How ‘Green’ is your Cruise Holiday?

A while back, I volunteered to do some teaching in the area of sustainable tourism. I’d previously done some work on the measurement of eco-efficiency in manufacturing, and it seemed logical that some of the same metrics (greenhouse gas emissions, habitat destruction, etc.) would be relevant in the management of eco-tourism. My two sessions went well enough, but most importantly, this opened up a new opportunity: research collaboration in the area of ‘green’ tourism. If you’ve never attempted multi-disciplinary research… do.

My new colleague Christine really knew her stuff, and taught me a lot about who’s who in the world of tourism management research, while I brought to the party an ability to quantify environmental harm arising from operations. Christine is also a cruise nut, so we settled upon this as a topic for our first paper. A third author was invited; Eleni, one of our teaching partners in Greece. This proved to be inspired, as we were able to give our paper local context by studying Chios, a small island in the Aegean that is just beginning to be visited by cruise lines.

It’s now twenty years since John Elkington established the concept of the ‘triple bottom line’ for sustainability: that industry must be not only profitable, but also environmentally sound, and socially just. We used that approach to structure our paper, and to some extent in the division of labour as well, as we each concentrated on one aspect of “people, planet, profit.” Eleni interviewed local people, while I learned what I could about the operations of cruise ships, and their emissions.

Venice dwarfed by cruise ships

Venice: invasion of the cruise ships… (more info)

The Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships suggests a figure for CO2 emissions resulting from cruising. That’s encouraging, as it shows that the question is beginning to be asked. A figure of 960kg CO2 per passenger per week is proposed, but with no supporting evidence.

Is that a little, or a lot? Most people don’t know. How much CO2 do you breathe out in a year? How much does you car emit? Well… information from the World Bank tells me that a person living in Greece (on dry land) causes about 8,400kg of CO2 emissions, total. That’s for food, clothing, leisure, travel, healthcare and other public services… just about everything.

This means that being on a cruise ship is about six times as bad as living on land, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions – which isn’t too shocking, is it? I mean… we all splurge a little bit when we’re on holiday, don’t we? So, it’s six times as bad as normal…

I decided to do some maths of my own, though.

The cruise vessels that call at Chios are smaller than the norm. They have to be; it simply isn’t a deepwater port. One ship that was a regular visitor to Chios until recently was MV Le Levant (now renamed to MV Tere Moana and sailing elsewhere). By either name, I learned that this vessel consumes 14 tonnes of heavy fuel oil per day. Knowing this, I can use my favourite ‘green’ analysis tool, the Defra conversion factors… finding that using this quantity of heavy fuel oil equates to 53,717kg of CO2 or equivalent greenhouse gases emitted. Now, Le Levant only ever carried 90 passengers (in luxury) and dividing 53,717 by 90 we get…

597kg CO2 per passenger, per day. Quite a lot more than the Berlitz figure of 960kg CO2 per week.

MV Le Levant

MV Le Levant

It appears that being on this particular smallish, luxury cruise liner causes at least twenty-six times as much of a contribution to climate change as simply living on land in Greece… which means a week on board appears to contribute towards climate change equivalent to half a year spent on land. It’s actually worse still, as this figure is based purely on the ship’s consumption of fuel, and makes no allowance for food and drink consumed while on-board, nor the journey you take to get to the port of departure, and home again.

How ‘green’ is your cruise holiday? Perhaps not very.

(You can see the slides from our presentation at the International Conference on Tourism and Hospitality Management, 2013, on, and the paper is free to view in the Journal of Tourism Research.)


One thought on “How ‘Green’ is your Cruise Holiday?

  1. Pingback: Invasive Species: Stowaways in the Supply Chain | Capacify

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