Cruise Rankings for 2023: NABU's Environmental Conservation Evaluation

NABU Cruise Ship Ranking 2023

Posted on Jul 27, 2023 at 10:07 PM

In a world increasingly concerned about environmental conservation, the concept of "green" sailing may initially strike many as paradoxical, especially within the cruise industry known for its carbon emissions, waste generation, and environmental violations. 

However, there is a silver lining as cruise businesses strive to adopt sustainable practices due to stringent legislation, global environmental standards, and the growing demand for greener vacations. These innovative cruise lines set new benchmarks by pursuing decarbonisation objectives through technological advancements and cleaner fuels. 

NABU, a prominent environmental conservation organisation, has recently released its 2023 Cruise Rankings, shedding light on the significant strides made by some companies and the challenges for the industry's journey toward environmental sustainability.

Climate and Environment Cruise Ship Ranking 2023

NABU's eleventh annual cruise evaluation highlights two significant concerns: 

The rise in greenhouse gas emissions and severe air pollution within the cruise sector continued. 

However, there is reason for optimism, as smaller cruise ship experience providers, such as Hurtigruten and Havila from Norway, are leading the charge in climate and environmental preservation. 

The EU Green Deal, a comprehensive plan to make the European Union climate-neutral by 2050, provides a solid foundation for positive change in the maritime industry. 

Central to this transformation are sustainable practices like shore-to-ship electricity, battery technology, and the utilisation of green hydrogen-based e-fuels. 

In particular, green methanol holds immense potential for achieving climate-neutral operations, with companies like TUI Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Lines already placing orders for ships that embrace this opportunity.


Ranking Modifications Between 2022 and 2023

Last year, NABU's tenth cruise rating demonstrated progress in climate protection, especially in Germany, albeit slower than expected. One standout performer is Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, a subsidiary of German maritime company Aida Cruises, which has made significant strides in sustainability. 

Transport & Environment (T&E) research reveals that despite the UN shipping organisation's sulfur quota in 2020, the 218 cruise ships operating in Europe still emitted as much sulfur oxides (SOx) as one billion automobiles. However, amidst these challenges, some cruise companies have emerged as leaders in eco-awareness, proving that sustainable practices are attainable.


Leading Eco-Aware Cruise Companies

Havila Voyages: Norwegian cruise line with hybrid ships sailing eco-friendly routes along UNESCO-protected fjords.

Hurtigruten: is a 130-year-old Norwegian adventure travel company pioneer in sustainable practices with cleaner fuel adoption.

AIDA Cruises: German maritime company committed to reducing environmental impact through eco-friendly technologies.

Ponant: French company operating an exploration ship with reduced emissions, aiming for "zero-impact" cruising by 2025.

TUI Cruises: Actively contributing to environmental preservation with ships using climate-neutral green methanol.

NABU Cruise Ship Ranking 2023

Difficulties Encountered by the Cruise Sector to Attain Environmental Sustainability

The cruise sector's reliance on heavy fuel oil (HFO) remains a significant obstacle in achieving the UN's net-zero emissions targets for 2050, with cruise ships contributing 3% of global emissions. Moreover, cruises have shown a tripled carbon footprint during voyages, surpassing the carbon emissions per passenger from flying. 

However, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the leading trade organisation for the industry, has committed to achieving carbon-free voyages worldwide by 2050 and reducing carbon emissions by 40% by 2030 (compared to 2008 levels). 

Incorporating electric batteries or hydrogen fuel cells in over 15% of cruise ships set to debut in the next five years shows promise. Still, there is a need for stricter guidelines to ensure biofuels are sourced from waste materials rather than agricultural products like palm oil.


While the top-ranking cruises in NABU's 2023 evaluation still have progress to make before offering a guilt-free, environmentally friendly tourist experience, there is reason for optimism. Smaller cruise companies are leading the charge in adopting sustainable practices, and the industry is committed to achieving carbon neutrality. 

As political support and corporate investments align toward greener alternatives, the vision of an ecologically friendly cruise industry may eventually become a reality.


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