Green Cruising From the Inside Out
Wherever one stands on environmental issues, there is no disputing that it’s warmer out there: on average, the last five years (2014-2019) have been the warmest recorded in the 139 years since the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration started counting.
Melting glaciers, rising sea levels and coastal communities under threat from more frequent extreme weather are also real rather than imagined, and are events that shape attitudes in street protestors and consumers alike. The consciousness change is now also a key cruise sector business driver: visiting the most beautiful places on earth calls for shipowners to take environmental responsibility, with guests also seeking evidence that their individual carbon footprints are being minimized.
Meanwhile, the expedition ships pushing ever further into the most vulnerable areas of the world attract many guests who expect that everything possible will be done to protect the environment - by energy saving, emissions reduction, waste management and even materials chosen for use on board. In some segments of the cruising public, “green” may soon be more important than “inexpensive.”
This extends to cruise ship design. At YSA Design, we’ve worked with project partners and cruise operator clients to produce ships with reduced environmental footprints. YSA is not itself a marine engineering or naval architecture firm, but as a company specializing in the design of ship exteriors and interiors, it works in tandem with both sets of professionals. Our design work helps ensure that vessel safety, performance and environmental expectations are met.
As an example, we recently helped Ulstein to secure a contract for the latest Lindblad Expeditions “National Geographic” polar cruise ship, which is now under construction at Ulstein Verft. This ship will feature Ulstein’s well-known X-Bow hull form, which is designed to improve fuel efficiency and reduce ship motion.
We were also one of the first design companies to work with owners and shipyards on integrating LNG propulsion. With CO2 emissions banned in Norwegian World Heritage fjords from 2026, one of the most challenging parts of the work we are doing today relates to designing interior spaces that best “fit” with hybrid propulsion solutions, including battery power.
Our environmental role also extends to the materials selection process. We can select material production methods that achieve a lower carbon footprint, avoid those that create toxic emissions. We look for recyclable alternatives, and any wood that we use must come from managed forests. In one of our recent projects, we asked a textile supplier to adjust its wool sourcing so that at least 30 percent of the materials were obtained locally in Norway.
We’ve also worked to deploy solar panels on board to capture energy that would otherwise be lost. Using solar panels can cut overall energy needs, reducing auxiliary power plant requirements. In a recent project, we proposed covering penthouse suite roofs with solar panels, suggesting that premium guests may pay a supplement for “lower carbon” accommodation – the same way that airplane passengers with an environmental conscience can offset their air miles.
We believe that environmental sensitivities are as significant a brand issue for cruise companies as they are for airlines. This extends to small details: it is now a matter of routine for YSA to specify equipment that converts bike-work in the gym into phone charging power.
Environmental benefits can also be experienced by cruise guests whether they notice at the individual level or not. We’ve worked with SCENSO to provide proposals to monitor and reduce ship hotel loads in ways that require an understanding of a ship as a small town with autonomy in its supply of water, electricity and air-conditioning. Greater efficiency here also means lower cost and more space for passenger-related activities.
With guests on board and the watching world demanding more sustainability, the designer’s awareness is critical in optimizing a vessel for “green” operation. Working at the interface between operators, shipyards, engineers, class societies and other stakeholders, the designer has a rare opportunity to steer a newbuild project in a more sustainable direction.
Trond Sigurdsen is the chairman of the Oslo-based design house YSA Design.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.