How We Operate


Our company generates a significant amount of emissions from our operations. Naturally, reducing our emissions of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants becomes a critical part of our environmental stewardship strategy. Alongside emissions reduction we also take great care in managing our operational waste and the fresh water we consume to ensure it's used as efficiently as possible.

Setting A Science-Based Carbon Reduction Goal

In 2016, we set a new 2020 goal to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 35 percent as part of a five-year partnership with World Wildlife Fund (WWF). But before we could set that target we had to do something never before done in the cruise industry.

While other transportation sectors – planes, trains, automobiles – could adopt the recently available decarbonization approaches of the Science Based Target initiative, a specific pathway for the cruise industry simply didn’t exist. WWF recommended the target be science-based, and RCL worked with Ecofys, a global energy and climate consultancy, to devise an approach that aligned with climate science and addressed the specific characteristics of the cruise industry.

In order to set an even more ambitious decarbonization goal for 2020, RCL is measuring the number of passengers carried and distance traveled to calculate carbon emissions instead of according to the passengers carried and number of days sailed on a cruise. This lines the company up with how the world is going to have us capture as well as publish numbers.

The key contributor to RCL’s carbon footprint is propulsion – about 60 percent.

One of the main contributors by far to our carbon footprint is propulsion. It’s about 60 percent of the energy that we consume, therefore it’s arguably 60 percent of the carbon we emitIn order to drive that down we’re looking at ways in which we can reduce our propulsion needs.

Among them are the coatings and configuration of ships’ hulls, as well as propeller design.

Already in use is an integrated electronic system driven by industry-first software that calculates the best operational choices – trim, speed and route – for the most efficient use of fuel.

Some of the carbon-killing goal is built in as new, more efficient vessels join the fleet while older tonnage leaves, such as the Project Icon-class which will be the cruise company’s first foray into liquid natural gas (LNG). In other cases, when it makes economic sense, older ships are and will be retrofitted with technologies from the new ships. Among them, air lubrication using a blanket of bubbles to decrease friction between the hull and the water. Depending on the ship, it offers a net fuel savings of two to four percent.

Other areas to be tested or already in use for carbon reduction:

Harmony of the Seas gained energy efficiencies of
more than
(daily fuel consumption/passenger)
over her sister ship introduced only six years prior
Harmony of the Seas’
than the industry target
Harmony of the Seas’ energy reductions were driven by
energy efficiency initiatives
overseen by dedicated engineering teams from both the owner and shipyard

Full Steam Ahead with Emissions Scrubbing System

When dealing with fossil fuel emissions, our goal is to produce clouds of white steam. When successful, that white steam is the result of a complex system that relies on water to clean or “scrub” away harmful pollutants from emissions before they are released into the air. Although electricity generation and other land-based industries are the largest sources of air pollution, diesel-powered ships at sea must meet tightening regulations worldwide.

Burning specially distilled low-sulphur fuel is one way to reduce emissions, but we believe that investing in abatement technologies, like Advanced Emissions Purification systems, is the most efficient way to make the broadest impact on reducing harmful emissions. The system, which can be larger than a school bus, is designed to treat exhaust gases by injecting water into the exhaust stream, removing about 98% of sulfur dioxide emissions, 50 - 60% of particulate matter and, as a byproduct, some Nitrogen Oxides.

Retrofitting the Fleet

Above and Beyond Compliance is how we operate, so, in 2010, we began piloting AEP technology on two ships - Liberty of the Seas and Independence of the Seas. During these pilot projects, we worked closely with AEP technology partners to engage in robust system testing that considered numerous factors, including performance in relation to engine loads. We also engaged with regulators throughout the process, incorporating learned lessons to make technical adjustments and engage in corrective actions along the way. In 2014, we took a major leap forward and began the installation of AEP systems on 19 existing ships – and five new ships.

Retrofitting the system onto existing ships is not only a major investment, but a highly complex undertaking that will position our company ahead of forthcoming International Maritime Organization emission standards, in addition to ensuring compliance with existing European Union standards. The work will be done on some ships during scheduled drydocks and on others while the ship is in service.

Complying with International Regulations

MARPOL regulations require the worldwide limitations on sulfur content of fuel to be reduced to 0.5% by 2020. Additionally, all ships built after March 2016 must meet an Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI).

The MARPOL regulations also establish special Emission Control Areas, which place stringent limitations on sulfur and nitrogen oxide emissions in the Baltic Sea, North Sea, North American coast and the waters surrounding Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In 2015, the fuel sulfur limit in the North American coast and other ECAs was 0.1 percent. The IMO’s global sulfur limit in non-ECA areas is currently 3.5% and is expected to lower to 0.5% by 2020.

We have received exemptions for 19 of our ships, which will apply while they are sailing in the North American and Caribbean Sea Emission Control Areas. These exemptions delay the requirement to comply with the sulfur content reduction, pending our continued development and deployment of AEP systems on these ships. We believe that learning from our existing endeavors, including our Newbuild program and our further efforts regarding this AEP technology will allow us to execute in due time.

RCL’s five-year journey toward the deployment of AEP systems across our fleet has been a long and thoughtful one. As we reach this milestone, we take with us the knowledge and experiences and look to channel them into meeting the shifting emissions regulations.

High-Tech Energy Solutions

There’s an app for that, or in our case, a highly sophisticated software system seven years in the making. Aimed at developing synergies across our ships and operations, this industry-first energy management software identifies our ship’s optimal balance, speed and route and even suggests how many engines a ship should use — and at what times and settings — to achieve top fuel efficiency.


A trillion measurement points allow our newly formed Fleet Optimization group to mastermind, minute-by-minute, the most efficient fuel operation possible among our 40+ ships. Visible across tablets, smartphones and monitors across our office walls, the measurement points allow the team to respond with one of three actionable signals: “Green” for peak efficiency, “Yellow” for needs attention and “Red” for immediate correction.

Apart from speed and route, the team, who worked with Finland start-up Eniram to pilot the software, also took into account weather forecasts, currents and the real-time operating characteristics of other vessels in the area. The software’s real-time data displays on the bridge of each ship and at our shoreside office to provide the necessary oversight that allows us to reduce our carbon footprint. Continually adding other energy data points such as galleys, deck facilities and staterooms is further helping us refine the software into a holistic tool for energy efficiency.

Download Energy & Emissions Fact Sheet

If It Can Be Recycled, It Will

We believe that solid waste shouldn’t go into the oceans or landfills. Using the tried-and-true “Reduce-Reuse-Recycle” model, we’ve been able to reduce the average waste-to-landfill per available passenger to less than one-half a pound per day – far exceeding the goal we set five years ago and far better than the average U.S. waste per person per day of 4.3 pounds.

How did we get there? First, we aim to reduce waste whenever possible. We work with our suppliers to reduce packaging materials and use more sustainable resources. Next, we re-use materials – participating in container return programs and establishing a donation database for our fleet. Finally, we recycle. All trash onboard our ships is hand sorted by our crewmembers to determine what can be recycled. Each of our ships is equipped with specially designed climate-controlled storage facilities that allow them to hold recyclables until the optimal and approved recycling time or until “Green Loading” hubs are reached.

We’ve set a new 2020 goal to reduce waste-to-landfill by 85% from our 2007 baseline. This goal will get us even closer to achieving zero waste.

As of 2016, 30 of our ships were able to re-purpose 100% of our operational waste. But we didn’t stop there. We’ve set a new 2020 goal to reduce waste-to-landfill by 85% from our 2007 baseline. This goal will get us even closer to achieving zero waste. To turn this goal into a reality and overcome infrastructure challenges in local markets, we plan to establish “Green Loading” hubs in all North American and Northern European itineraries as well as five additional markets. As part of this process, we also will be working with the hubs to obtain third-party zero waste certifications.

Less than
8 oz of waste
per day
is the average waste-to-landfill per available passenger, far exceeding the goal we set five years ago and paling in comparison to the average household’s waste generated
Re-Purpose Waste
achieved across 30 ships in 2016
Download Waste Fact Sheet

Conserving Water

It All Adds Up

New ice makers

It all counts, to conserve water we have installed new ice makers that use 65% less water than previous machines

Low-flow showerheads

By purchasing sink aerators and low-flow showerheads in crew and guest staterooms we conserve water onboard

Re-using conditioner water

Re-using clean condensate water from ships’ air conditioning units in laundry areas allows us to be more efficient with our water usage

Download Water Fact Sheet