The cruise industry has been dealt a report card by environmental group Friends of the Earth that a parent might not want to tack on a refrigerator door, but the cruise industry is pushing back.
“I’d say (the cruise industry as a whole is) failing or close it,” Marcie Keever, oceans and vessels program director for Friends of the Earth, who wrote the report, told USA TODAY Tuesday.
On Tuesday, the environmental group released its 2020 Cruise Ship Report Card, which handed out “grades” to passenger cruise lines. FOE has been releasing the cruise report semi-annually since 2009, Keever said.
The cruise industry continues to insist it is making great strides in reducing its environmental impact by implementing new technologies and following or exceeding international guidelines.
“The cruise industry is a pioneer in environmental protection and has made significant progress in advancing responsible tourism initiatives that are making a difference and providing a model for others,” Bari Golin-Blaugrund, vice president of strategic communications and public affairs for Cruise Lines International Association, told USA TODAY.
Golin-Blaugrund confirmed that all members of the CLIA fleet are taking steps toward going green on their own and in accordance with International Maritime Organization, rules that aim to prevent and minimize pollution from ships.
Carnival Corp. had eight of its lines analyzed by FOE, all of which scored an “F;” Royal Caribbean earned a D; Norwegian Cruise Line came in lower at a D-; and Disney, which received FOE’s highest grade, clocked in at a B-, having been knocked down from its previous grade of A-. Silversea Cruises, a Royal Caribbean line, scored second-highest with a C.
In total, the group graded 18 cruise lines and their 193 ships in 2020 from cruise companies including Carnival Corp.; Royal Caribbean Group; Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd.; as well as Disney Cruise Line; Crystal Cruises; MSC Cruises; and the new kid in the class, Virgin Voyages, which hasn’t had paying passengers on board yet, since its first ship Scarlet Lady, was meant to formally launch during the pandemic.
How FOE scored the cruise lines
FOE evaluated the cruise companies on a myriad of factors including air pollution reduction, water quality compliance and sewage treatment. Transparency and criminal violations were also included in its grading.
The parameters, according to Keever, were:
- Sewage Treatment: Have cruise ships installed the most advanced sewage treatment technology available?
- Air Pollution Reduction: Have cruise ships installed and are using shorepower (meaning they plug into electricity while docked rather than running engines)?
- Water Quality Compliance: Have they had violations in Alaska (the only state in which water quality is tested for waste from cruise ships)? Or do they use “scrubbers” that convert air pollution into water pollution?
- Transparency: Did the cruise lines get back to FOE with specific answers?
- Criminal Violations were marked by a yes or no.
The results are based on information found through independent research using sources such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Alaska Department of Environmental Quality, among others, Keever explained. After compiling their research, FOA then sent a detailed letter to each cruise line to confirm their research, which is where the transparency score comes in.
On FOE’s website, each cruise line included has a full explanation regarding the grade it was given.
Friends of the Earth 2020 cruise line grades
- Disney: B-
- Silversea: C
- Celebrity: D+
- Royal Caribbean: D
- Virgin Voyages: D
- Regent Seven Seas: D
- Princess: F
- Norwegian: D-
- Oceania: D-
- Seabourn: F
- Holland America: F
- Cunard: F
- AIDA: F
- P&O: F
- Carnival: F
- MSC: F
- Costa: F
- Crystal: F
Cruise industry says its making environmental strides
Last week, CLIA released its own environmental report conducted by Oxford Economics, stating that the industry as a whole was making “progress” and has invested more than $23.5 billion in new ships that use more efficient technology and run on cleaner fuels. CLIA also said when releasing the report that the industry is working to reduce carbon emissions by 40% by 2030 compared to 2008.
“We share a focus on reducing the environmental impact of cruising just like Friends of the Earth,” Golin-Blaugrund said. “We just have differing approaches to the methodology.”
Golin-Blaugrund said that CLIA looks at 65 areas of environmental impact that are more specific than those in FOE’s report card. But the overarching focus is the same, including sewage treatment, air pollution reduction and water quality compliance.
Keever admitted that the cruise industry was making some small steps forward in some respects but said it continues to fail in others.
“They are (making strides) with new ships. They’re making progress especially in the sewage treatment realm, but that’s about technology installation — it’s on that side of things they’re making progress, and in many cases it’s forced by international and national regulations,” Keever explained. “On the behavior side of things, we just really see them continue to fail.
“(We) continue to see them literally unable to comply with the regulations that are out there and those regulations aren’t even strong enough — so they can’t even comply with the weak regulations,” she said.
Cruise companies say the report is inaccurate
Some cruise companies told USA TODAY that they believe the report is inaccurate.
Roger Frizzell, spokesperson for Carnival Corp., told USA TODAY that Carnival Corp. does not believe the report is credible and that it doesn’t “adequately reflect” the improvements that the cruise giant has been making.
“The FOE report is not based on any measure of true research or scientific rigor to inform the public, but it is nothing more than a publicity stunt by FOE to help attract potential donors,” Frizzell said.
Virgin Voyages — which failed in two of FOE’s categories preemptively due to onboard technology before sailing — also claimed that their grade is inaccurate.
“As a brand that is committed to championing ocean health issues, the scorecard falls short of accurately representing the breadth of commitments that have been made, or the complexity of the issues and the available technologies,” Jill Stoneberg, director of social impact and sustainability for Virgin, told USA TODAY.
That commitment, Stoneberg said, is evident through the investments made to add emission-free energy on board, along with energy-efficient technologies and to commit to carbon neutrality.
“We’re committed to working together with environmental NGOs and lead by example as we aim to create positive change for people and the planet,” Stoneberg added.
Royal Caribbean Group, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. and MSC Cruises, referred USA TODAY to CLIA for comment.
USA TODAY contacted the other cruise companies with lines included in FOE’s report, including Crystal Cruises and Disney Cruise Line, which did not respond.
FOE’s report card could contain flaws. Here’s why
The information included in FOE’s report card is backed up by their research. However, to make it airtight, Keever relies on the responses from the individual cruise lines, many of which, she said, are often insufficient — if they reply at all.
So, for example, Keever said, she can say clearly “whether you agree or disagree with our grading structure,” Disney Cruise Line has installed new wastewater treatment technology on their ships because they confirmed that information to Keever.
On the other hand, if she doesn’t find confirmation that a line has installed that technology (or any other element of the grading) on her own and the line doesn’t give an adequate response by FOE standards, then she makes the assumption that they don’t have that technology.
“We do our best to confirm the information we’ve researched on all the ships, but there may be some mistakes, and we would argue that it is in the industry’s best interest to get back to us,” she said.
Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/cruises/2020/09/17/carnival-corp-cruise-lines-fail-environment-report-card/5805383002/