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Can Cruise Ships Be a Sustainable Business?


Can Cruise Ships Be a Sustainable Business?

In this article, Alex Mitchell shares a deep dive on the path to sustainability for the cruise ship industry in addition to informative links from this newsletter’s sponsors.

This newsletter aims to separate the signal from the noise for investment in all things sustainable transportation: Electrification, mode shift, active and public transit, and mobility aggregation, across both people and goods movement.

My 2023 Bingo card did not have squares for “Go on my first cruise ship” or “Hang out with Mickey Mouse.” But that’s what makes life so unpredictably wonderful: I spent 3 nights last month aboard my first cruise, Disney style. So I decided to craft this issue’s deep dive on the path to sustainability for the cruise ship industry.

(While I’m unlikely to seek out another cruise experience in the foreseeable future, the experience was genuinely enjoyable and Disney ran a top-notch operation.)

So what does the path look like for cruise ships to become more sustainable? In short: difficult. My gut is that public and regulatory action over cruising’s environmental impact will cause the industry’s decline long before cruising’s 2050 sustainability goals are reached.

The maritime sector is notoriously difficult to decarbonize (see the maritime deep dive in Vol 29), but cruise ships are more challenging than, say, cargo ships for two reasons: tourism and people.

A bulk carrier ship transports some of our most important necessities, bringing medicine, building supplies, and clothing from the point of production closer to the point of consumption. While we might criticize the length of certain supply chains, few would propose canceling all forms of ocean shipping on environmental grounds.

Alas, cruise ships are purely an optional leisure activity. As regulators grapple with making reductions in maritime emissions, it’s going to be easier to cut down cruising than shipping.

In addition to the tourism-versus-necessity angle, cruise ships suffer from a people-related environmental challenge. Cargo ships are often staffed by only 20-30 people; cruise ships are transporting thousands of people, with one crew member for every two to three passengers.


Key points include:

  • Government, Policies & Cities
  • The environmental challenges
  • Public and regulatory action


Read the full post, All A-Boat Sustainable Cruising, on Substack.