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3 Eco-Friendly Cruise Companies That Won’t Ruin the Planet

A cruise trip may allow you to see your dream destination on a budget, but it does not justify the damage most of these colossal-sized giants cause. Their high-volume, high-profit tourism model is a money-churning machine. Furthermore, many of the places cruises visit are experiencing rapid, unwanted changes in local communities. As a result of the controversy and increased consumer awareness, a few companies are leading the way to make cruise ships more sustainable. From reducing carbon emissions to changing onboard practices, these cruise lines show how you can make a big difference in such a divisive part of the tourism industry. 


What Exactly Are the Environmental Impacts of Cruise Ships? 

Before discussing how these companies are radically changing the industry, you need to know what has led cruise companies to acquire such a bad reputation in the first place.

They Leave A Massive Carbon Footprint 

Did you know that one large ocean liner can have the same carbon emissions as 12,000 cars? Cruise ships are one of the worst forms of travel for the environment, and one of the most significant contributors to global warming in the shipping industry. The pollutants emitted are far from clean, as they contain nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, carbon dioxide, and other harmful chemicals. In addition to affecting climate change, these emissions also damage local air quality. Considering that many segments of the tourism industry are striving to be more carbon-neutral, there’s hope that cruise travel will also follow suit. For example, Finnish company Meyer Turku’s NEcOLEAP project is partnering with industry leaders to create technological solutions to reduce carbon emissions, including developing a new carbon-neutral cruise ship! 

cruise ship sailing on open sea sky with clouds

Most Ocean Liners Produce Large Amounts Of Waste

Cruises are not only one of the largest emitters of carbon dioxide, but their waste management practices need to be addressed. With an average cruise ship dumping a staggering 210,000 gallons of sewage and 1 million gallons of greywater into the ocean, it’s no wonder why ocean liners are a considerable contributor to issues like acidification

Due to a Clean Water Act exemption, cruise liners aren’t subject to the same regulations other industries have to follow. This loophole essentially lets these companies dump waste without a permit. In fact, without any sort of regulation their practices are directly destroying environmentally-sensitive ecosystems, like Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. If their waste management practices do not change, they risk destroying other natural wonders important to the local ecosystem. 

Cruise “Over-Tourism” is Ruining Local Destinations 

Tourism can be a lifeline for local communities if done correctly. However, that’s not how most cruise lines treat their destinations and the people who live there.  Rather than working with local residents, most major ocean liners let large crowds of tourists explore places without any consideration. Unlimited access to the city leads to overcrowding that strains local infrastructure, increases pollution, and even prices-out residents. Ports benefit from cruisers docking at their ports, but because of the all-inclusive model they operate on, any real opportunities small businesses may have from cruisers are minimal at best. Rather than giving back to the local community, some tourists might choose to shop on the cruise instead. Not only do cruise companies hurt local economies, but they also prevent many tourists from experiencing a truly authentic experience while in their destinations.  

Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Conventional Ocean Liners

While most cruise liners have a lot of work to do when it comes to sustainable practices, here are a few that stand out in their commitment to preserving the planet.  

Ecoship Peace Boat

ship sailing in bay with land in background

If there’s one company that’s trailblazing the ‘green cruising’ model of the future, it’s definitely this one! Founded in 1983, the Japan-based NGO has been on a mission to redefine cruise travel. Peace Boat takes roughly 6,000 participants on a voyage to over 100 ports worldwide, promoting peace and sustainability through educational programs. The Ecoship has been designed with green technology that can reduce its carbon footprint by as much as 40%, in keeping with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Additionally, Ecoship uses closed water loops to decrease water waste and a five-deck plant kingdom, which is fertilized with compost and uses the ship’s own surplus water. If you want to have a cruise journey that matters, join one of their many educational voyages and conferences that inspire positive global change!


HURTIGRUTEN hurtigruten boat on calm ocean snowy mountains in background

As the world’s largest expedition company, Hurtigruten takes its role in promoting sustainable practices seriously. In fact, it’s the first company to completely remove single-use plastic from their fleet! Like Ecoship, Hurtigruten is also aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. It banned heavy-fuel oils over a decade ago, and it is on its way to creating the first hybrid-electric cruise ships. You can expect freshwater onboard thanks to the desalination and purification systems it’s equipped with. On top of recycling their water, Hurtigruten cruises even reuse engine heat to warm their hot water tanks! With voyages spanning both the Arctic and Antarctic poles, Hurtigruten wants to make sure the places their guests visit will be just as breathtaking in the future. 


A fluke poking out of the ocean, in the background is an out-of-focus UnCruise Ship, a small island and mountains

Unlike a conventional ocean liner, UnCruise gives you an intimate experience you won’t forget. Operating since 1996, UnCruise is committed to preserving the planet and defending human rights and equity through their work policies.  The company also follows a strict “leave-no-trace” practice, and it’s committed to making your trip as sustainable as possible. Plastic bottles are banned from the ship, and you can take advantage of their eco-friendly amenities like refillable bath supplies and reusable water bottles. You can also indulge in a tasty meal made with only local and sustainable ingredients. If you’re craving a small boat adventure without the crowd and carbon footprint, make sure to book your trip to one of UnCruise’s many destinations!

The Sustainable Future of Cruise Liners 

When it comes to saving the environment, cruise ships don’t have the best reputation. Cruise travel continues to grow, with almost 30 million tourists in 2018 alone. Like any industry, it has the power to reinvent itself and create eco-friendly practices that are harmonious with the destinations they visit. As consumers become more environmentally aware, they also want to choose tourism companies that align with their values. That’s why all major cruise companies will feel the pressure to clean up their act or risk alienating their evolving customer base. 

Fortunately, there are companies out there already who are leading the way, especially smaller ships. With them, you’ll have a personalized, intimate experience without the carbon emissions, waste, and crowds of a cruise liner. Other than this, smaller ships allow tourists to experience their destinations in a more authentic way, something that is lacking from most conventional cruise experiences. It’s unlikely cruise ships will disappear anytime soon, but there are plenty of eco-friendly alternatives. Take the time to choose a company that cares and does its part to save the environment.   

ecomadic is a sustainable tourism brand that empowers travelers to make more conscious decisions. By curating a marketplace to easily find and identify responsible businesses to support, and providing educational publications through our online green travel magazine, ecomadic is committed to helping empower travelers make responsible choices throughout their journeys.

Want to learn more?

Places Being Ruined by Cruise Ships Due to Overtourism, Pollution – Insider

Cruise ships must be effectively regulated to minimize serious environment and health impact – Science Daily 

A NET ZERO ROADMAP FOR TRAVEL & TOURISM – World Travel and Tourism Council

Finland: New project aims to build climate-neutral cruise ship – Offshore Energy 

Cruise industry | benefits and impacts on the surroundings – On The MoS Way

Ocean Acidification: How Our Seas Are Being Threatened – ecomadic

Cruise ship spills waste in the Great Barrier Reef, harming coral already in troubled water – CNN

Is the cruise industry responsible for overtourism? – CNN Travel 

Ecoship – Peace Boat

About us – Hurtigruten

UnCruise Adventures – UnCruise 

Our UnCruise Story – UnCruise Story 

Responsible Travel – UnCruise Responsible Travel

Adventure Destinations – UnCruise Destinations

The Future of Cruising – Matter of Form 

Cruise Lines Are Turning to Smaller Ships to Attract Eco-Minded Travelers – Conde Nest Traveler

Ecotourism and Culture: An Unhealthy Mix? – ecomadic


Gus Gonzalez
Gus is a content writer and who helps brands bring their stories to life. Since 2018, he has been traveling as a digital nomad around the world. His mission is to inspire digital nomads to design their dream lifestyle while exploring the world sustainably, one country at a time. When he’s not typing away from his favorite cafés, Gus is busy honing his travel photography skills and exploring a country’s culture, food, and history. You can find more of his work at