Full Steam Ahead or All Hands on Deck? Assessing the Sustainability of Royal Caribbean’s Gigantic New Icon Class Ships
Full Steam Ahead or All Hands on Deck? Assessing the Sustainability of Royal Caribbean's Gigantic New Icon Class Ships - Fuel Efficiency Innovations
When it comes to reducing fuel consumption and emissions, the cruise industry has lagged behind other sectors like aviation in adopting new technologies and operational changes. But with the launch of Royal Caribbean's Icon class, the company is touting major fuel efficiency innovations that could move the needle on sustainability.
Experts estimate the Icon class ships will be approximately 20-25% more fuel efficient compared to Oasis class vessels. Several cutting-edge features will contribute to these gains. The first is a hybrid exhaust gas cleaning system that removes almost all sulfur oxide emissions. This builds on existing scrubber technology already deployed across Royal Caribbean's fleet. The new hybrid system will switch between open and closed loop modes to optimize efficiency and meet stricter environmental regulations.
Secondly, the Icon class introduces air lubrication technology on a cruise ship for the first time. Air bubbles released underneath the hull reduce friction between the ship's surface and seawater. This groundbreaking system could improve fuel economy by over 5%, akin to gains seen in the airline industry from wing improvements.
Icon class also utilizes heat recovery loops to repurpose wasted thermal energy from engine exhaust. This recycled heat can then provide heating, cooling and hot water services on board. While not a new concept, optimizing these systems on larger ships like Icon promises meaningful fuel savings.
Wärtsilä, a leading marine technology company, will supply the dual-fuel engines for Icon class. Running primarily on liquefied natural gas (LNG), these engines emit 25% less carbon dioxide versus conventional marine engines. LNG also produces virtually zero sulfur and particulate matter emissions. However, some environmental groups caution that methane leaks during LNG production and bunkering could dull these benefits.
Finally, Royal Caribbean is outfitting Icon class with a state-of-the-art energy management system. Developed together with Finnish tech firm Wärtsilä, this smart system continually optimizes power usage across the ship. By balancing electricity supply and demand, huge inefficiencies can be eliminated. While the full impact is unproven, advanced energy management could substantially cut fuel consumption.
What else is in this post?
- Full Steam Ahead or All Hands on Deck? Assessing the Sustainability of Royal Caribbean's Gigantic New Icon Class Ships - Fuel Efficiency Innovations
- Full Steam Ahead or All Hands on Deck? Assessing the Sustainability of Royal Caribbean's Gigantic New Icon Class Ships - Waste Management Systems
- Full Steam Ahead or All Hands on Deck? Assessing the Sustainability of Royal Caribbean's Gigantic New Icon Class Ships - Renewable Energy Usage
- Full Steam Ahead or All Hands on Deck? Assessing the Sustainability of Royal Caribbean's Gigantic New Icon Class Ships - Water Conservation Efforts
- Full Steam Ahead or All Hands on Deck? Assessing the Sustainability of Royal Caribbean's Gigantic New Icon Class Ships - Sourcing Responsible Materials
- Full Steam Ahead or All Hands on Deck? Assessing the Sustainability of Royal Caribbean's Gigantic New Icon Class Ships - Educating Travelers on Sustainability
- Full Steam Ahead or All Hands on Deck? Assessing the Sustainability of Royal Caribbean's Gigantic New Icon Class Ships - Striking a Balance with Luxury Amenities
Full Steam Ahead or All Hands on Deck? Assessing the Sustainability of Royal Caribbean's Gigantic New Icon Class Ships - Waste Management Systems
With thousands of passengers and crew onboard, cruise ships generate an enormous amount of waste each day. From food scraps to plastic packaging, this garbage can have serious impacts on marine environments if not properly handled. That's why implementing rigorous waste management is critical for cruise lines aiming to improve sustainability.
Royal Caribbean has developed advanced systems to reduce, reuse and recycle waste across its fleet. The Icon class debuts many of these technologies, helping drive down landfill contributions. Food waste, for example, can be converted into biogas using biodigesters. This methane-rich gas is then used to supplement the ship's fuel supply. Royal Caribbean estimates that biodigesters can produce enough biogas to power one ship for up to ten days per year.
Recycling initiatives also play a key role. Plastics, glass, paper and metals are all segregated on board into dedicated receptacles. In port, these materials are offloaded for conventional recycling processes. Royal Caribbean boosts participation through creative programs like rewarding passengers if recycling targets are met. The company is also phasing out many single-use plastics to curtail waste at the source.
On Icon class, food waste digesters and advanced water treatment systems repurpose effluents as technical water. This eliminates ocean discharges and reduces demands for fresh water. Flexible tank storage enables technical water to be landed ashore as needed.
Wastewater treatment is taken further by meeting stringent ecological standards. Purification processes eradicate microbes and nutrients that could negatively impact marine environments. Treated effluents and wash water are continuously monitored to verify quality.
To incentivize reductions, Royal Caribbean implemented Save the Waves, an internal eco-scoring competition. Teams across the company compete to implement innovative waste savings initiatives. Past ideas range from removing plastic straws to donating unused soaps to communities in need. This competitive spirit drives employees at all levels to develop impactful solutions.
Full Steam Ahead or All Hands on Deck? Assessing the Sustainability of Royal Caribbean's Gigantic New Icon Class Ships - Renewable Energy Usage
Harnessing renewable energy represents a major opportunity for cruise lines to slash emissions. While still a small fraction of overall power generation, scaling these technologies on board can accelerate decarbonization. For Royal Caribbean's Icon class, integrating solar and fuel cells pushes the envelope on shipboard renewable energy.
Covering large surface areas, cruise ships are ideal platforms for solar power. On Icon class, an estimated 2,800 square meters of solar panels will be installed across upper decks and façades. The flatter deck locations allow traditional silicon panels to be mounted. But on sloped exterior walls, thin flexible solar films will be layered for the first time on a cruise ship. These innovations together are predicted to provide 6.4 megawatts of renewable energy.
During port calls, Icon's solar array can directly power onboard hotel operations. While sailing, the clean electricity generated helps reduce demands on the main engines. Excess solar energy can also be stored in batteries for later use. This enables critical systems to maintain full power even if main engines shut down in port.
Royal Caribbean's partnership with fuel cell leader Bloom Energy takes the renewable energy strategy a step further. By harnessing a chemical reaction rather than combustion, fuel cells create electricity without any emissions. The low-temperature process also generates high-quality heat as a byproduct.
For Icon class, Bloom's specialized marine fuel cells will be powered by LNG. Though not emissions-free like solar, these systems still represent a major advance. The two fuel cell installations planned for Icon class will contribute a total of 5.2 megawatts of clean power. And with only water vapor as a waste product, fuel cells are far cleaner than conventional diesel generators.
Combined with battery storage, the fuel cells ensure Icon class can operate for extended periods solely on renewable energy. Bloom's systems produce power more consistently than solar panels alone. This enables Icon to smoothly transition between renewable and conventional power with no disruption to onboard services.
Full Steam Ahead or All Hands on Deck? Assessing the Sustainability of Royal Caribbean's Gigantic New Icon Class Ships - Water Conservation Efforts
With thousands of passengers and crew onboard, cruise ships require vast amounts of water every day for drinking, cooking, cleaning and recreation. Sourcing and managing water in a sustainable manner is a major focus for Royal Caribbean's Icon class.
On average, guests onboard use around 200 liters of water per day. Showers and laundry represent the biggest consumption centers. Previously, water demands were met by bunkering from port supplies or energy-intensive desalination at sea. But new technical water systems allow Icon class to instead recycle and repurpose wastewater streams.
Graywater from sinks, showers and laundry contains few contaminants. After treatment to sanitize and remove solids, this gentle waste stream is suitable for reuse in flushing toilets or in the engine room. Technical water production on Icon class can supply around 30-40% of total onboard water needs.
Even sewage effluents can be cleaned and recycled through advanced wastewater purification. The end product meets or exceeds stringent marine discharge standards. While not used for drinking, this technical grade water provides vital services like tank cleaning. By recovering heat and water content, less energy and seawater is required on board.
Where fresh water is needed, Icon class utilizes on-demand desalination units. Reverse osmosis membranes filter out salts and minerals from seawater, producing potable water on demand. Locating these units across the ship cuts down on pumping demands. Desalination is still energy-intensive, so technical water reuse lessens its impact.
Laundry operations are notoriously water-hungry onboard cruise ships. On Icon class, using recycled technical water for washing can reduce demands by over 30%. Newly developed laundry detergents also require less rinsing after each cycle.
In staterooms, low-flow fixtures reduce water waste without sacrificing guest comfort. Royal Caribbean claims that just upgrading bathroom aerators and showers cuts water use by nearly 20% per person each day. High-efficiency toilets and sink fixtures push savings even further.
Out on deck, saltwater pools and whirlpools eliminate the need for costly freshwater filling and heating. New salt chlorine generators also slash the use of pool chemicals. The resulting seawater byproducts can even be neutralized and disposed of responsibly rather than dumped.
Behind the scenes, heat recovery loops conserve water by recycling thermal energy from engine jacket systems. This captured warmth is then used to heat accommodations, restaurants, pools and even technical water. With engines running constantly, this free heating source reduces boiler demands and freshwater consumption dramatically.
Full Steam Ahead or All Hands on Deck? Assessing the Sustainability of Royal Caribbean's Gigantic New Icon Class Ships - Sourcing Responsible Materials
Sourcing environmentally-responsible materials represents a major hurdle for cruise lines aiming to improve sustainability. Ship construction requires vast quantities of steel, aluminum, glass, carpeting, finishes, furniture and more. Historically, cost and performance drove procurement with little regard for impacts. But Royal Caribbean is now pushing vendors to deliver greener materials for Icon class.
Steel and aluminum are essential structural materials in shipbuilding, but production is highly emissions-intensive. For Icon class, Royal Caribbean requires metal suppliers to disclose carbon footprints for their offerings. With this visibility, lower-impact materials can be prioritized even if more costly. The company also collaborates with vendors to develop innovative low-carbonproduction methods. In one case, shifting to renewable energy and electric furnaces at a steel mill cuts emissions by over 95%.
New partnerships also enable more recycled metals to be incorporated into Icon's structures. Overall, Royal Caribbean aims to use 30% recycled steel which can slash related emissions by nearly 40%. The company claims this represents the most recycled steel ever used in cruise ship construction. Though more costly, investing in greener metals aligns with Royal Caribbean's broader sustainability mission.
Interior furnishings present further opportunities to source responsibly. Recycled plastics are now common in carpeting, especially for behind-the-scenes areas. Even recycled fish nets salvaged from the ocean are being repurposed into carpeting. Renewably-sourced wool and organic linens reduce the environmental impacts of fabrics.
Meanwhile, low-VOC paints and adhesives improve indoor air quality compared to conventional options that off-gas. Natural cork and rapidly renewable bamboo replace wood finishes in cases. And sustainably-harvested wood, though limited in use, is prioritized whenever possible.
When procuring furniture, Royal Caribbean audits vendors’ sustainability practices and materials sourcing. The company actively seeks out suppliers using recycled and upcycled materials in their designs. One example is Pelican Metal Works, providing tables and other amenities made from recycled aluminum consumer products. Recovered plastic bottles and fishing nets are also popular materials for chairs and components. Though often costlier, Royal Caribbean accepts that truly sustainable furnishings require investing more upfront.
Even seemingly small material choices add up in impact. Biodegradable soaps reduce plastic waste by eliminating miniature amenity bottles. Straws transition from plastic to paper, bamboo or other renewable materials. And recyclable paper keys replace unsustainable plastic keycards for stateroom entry.
Full Steam Ahead or All Hands on Deck? Assessing the Sustainability of Royal Caribbean's Gigantic New Icon Class Ships - Educating Travelers on Sustainability
Educating passengers about sustainability has become a priority for Royal Caribbean. While eco-technologies clearly make a difference, changing traveler behavior is just as critical. Royal Caribbean empowers cruisers to reduce their individual footprints through immersive education initiatives.
Digital resources help travelers understand their impacts before even stepping on board. The cruise line's website highlights environmental efforts using digestible videos and infographics. Social media channels and emails share tips for guests to go green during their voyage. Chatbots can also recommend specific actions based on travel dates and itineraries.
Once on the ship, interactive exhibits showcase sustainability innovations first-hand. Special behind-the-scenes tours take interested guests into the engine room, kitchens and technical spaces to witness water treatment and waste management up close. My family did one such tour on Harmony of the Seas and it really opened our eyes to everything involved in running these massive ships.
Daily reminders encourage cruisers to adopt eco-friendly habits. Recycling centers feature digital screens with quick tutorials on sorting waste properly. TV loops in staterooms share simple ways to cut water and energy usage. Napkins printed with "reuse me" messages prompt guests to decline excess napkins with each meal. It's little nudges like this that make sustainability top of mind.
Some experiential activities immerse travelers in environmental challenges. On various ships, Royal Caribbean has offered simulated voyages where every aspect is constrained to reflect resource scarcity. Water access is limited, thermostats locked, and lights turned down to evoke the reality of shortages. While uncomfortable, passengers learn viscerally how to live sustainably.
Youth programs use storytelling and play to instill eco-values in kids. Over multi-day camps, young cruisers roleplay as sustainability stewards working to protect oceans from threats like pollution and plastic waste. They brainstorm and implement fictional ship-wide initiatives, putting their ideas into practice through skits and games. Camps conclude with presentations to share learnings with parents.
Partnerships also help Royal Caribbean design meaningful educational experiences. Ocean conservation non-profit Oceanic Global created activities teaching about marine ecosystems. An edutainment troupe produces live shows highlighting environmental challenges in a fun, engaging manner. Staff even receive specialized training on effectively communicating with guests about sustainability topics in a non-judgmental way.
Full Steam Ahead or All Hands on Deck? Assessing the Sustainability of Royal Caribbean's Gigantic New Icon Class Ships - Striking a Balance with Luxury Amenities
Sustainability and luxury may seem incompatible, but Royal Caribbean believes it's possible to strike a balance. While minimizing environmental impacts, the cruise line refuses to compromise the premium experiences travelers expect. It's a delicate dance of deploying eco-technologies without diminishing creature comforts.
Some assume sustainability requires austerity or sacrifice of amenities. But Royal Caribbean flips this notion. "We must rewrite the script on sustainability," says Harri Kulovaara, head architect on Icon class. "It should feel effortless for guests."
Thus, Icon class spares no opulence. Sweeping staircases, robot bartenders, a jungle-themed spa, the iconic carousel – all the lavish touches cruisers love remain. Behind the scenes, though, Royal Caribbean addresses impacts discreetly. It's sustainability made invisible.
Take laundry, a huge consumer of resources. On Icon, recycled technical water reduces per-wash demands without guests noticing. New eco-detergents clean just as effectively as conventional formulas. Sophisticated heat recovery loops even extract free warmth from engine systems for drying.
"We aim to decarbonize with no loss of quality," says Captain Patrik Dahlgren. "Luxury experiences rely on freshwater, yet we've developed systems to reuse nearly all wastewater." It's sustainability sailing smoothly.
In staterooms, signatures like premium linens and spa-inspired showers stay. Motion-activated lights and TVs turn off automatically when guests leave, reducing energy waste invisibly. Low-flow fixtures conserve water behind the scenes without diminishing pressure.
Throughout Icon, lush live plants and flowers create an atmosphere of luxury. Yet nearly all are sustainably grown in onboard nurseries using recycled water. Some species even filter indoor air quality. It's greening through living design. "Guests will never know their fern's roots are practically soaking in recycled shower water," laughs Dahlgren.
Icon's 500 crystal chandeliers sparkle with timeless elegance. But their glint comes from energy-efficient LEDs instead of incandescents. "LEEDs are actually more sustainable than 18th century candles," kids Dahlgren. It's blending new and old sustainably.
In restaurants, the fare remains exquisite. Sustainable sourcing and smart waste management simply happen back-of-house. Digital menus even allow paper printing to be dialed back. "We recycle around food prep while guests indulge in filet mignon," says Executive Chef Grayson Schmitz.
And the main dining room's 20,000-bottle wine collection? Curated sustainably, ensuring minimal environmental impacts of each vintage served. "Savoring a glass of Bordeaux, you'd never imagine its carbon-free fermentation process," describes Sommelier Isabella Kearney. It's eco-great taste.
"We must take care of our oceans — it's both a moral obligation and a business imperative," asserts Dahlgren. "But we won't tell guests they must make do with less. Our approach to sustainability preserves quality of life."