Celebrity Solstice Leads the Way in Eco-Friendly Technology

September 25, 2008
At Conde Nast Traveler's annual World Savers Congress, held this week in New York City, leaders from the hotel, cruise and vacation real estate industries gathered to discuss the tourism industry's social and environmental responsibility. Cruise Critic attended the panel "Technology, How Green Can You Be?" which featured Celebrity Cruises' Dan Hanrahan as the cruise industry representative.

During the panel discussion, Hanrahan addressed how Celebrity Cruises is using technology to reduce its substantial carbon footprint through the implementation of some new, and some not so new, technologies. Hanrahan focused his comments on Celebrity Solstice, the innovative new-build due out in November of this year, and one thing quickly became clear: The inflated price of fuel has driven Celebrity to seek out ways to make its new-build more fuel efficient -- which has had the added benefit of creating a greener cruise ship. Among the innovations:

With Celebrity Solstice, a prototypical new design, eco-oriented concerns were actually addressed during its design phase -- a radical change in strategy. In the past, cruise ships have been created "top down," with passenger space configured first, then the hull constructed to fit that space. With Solstice, Celebrity designed the hull first, aiming to create the most fuel efficient hull possible -- and then built on top of it. The tactic was a balancing act, and it added time to the construction process, but the hope is that the fuel efficiency will make the hull cost effective in the long run.

Adaptations can be minor as well as major. Hanrahan noted that on Celebrity Solstice, the shape of the aft section of the ship causes water to be drawn more naturally into the propeller, creating a slight reduction in energy needed to power the ship.

Celebrity has been using LED lighting for the past three years (at a "fraction of the fuel cost of halogen lights"). Building on that innovation, Solstice's designers created ship-specific LED lights that Hanrahan anticipates will be even more fuel efficient.

As previously reported by Cruise Critic, Solstice will feature about 80 solar panels, which will power small things such as elevators. The energy provided by the panels, however, is limited, and at this point inefficient from a cost standpoint. But Hanrahan explained that the move was an attempt at "future proofing." There is no payback now, but should solar panels become cost efficient enough in the future, the ship will already have the infrastructure in place.

Celebrity partnered with 3M to create a window coating that will deflect the heat that comes in, reducing the amount of air conditioning needed to cool the ship -- thus reducing the amount of fuel needed to power the A/C. The tinting may also have the unintended benefit of extending the life of the carpeting by protecting it from sun damage.

The line has turned to using chilled river rocks, which retain low temperatures well, rather than ice to keep buffet items cool. This reduces the amount of ice needed, trimming the water production needed. Creating potable water for ice requires fuel.

One of the keys to making these environmentally sustainable changes is making them financially sustainable, too. There is, after all, a primary responsibility to investors, and adopting new technologies is not cheap. The cruise industry will only introduce innovations in ship function and design -- like the ones mentioned above -- when the lines can prove the changes will be profitable.

So what about others in the travel industry? Four Seasons in Costa Rica has a golf course with grass that can be watered with seawater, reducing the need for fresh water. Proximity Hotel in Greensborough, named one of the greenest in America, has solar heated water, uses circulated outdoor air to improve air quality and uses recycled materials for nearly every element of the hotel's infrastructure.

While these improvements are a step in the right direction, the panelists concurred that consumers also need to step up and demand that additional changes be made -- and to make changes themselves. Something as simple as reusing towels rather than requesting replacements can make a dramatic difference. But as Hanrahan noted: "At the end of the day, [our guests are] on a vacation, not to learn." Hopefully, as public awareness grows, both travelers and providers will work together to make vacations -- cruise or otherwise -- a greener endeavor.

The greater event featured several speeches from the likes of actor and activist Ashley Judd and economist Jeffrey Sachs, panel discussions, and an awards show of sorts, with Conde Nast honoring those who've made an impact in combating some of world's great problems, such as poverty alleviation and wildlife preservation.

--by Dan Askin, Assistant Editor