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February 7, 2024

‘Human lasagna’ cruise ship powered by the ‘cleanest fossil fuel available’

The world’s largest cruise ship - AKA the Human Lasagna - has just set sail, claiming to be the most sustainable ship yet. But is this just more greenwashing, asks One Nine Nine’s Andy Buchan? 

If you like cruises, you’ll love The Icon of the Seas. 

At nearly half a kilometre long, the 20 deck, 7,000-passenger ship is the largest cruise ship in the world. It’s home to the largest waterpark at sea, it has a 17m-tall indoor waterfall and is the same size as five Titanics. It’s also - pretty wittily, we have to say - been dubbed the ‘human lasagna’ on social media as you look upon layer and layer of squashed humanity. 

And, according to manufacturer's Royal Caribbean, it’s also the most sustainable ship yet. Apart from… 

  1. Didn’t Vikings create some of the most sustainable ships several thousand years ago 
  2. Can the words ‘world’s largest cruise ship’ and ‘sustainable’ ever actually be used in the same sentence?

Is this - shock! horror! - a classic case of greenwashing?

Well yes. And no. 

Cruise ships are hugely carbon intensive. Several studies have found a week-long cruise uses 8 times as much carbon as a 7-night hotel stay in Europe including flights. 

The real sustainability angle that Royal Caribbean are pushing is that the Icon of the Seas is powered by liquified natural gas which they claim is "the cleanest fossil fuel available." Apart from that being an oxymoron in the sustainability stakes, it’s also a claim that’s not without contention.

LNG, also known as methane, does produce 30% less Co2 emissions than heavy fuel oils. And it also cuts down on dangerous pollutants like sulphur and nitrogen oxides. But, not all of the gas is actually burned during use, with some escaping into the atmosphere. 

That escaping methane is 80 times worse for the atmosphere than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, making it much worse for greenhouse gas emissions. 

The verdict, according to International Council of Clean Transportation (ICCT) marine programme director Bryan Comer, is that this is a classic case of greenwashing. 

"They are doubling down by calling LNG a green fuel when the engine is emitting 70 to 80 per cent more greenhouse gas emissions per trip than if it used regular marine fuel," he told the Guardian.

"Icon has the largest LNG tanks ever installed in a ship. It is greenwashing."

This greenwashing undermines any other sustainability claims. Which is a shame, as the Icon of the Seas is home to the first waste-to-energy plant at sea while Royal Caribbean are working on its first net-zero cruise ship, which it says will launch by 2035. 

As we mentioned in this recent Greenwashing blog, “Sustainability is rarely just a case of black and white - or white and green perhaps? The smart play is recognising that sustainability isn’t a destination - rather it’s a journey, and to take your audience on that journey with you. There’s little long-term benefit in binaries, in sustainable vs unsustainable.”

Hopefully Royal Caribbean and others will learn this lesson sooner rather than later. 

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