Making a commitment to sustainability for maritime interiors

CFI's executive editor introduces a new declaration that provides a pathway to a sustainable future

Making a commitment to sustainability for maritime interiors

By Jon Ingleton |

The passenger shipping industry is making giant strides towards greater sustainability, with big wins recorded for fuel, emissions, energy efficiency and other projects. To date, though, there has been no coordinated cross-industry action plan for ship interiors, with progress in this field made primarily from isolated islands of activity.

There are a significant number of passionate interior designers, specifiers, outfitters, suppliers and others who are individually taking steps to improve the sustainability of their professional output, sometimes alone but often with the support of their business. However, there has been little industry-wide guidance or regulation to direct priorities.

Unlike land-based construction, there has been no common best practice framework for sustainably building and maintaining ship interiors that can unite this community in the pursuit of collective goals. Interior designers and specifiers of land-based buildings have certifiable environmental guidelines that they can adopt and follow that do not exist for maritime projects. But in the maritime sector, it has been down to progressive shipowners to write their own guidelines or adapt practices from other industries. Future shipping passengers and crew must be assured that the maritime interiors they inhabit are built to impeccably high environmental standards. We have a commitment to them, a duty to ourselves and an obligation to the planet.

Now, with the impending launch of the Sustainable Maritime Interiors initiative, we can look forward to industry-specific guidance, focus and collaboration on a sustainable future. This new initiative is spearheaded by a group of like-minded designers, specifiers and other maritime experts, including the team at Cruise & Ferry, and is based around a declaration of advocacy and action for the environment. The Sustainable Maritime Interiors Declaration (SMI Declaration) will not solve the challenges that we face but it will give us a starting point from which to move forward more positively. It will guide owners, designers and specifiers and it will inspire other stakeholders to contribute the missing elements that are needed to build and maintain more sustainable ship interior life cycles.

SMI Declaration was conceived while conducting the research for the Sustainable Maritime Interiors report, published by Cruise & Ferry in June 2022, which was issued at the 2017 Montreal World Design Summit, and Our Common Future, which was published in 1987 by the United Nations.

The SMI Declaration aims to make a meaningful contribution to sustainability performance improvement throughout the ship interior life cycle via informed stakeholder guidance and in full support of the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact. The environmental sustainability focus of the declaration is necessarily considerate of other sustainability objectives and is intended to work in unison with corporate commitments to the social and economic sustainability pillars.

The initiative has already garnered widespread interest, including from the UN Global Compact, a voluntary United Nations initiative that seeks to encourage organisations worldwide to adopt, and report on, sustainable and socially responsible policies.

“The SMI Declaration is a really powerful industry self-starting initiative that could lead to significant sustainability gains for the maritime industries. We applaud the ambitions of the declaration, and we are happy to contribute to accelerating its uptake and advancing the programme of activities that may follow,” says Erik Giercksky, business action programme for ocean at the UN Global Compact.

Rebecca Alcolea Krauss, UN Global Compact’s ocean project manager, adds: “UN Global Compact has a significant focus on ocean programmes and the ambition of the SMI Declaration is entirely complimentary to these activities. It is incumbent upon us to both start and support a range of initiatives and we have an obligation to make sure they are rigorously tested so that we can be confident that we can achieve a positive impact and outcome. We are working through this process with the SMI Declaration and hope that the maritime interiors community embraces its commitments with enthusiasm and effective endeavour.” Industry bodies are also supporting the declaration.

Shashi Caan, CEO of the International Federation of Interior Architects/Designers, says: “IFI applauds and staunchly supports the Sustainable Maritime Interiors Declaration as a living guideline for imaginative and responsible maritime interior architecture and design. We endorse its accountable, life quality-affirming stewardship for well-being driven by design innovation for the betterment of our planet and all life.” Paul Holthus, founding president and CEO of World Ocean Council, says: “The Declaration is an excellent initiative to inspire, inform and guide designers and specifiers of cruise and ferry vessel interiors in advancing sustainability. It highlights the need, and opportunity, for all components of all maritime sectors to identify how they can develop and deliver leadership and collaboration for corporate ocean responsibility, the core mission of the World Ocean Council.”

Citizen Good Consulting’s founding partner Caroline Bates, says: “The Declaration clearly lays out an ambition to be advocates for change and progress and tells people how to do it, it inspires people to champion, share and collaborate, all of which are key ingredients for progress on the sustainability agenda – it talks about doing this right across the value chain which is critical.”

Meanwhile, Sustainable Design Summit’s conference director Helen Blantz says: “The Declaration recognises how important it is for the design community to collaborate. What’s needed is transparency, communication and, perhaps most importantly, knowledge sharing. Those at the forefront need to share any lessons in the interests of more sustainable outcomes for all. Community conversations, collaboration and deep-dive learning are key activities during the cross-sector Sustainable Design Summit, and we applaud the emphasis given to these actions within the declaration’s ambitions.”

Individuals involved with designing, building and outfitting passenger ships are onboard too. My Nguyen, director of interior design at Holland America Group, has been instrumental in the development of the Declaration. She says: “The marine interiors community has been interested in sustainable design for many years, however the endeavours have been in silos without any coordinated outreach. The pandemic heightened everyone’s awareness about the importance of our environment and how it directly affects everyone’s mental and physical health. Over the past few years, sustainability has become one of the biggest topics of industry discussion. It is evident that more people want to participate in change but it’s difficult to scratch the surface when the topic is so broad. And there hasn’t been any clear direction on where to focus sustainability efforts; until now.

“The SMI Declaration is a big step towards bringing together this community of designers, specifiers, outfitters and suppliers to focus our attention on reachable, consistent and impactful actions. For me, this declaration will be a north star to help with my design process, and it will connect me with a likeminded community that shares the same priorities. Our efforts will help the industry design, build and refurbish ships in a way that improves the cruising environment for generations to come.”

MSC Cruises’ vice president of newbuilding Trevor Young also supports the Declaration. He says: “For us to make the most responsible product choices for our cruise ships we have to work towards a situation whereby sustainability sits effortlessly alongside quality and durability. The SMI Declaration embraces this approach and rightfully acts as a conduit for designers and shipowners to work collaboratively with the same set of principles to facilitate an innovative approach, smart decision making and ambitious targets. Cruising in many ways is leading the way in responsible travel and the Declaration is another step forward in making it an essential industry.”

Antoine Bergeron, an eco-design engineer in the newbuilding department at Ponant, says: “In order to make its future fleet more environmentally friendly, Ponant has chosen to make eco-design the cornerstone of its research. As such, we aim to take into account all factors that will allow us to design ships that are the most environmentally neutral from the design phase through to the end of their life cycle. The interior design of our ships is therefore at the heart of our approach.

“This Declaration on the eco-design of maritime interiors is an essential framework to help our suppliers better understand our needs and improve their products for a more sustainable economy. We are convinced that this approach will contribute to reducing the environmental impact of our ships, as well as that of the global fleet, and to ensuring a greener future for the maritime industry.”

Andrea Bartoli, principal manager of outfitting at Carnival Corporation, says: “The SMI Declaration is just the beginning, the first step on a journey to a more sustainable future. Our sustainability journey is going to be tough because we have so few precedents to follow. And so, we must create our own path, starting with small actions that will protect our natural resources, conserve energy and reduce waste. In time we will build a best-practice sustainable maritime interiors framework that will guide our work, enable good decision-making and deliver interior environments that fulfil our sustainability vision and meet our passenger’s values.”

The Declaration is just the beginning – the Sustainable Maritime Interiors initiative will grow, and others will join our cause to advance the sustainability of maritime interiors through associated guidance, best practice and, ultimately, through a formal framework. We welcome your support!

For more information and to support the Declaration please visit:

This article is a shortened version of a longer feature that was first published in the 2023 issue of Cruise & Ferry Interiors.

All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe to Cruise & Ferry Interiors for FREE here to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox or your door. 

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