Advocating and working on behalf of sustainable tourism means planning for ships to be environmentally friendly well before they’re even built.
Mathieu Petiteau, Director of New Builds and Research & Development at PONANT, talks about the careful approach the luxury expedition cruise company adopts with respect to the construction of its ships.
How do you go about incorporating the company’s environmental concerns into the specifications you provide to the shipbuilders?
Mathieu Petiteau : The main thing we ask them to do is design the ships to be as energy-efficient as possible! In our specifications, we stipulate the different aspects the selected shipbuilders can work on and modify in order to reduce energy consumption. It’s mainly about optimising the design of the hull and installing more energy efficient engines and equipment/fittings, real-time energy consumption calculation tools, energy recuperation systems, and low-energy lighting.
This commitment to the environment inevitably results in additional costs. However, the investment involved will also enable savings to be made in the long run, especially with respect to fuel. These investments need to produce ROI over acceptable timescales, i.e. less than five years in general, and up to 10 years in the case of very innovative projects. There are also other kinds of environmentally-based choices that involve additional expenditure, but with no ROI in return. This is the case, for example, with the refrigerant gas used in the air conditioning system, which has certain attributes that make it better for the environment, and with the waste treatment systems, and the products used to keep the piping in good condition.
PONANT imposes very restrictive rules that go above and beyond those of the International Maritime Organisation. What was the reasoning behind this decision?
Mathieu Petiteau : It’s about being coherent with our stated strategic choices. It’s in this spirit, for example, that we opted for waste treatment systems that go beyond what’s required by the legislation. We also raise awareness among our crew members of the need to reduce our environmental impact.
We are not about greenwashing [a form of marketing spin used by certain organisations to give themselves an environmentally responsible image – Ed.]. We don’t use scrubbers, for example. These are filters that enable you to reduce the amount of sulphur released into the air. They don’t make the sulphur disappear however; it simply ends up in other forms, such as in waste released into the sea. They also have a detrimental effect on CO2 emissions, causing them to increase considerably. PONANT is engaged in a process of laying the groundwork: we are showing the way! We will thus be the first ship-owning company in the world to introduce into service an electric hybrid polar exploration vessel equipped with a liquefied natural gas (LNG)/diesel propulsion system, which we are doing by developing new kinds of innovative, alternative systems.
Are there any other similar projects that might also see the light of day?
Mathieu Petiteau : For the past three years, we’ve been working with the STX in Saint-Nazaire (France) shipyard on developing the future Ponant sailing ship, a vessel inspired by the design and appearance of the company’s original and iconic three-master. This ship will also have a hybrid propulsion system, with engines powered not only by LNG and fuel oil, but also by a completely renewable form of energy: wind power. The next stage involves the fitting of a 300 m² sail, which is still at the prototype stage, ready for full-scale testing in summer 2018.