Sunday, March 1, 2015

When Cruise Line Attempts at Being Green Could Be Even Greener

Anyone who has sailed on a cruise ship has undoubtedly returned to your stateroom in the evening and found that the stateroom steward has worked wonders with a couple of towels and made a cute little towel animal for guests to smile at and invariably sweep aside. Before their next use, each of those towels must be laundered and each laundering requires fresh water and detergent.

Also for anyone who has been on a cruise ship recently you have likely seen in the restroom a card encouraging guests to help the cruise line be greener by helping to reduce the number of shower towels are laundered each day.   That's a great idea and I'm sure it helps not only the environment but also the cruise line's bottom line.  However what about the environmental toll not to mention the economic cost to the cruise line(s) of laundering each of the towels used in the creation of each of those cute towel animals we enjoy for a moment each night?

This morning we concluded a 7-night cruise on the Carnival Pride (by far the best cruise yet on Carnival) and in the restroom of Stateroom 5265 there was a card encouraging the proper conservation of towels in the shower but no mention of the probably greater need to conserve fresh water and laundry detergent that comes with those cute towel animals each night.

A thought struck me when I was looking at a towel animal the other night and on returning home today I wrote the following letter to Carnival Cruise Line's corporate headquarters.  In it I point out the incongruity of their environmental message and at the same time suggest two or three alternatives.  I hope their corporate conscience is such that they will heed my suggestion(s).  If they do so I'll post their response on this blog.

March 1, 2015

Carnival Cruise Lines
3655 NW 87th Avenue
Miami, Florida 33178
Attn:  Customer Relations Department

Dear Carnival

We just returned this morning from a wonderful 7-night cruise from Tampa to the Western Caribbean aboard the Carnival Pride.  Everything about the cruise down to the most minute detail was perfect and the Pride is by far our most favorite Carnival vessel so far.  I plan to write a review of the cruise for Cruise Critic and also to post on my own travel blog. I’ll be certain to send you copies of both when they are completed.

The purpose of this letter, and please accept it as not the least bit negative, is to point out an incongruity I have noticed on Carnival and two other cruise lines regarding your commitment to a greener environment. 

Cards similar to this one are likely in the restroom of every stateroom on every ship sailed by every cruise line.  The cards carry an important message on protecting the environment but that message is likely overridden by a simple tradition that all cruise passengers enjoy each night at sea.(Click on the image to enlarge it)

In the restroom of the Carnival Victory, Carnival Paradise, and now the Carnival Pride, you provide the attached notice titled “Helping the Environment” in which you proudly state to your guests that you are working diligently to protect the environment.  One way you do so is to reduce the amount of water consumed and laundry detergent used in the washing of towels in each stateroom.  As stated on the attached card you suggest to your guests that they either hang the towels up to indicate they don’t need to be laundered or leave them on the floor as an indication to the stateroom steward that the towel(s) need(s) laundering.  As a retired wildlife biologist I must commend you for taking this positive action to reduce the amount of water consumed and the volume of laundry detergent disgorged into the environment.

However even though you are encouraging guests to conserve water by wisely using their towels, just a few feet away from those signs each evening room stewards create cute little animals made out of towels and place them on each stateroom bed.  Each animal takes a minimum of two towels and sometimes three towels to complete.  Once they are finished most of us simply toss the animals aside and wait to see what new animal is constructed the following night. 

Towel animals on your stateroom bed each night are cute and cuddly but what is their environmental cost?  A few suggestions are provided in this letter and I hope Carnival Cruise Line heeds at least one of them.

Certainly you are not able to instantly re-use those towels for bathing or other purposes.  Instead each day a minimum of two towels from each stateroom must be laundered before they can be used for any other purpose.  How much water and how much laundry detergent is used in this process?

There are about 1,300 rooms on the Carnival Pride.  Each day the Pride is at sea a minimum of two towels is used to make the towel animals in each of those 1,300 staterooms.  Thus, 2,600 towels are used each night that ultimately require additional laundering.  If we assume that the Pride is sailing 365 days a year then at a minimum 949,000 (almost 1 million) towels are needlessly laundered on that ship each year.  Taken further if we assume that each of the 22 ships in your fleet has a capacity of 1,300 rooms (and I know that several of your ships have a much larger capacity than the Pride) and if we assume each of those 22 ships is also using a minimum of 949,000 towels each year to make towel animals, then Carnival is laundering a minimum of 20,878,000 towels each year for no other reason than your stateroom stewards made cute little animals out of them that most guests smile at for a few seconds and then ignore.   

I have no way of knowing how many gallons of fresh water (a precious commodity that you carry around on the ship for many purposes each trip) or how many gallons of laundry detergent are needed to launder 20,878,000 towels, but the number has to be staggering. And on top of that think of how much money Carnival is spending annually in fuel to haul that fresh water around on your ships and how much money you are spending to purchase all of that laundry detergent to wash 20,878,000 towels that were made into towel animals we ignore 5 minutes after we see them.  Former U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen once said on the floor of the Senate “A billion here, a billion there and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”  A similar quote could be spoken regarding the amount of water and detergent used to needlessly wash 20,878,000 towels each year.  The number must be mind-numbing.  More importantly, how much do you and other cruise lines contribute to environmental degradation by the seemingly simple act of laundering all those towels each year?

Cards encouraging water conservation hang on the towel rack of every cruise ship.  But no mention is made of conserving towels used to make towel animals that we find on our bed each night. (Click on the image to enlarge)

That said, I ask you to consider a couple of alternatives so that you really are helping the environment by reducing the number of towels being laundered.  First and foremost, explain to guests the environmental toll that comes with laundering all of those towel animals and ask them if the guests really want the towel animals each night.  If they do then perhaps to offset the environmental damage Carnival would consider donating $0.01 (1 cent) for each towel used in making towel animals, to an organization like the Environmental Defense Fund to help them in their endless battles to protect the environment from further degradation. 

Secondly, consider making the animals out of recyclable paper and then provide a receptacle in each room where the paper could be placed after guests look at the animal on their bed.  Third, and my preferred alternative, is to cease the making of towel animals and explain to your guests that you are doing so in an effort to even more efficiently protect the environment than simply putting bathroom towels on the rack to re-use them.  My guess is that a few news releases announcing this major change in your environmental policy would generate tons of great press for Carnival and maybe spur other cruise lines into following your lead.

The bottom line is that it is rather counterproductive to encourage guests to conserve the environment by using fewer towels in the shower while probably using even more towels, water, and detergent to launder cute little towel animals that are forgotten almost as soon as they are discovered.

If you have any questions or believe this idea has merit please contact me at the address above, by email at (my email address) or by phone at (my cell number).  I would be more than happy to help you make this happen.

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