere.

(Image Courtesy: MSC Cruises)
(Image Courtesy: MSC Cruises)
(Image Courtesy: AIDA Cruises)
(Image Courtesy: Costa Crociere)

Water, waste, and plastics:


Having thousands or at least hundreds of passengers on board presents an enormous challenge for cruise companies. They must produce their own water, or at least most of it. Besides, many destinations (e.g., the Caribbean islands) cannot provide the resource to them. That is the supply side of the equation; the demand must also be tackled—reduce consumption, and such a reduction must be achieved without bringing the passengers to water scarcity: As with electricity, they must feel as if they were in a hotel. In brief, water is precious, costly to produce, and must be saved:

MSC Cruises: “More than 80% of all fresh water used onboard is self-produced. Our ships are fitted with the latest freshwater production plants and can transform up to 3 million litres of seawater into drinking water in one day.”

AIDA Cruises: “We produce top-quality freshwater from seawater on board our ships using modern reverse osmosis installations. This system provides our guests and crew with up to 600,000 liters of high-quality drinking water per day. As a result, we only rarely have to take in freshwater at port, thus helping to ease the strain on local resources (…) One key element in our efforts to reduce water consumption is the vacuum food waste system. All ships on which construction was commenced in or after 2004 have been fitted with this system. Rather than using water to carry the food waste along pipes, it has a vacuum system to transport scraps directly to a storage tank. We also save water in our onboard laundry. The use of modern laundry technology and innovative tunnel washers has already reduced water consumption here by up to 50 percent. And the onboard toilets require only one liter of water per flush thanks to the use of a water saving vacuum system.”

Costa Crociere: “At the same time thanks to the use of special desalination plants, we have gradually increased the amount of water produced directly on board (76.29%) so as to reduce as much as possible the quantity bunkered in our ports of call; in any event, Costa deliberately poses minimal water sourcing impacts to the port communities in regions experiencing water scarcity or restrictions. Optimization of water use efficiency for all our shipboard operations is a key part of Costa’s management system (…) Costa Smeralda marks an important milestone insofar as in addition to achieving optimum performance with 100% of water produced directly on board, the new technologies installed on board the flagship allow a drastic reduction in water consumption in daily operations. For example, the shipboard laundries are equipped with cutting-edge tunnel washers which, with their internal extraction and recycling system, enable water savings of 50% for each kilogram of washing. Meanwhile, our new Meiko M-IQ dishwashers guarantee a 35% reduction in daily water consumption, while the new faucets and showers enable an additional 30% saving.”

Ballast water:

Of course, cruises also have to comply with the IMO ballast water regulations:

AIDA Cruises: “Our AIDA ships largely use permeated (clarified wastewater as ballast water. As a result, we use virtually no seawater as ballast. If seawater is required in exceptional cases, our state-of-the art ballast water treatment systems prevent any non-native organisms from being released into other ecosystems.”

Costa Crociere: “We continued the fleetwide implementation of ballast water treatment systems in accordance with the international Ballast Water Management Convention (BWMC), as well as further regulation of the use of hazardous chemical substances on board, especially those used for engine maintenance.”


The volumes of wastewater generated by cruises cannot be compared at all to the volumes of any other type of vessel: Gray and black water volumes are huge. Bilge and oily water certainly should not be too different. MSC Cruises give the best treatment on this issue:

MSC Cruises: “Once we have finished using the fresh water on board, we ensure it is clean enough to be returned to the ocean. Our wastewater is discharged to sea according to stringent international, national, and local regulations in force. Every cruise ship is fitted with a sewage treatment plant which, at a minimum, disinfects what is known as ‘black water’ and reduces it to fine particles. In accordance with the IMO International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), treated black water may be discharged at sea at least three nautical miles from land. MSC Cruises policy dictates that this treated black water is discharged at least four nautical miles away from land or ice and only once the ship is travelling at more than six knots. ince 2007, we have equipped our new ships with Advanced Wastewater Treatment Systems (AWTS) that turn black and grey wastewater to near tap water quality. Although regulations allow untreated sewage to be discharged once a ship is travelling more than 12 nautical miles from land, we do not allow this under normal operation in any circumstances and require that the ship requests permission from the Company when a rare and exceptional discharge is necessary. Regulations also permit the disposal of bilge and oily water at sea if it has been treated through an approved oily water separator. However, we follow a strict policy not to do this and instead discharge all oily and bilge water ashore, where it can be properly treated at approved port reception facilities. Last year, we disposed over 40,000 metric tonnes of bilge and oily water in this way.” 


It is not only wastewater; solid waste is also produced in massive amounts onboard cruises. Therefore, it is not surprising that cruises use all the possible Rs of recycling, reuse, reduce, etc. Besides, contrary to hotels, no garbage trucks arrive to collect the trash several times per week. Hence, in addition to electricity and water, waste becomes another fundamental variable in the successful environmental management of a cruise:  

MSC Cruises: “There are seven waste categories on board – food leftovers, glass, aluminium, paper and cardboard, plastic, cooking oil and operational waste. These are collected and separated by trained waste handling crew members. Waste is separated, compacted, fragmented, or incinerated, using specific equipment, with residual waste carefully delivered to dedicated approved port reception facilities. Food waste is carefully segregated by our galley crew and collected in a macerator which reduces the food size into particles no bigger than 25mm. In accordance with MARPOL regulations, macerated food is discharged from a moving ship at least 3 nautical miles or more from land or 12 nautical miles if in a special area. Non-macerated food waste is discharged at least 12 nautical miles from shore. If these parameters cannot be met, then the food waste is offloaded ashore. In 2019, we disposed of 12,600 metric tonnes of macerated food waste to sea and delivered 26,531 cubic metres of recycling to ports (…) We routinely replace mattresses, pillows, bedlinen and towels used in our cabins to ensure the maximum comfort of our guests. Although we have finished with them, these items are typically still in good condition, so we have formed partnerships with a number of charities and organisations to enable them to be put to good use.”

AIDA Cruises: “Waste separation is standard practice on board all the ships of the AIDA fleet. Metal is pressed and glass crushed to save space. Aluminum and other metals are collected by type and disposed of on shore together with PET packaging and paper for recycling (…) AIDA Our live cooking stations on board our ships, for example, help to reduce the amount of food waste. Our chefs prepare the meals fresh and in the desired quantity right in front of the guests. Under our cook-and-chill system, which operates behind the scenes and is thus invisible to the guests, our galley only delivers the meals to the restaurants that are actually required. Our buffet runner system is also a further element of targeted quantity management. Replenishment requests are sent digitally from the restaurants to the main galley, where only the meals that are actually needed are prepared. Portion size also has a regulating effect. Many meals offered at the buffets were prepared in small individual portions in 2019. And towards the restaurant closing times, we reduce not the variety of dishes on offer but instead the size of the serving bowls.”

Costa Crociere: “Our Garbage Management Plan is applied fleetwide and lays down criteria that are stricter than those prescribed by MARPOL. The Plan is aimed at the drastic reduction of the volume of waste, especially hazardous wastes, which are subject to specific selection criteria and processing. On board, all waste materials are categorized with the aim of safeguarding the environment and once again going beyond compliance with the relevant standards. In addition to greatly reducing the amount, the corporate approach to waste management aims as far as possible to recover secondary raw material and recycle it in ports that promote sustainable resource usage.”


Given the almost global attack against the use of single-use plastics, it is not surprising that the cruise industry has the issue high on its agenda:

MSC Cruises: “In 2018 we identified 112 single-use plastic items that represented the majority of our plastic waste and by the end of 2019 had replaced each of them with an environmentally friendly alternative. We have eliminated all single-use plastic accessories from our bars and restaurants (such as plates, glasses and cutlery) as well as all single-use plastic wrapped food and beverage items (like ketchup sachets and yoghurts served in plastic pots). We stopped automatically serving drinks with a straw, leading to a 50% reduction in straw use, and replaced plastic straws with 100% compostable and biodegradable substitutes.  This drive goes beyond food: we are steadily replacing the 2.5 million single-use plastic aprons we use each month, with bio plastics and long-lasting cotton alternatives. In total, we eliminated the use of 97 million plastic items in 2019.”

AIDA Cruises: “The most recent example of this is the completely plastic-free cabin trolley used by housekeeping, which has been developed especially for AIDA. As a general principle, we prefer reusable articles over single-use ones. Thus, the straws we use on board are made from biodegradable starch and are provided only if requested by the guest. In 2019, we started serving “coffee to go” in reusable cups and the accompanying cookies unwrapped. We offer butter, margarine, Nutella, honey, or yogurt from dispensers or from bowls instead of in individually packaged units. In addition many single-use products such as tasting spoons as well as disposable aprons and single-use bottles have been eliminated from the AIDA galleys and have been replaced by reusable products or are dispensed with completely. Clear signs of our continued efforts to reduce the amount of plastic can also be seen in the guests’ cabins. In 2019, we once again used no plastic liner bags in the waste bins in the living room and bathroom. Moreover, laundry bags for clothes to be cleaned are made of compostable starch, and our fluffy bathrobes are packed hygienically in washable fabric bags.”

Costa Crociere: “Costa’s path to substantially reducing the use of plastic (-50 metric tons a year) is in line with and pre-empts the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy, including the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive. As far as concerns food&beverage and catering generally, single-use plastic items previously used on board and ashore were replaced by products made from biodegradable, compostable Mater-Bi material or wood as early as 2003. Where possible, Costa tends to reuse packaging, food containers and so on and we have also done away with pots of yogurt in the buffet, replacing them almost entirely with dispensers. The same applies to throw-away plastic amenity bottles and caps in guest cabins, now replaced by soap & shampoo dispensers. Additionally, the Company only purchases cosmetics, spa and cleaning & sanitization products if they do not contain microplastics.”

Suppliers and sustainable food:


What is the point of scoring high on the environment if your suppliers are doing poorly? That is why Sustainability Reports should include a section on that and provide adequate coverage, which, as we have seen with the container carriers, is not an easy endeavor. The best discussion among the top three companies is by MSC Cruises:

MSC Cruises: “Managing environmental, social and ethical issues in our supply chain is critical, and we take a robust approach to this across all areas of procurement. We strive to build long-term relationships with suppliers and service providers and choose to work with companies that share our values and want to grow together with us (…) Supplier Compliance Programme ensures the incorporation of specific clauses on ethical business conduct and sustainability in every contract and agreement. In 2019, we further enhanced our procurement e-platform and made our suppliers qualification process even more robust. In order to be listed on this platform, suppliers must meet external standards on safety and the environment, and agree to adhere to our Code of Business Conduct. At the end of 2019, 40% of our new contracts were awarded using this platform, this number will grow over time. Our team identifies any risks to our supplier standards by tracking and monitoring our supply chains. Our successful auditing programme has been in place for several years. If a supplier is found to have breached our Code of Conduct, depending on the severity of non-conformity, we decide to terminate the agreement or work with them to understand what went wrong to put a remediation plan in place. All our food and beverage suppliers were evaluated for food safety compliance by the end of 2019.”

Sustainable food

Today’s war is not only against emissions or plastics: Cruises must also prove that the food they serve has been sustainably produced:

MSC Cruises: “From 2019, we have substituted more than 420 tonnes of cod and hake with Marine Stewardship Council certified sustainable seafood sources (…) While the benefits of local sourcing are clear where fresh food is concerned, there are also benefits for non-food items, as it reduces the distance that items must travel before they reach us, lowering carbon emissions. In 2019 approximately 80% of food and beverage items were sourced locally, close to where the ships operate.”

AIDA Cruises: “We support the ban on trade in illegal wildlife products including endangered animal and plant species. For this reason, there is no space on our menus for products derived from endangered animal species, such as ‘Schillerlocke’ from spiny dogfish, a specialty popular in Germany, as well as eels, whales, or songbirds. Moreover, we urge our guests to refrain from buying any products made from endangered animal or plant species during the shore excursions.”

Other cruise companies go further on this topic: pork from gestation crate-free producers, chicken humanely processed (pre-shackle multi-step controlled processing system), and 100% cage-free eggs.

Shore excursions and environmental officers:

Shore excursions

Although most cruise destination planners will argue that a cruise experience is much more than destinations, there is no doubt that the destinations matter—and they must be sustainable. Marquee places like Venice, Barcelona, Dubrovnik or Santorini are crowded; small islands could be environmentally sensitive; marine life and coral reefs demand utmost care. Hence, it is not surprising that sustainable tours, mainly approved by Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), are increasing in relevance in the cruise industry:

MSC Cruises: “Working with our tour operators, we comply with any local authority measures that minimise crowding on city infrastructure and traffic (…) The cruise industry, with MSC Cruises playing a leadership role, has studied alternative solutions which ensure continued economic support through tourism to Venice, whilst protecting and preserving its cultural heritage. MSC Cruises has actively supported a workable solution that avoids the Giudecca Canal completely for several years, strongly expressing our preference for the use of nearby Marghera Port, rather than the historic dock at San Basilio (…) In 2019, approximately 10% of our excursions were with tour operators certified to the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) standards. The GSTC includes two sets of criteria, one for destinations, and one for hotels and tour operators. By the end of 2021, we aim for all tour operators used by MSC Cruises at our frequent destinations to be certified to a GSTC certification programme, or to be engaged in the process.”

AIDA Cruises: “During our cruises, we attach particular importance to sustainable shore excursions. In 2019, we organized a total of 213,112 sustainably designed shore excursions with our local partners, an increase of 12.6 percent over the previous year.” [Given the high number, we assume that they are considering all their shore excursions as sustainable, which could be “a bit” excesive].

Environmental officers

This is a recurrent theme among cruise companies: All of the big cruises have an environmental officer onboard. We included them with shore excursions since they are supposed to chat with passenger or even deliver talks to them:

MSC Cruises: “Every ship has an Environmental Compliance Officer (ECO) onboard who reports into the Maritime Support Centre. A key responsibility of the ECO is familiarising newly embarked crew with our environmental policies and requirements onboard. This includes providing role-specific induction training that raises awareness of issues such as pollution control, waste management and energy conservation. Ensuring each ship is fully compliant with environmental regulations is another important part of the role. The ECO is responsible for onboard waste management and disposal according to international rules and company procedures, as well as for supervising and training the crew that handle waste as part of their responsibilities. With the exception of food scraps, which are processed with special machines, no waste is permitted to be discharged into the sea.”

Materiality assessment and the SDGs

Materiality assessment:

We have left almost for the end two critical issues. As it happens with container carriers, cruises have very different results when applying materiality assessment and creating the corresponding matrix. Of the top three cruise companies, MSC Cruises and AIDA Cruises revealed their companies and their stakeholders’ priorities. Both identified 31 issues (what a coincidence), but the results could not be more different, almost as if the companies belonged to different sectors:

MSC Cruises included nine environmental issues among its top eleven: GHG emissions, wastewater, climate adaptations, plastics, air quality, circular economy, recycling, sustainable food, biodiversity and ocean health.”

AIDA Cruises included only three environmental issues among its top ten: “Energy and climate protection, raw materials and waste, emissions and air quality.”

Costa Crociere did not publish its materiality assessment results.


Regarding the SDGs happened the same: the results differ significantly, mainly between MSC Cruises, on one side, and AIDA Cruises and Costa Crociere, on the other.  Here are the SDGs that each company considers to be impacting: 

MSC Cruises: 3, 5, 8, 12, 13, 14, and 15.

AIDA Cruises: all.

Costa Crociere: all except SDG 16. 

Besides, contrary to container carriers, cruise companies did not bother to descend to the next level by identifying the targets (among the 169) they are impacting. Let’s say that the work done by cruises on SDGs is more rudimentary than the one by Maersk and some other container carriers.

Other environmental issues:

Sensitization of guests

Under different names, cruise companies claim that they are encouraging passengers to follow more sustainable consumption patterns. Are they achieving any results on that? Who knows, but the effort is valuable.

Costa Crociere: “The process of sensitization of guests by means of a direct call to action encouraging responsible consumption is based on the premise that our guests are important stakeholders when it comes to mitigating impacts.”

Underwater noise:

Given that one crucial part of a cruise holiday is to appreciate marine life, cruise companies need to provide evidence that they are doing something to improve the condition of sea life:

MSC Cruises: “In 2019, MSC Grandiosa, received our first 11 Golden Pearl Awards from Bureau Veritas reflecting compliance beyond applicable regulatory requirements for design and technology, environment and safety, and the incorporation of the Underwater Radiated Noise (URN) system which minimises noise or vibration that may impact aquatic mammals.”

Costa Crociere: “We also adopted the Global HESS:MAR1308 guidelines for the prevention of noise pollution that can be harmful to marine mammals and for compliance with protocols for the avoidance of whale strikes.”


After quoting the main highlights from the top three cruise companies’ reports, we move to the data. Any good reporting must have data (the more abundant, the better). Since cruise companies have the dual character of ships and floating hotels, it is not surprising that they provide more data than container carriers. Below there is one table for each of the top three companies. We included what we consider the more relevant items on environmental reporting and added the change % columns. As one can see, the information was not homogeneous in the three cases. Some basic information as the yearly number of ships, operating days, available lower berths, and passenger carried, were not provided by AIDA Cruises and Costa Crociere. We do not go into a detailed discussion about the numbers. However, we chose a much simpler way to transmit our positive or negative assessment of the numbers: in green, the numbers that we value positively; in orange, negatively; and without color when we did not appreciate a significant change.

(Image Courtesy: Gliese Foundation)
(Image Courtesy: Gliese Foundation)
(Image Courtesy: Gliese Foundation)

(Source: Gliese Foundation)

Sea News Feature, January 5

Baibhav Mishra
Author: Baibhav Mishra

Associate Editor, Sea News