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Cruise Interiors and the Circular Economy

Circular Economy is a concept that’s frequented conversations surrounding sustainability. But what does it mean? According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a circular economy, ‘is based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.’

The design of a circular economy is a system which keeps products in use for longer and reuses and recycles materials for new products. By closing the loop of materials – product – waste, a circular economy targets the overuse of resources and polluting by-products at the start of a product’s lifecycle. It also targets unnecessary waste and polluting by-products at the end of a product’s lifecycle. This system aims at being a financially viable and incredibly effective sustainable solution.

We ask, can it work for cruise ship interiors and the supply chain?

Circular Economy is an economic system that is regenerative by design


We’re going to need a bigger boat

The cruise interiors industry is making strides towards improving its sustainability. Companies such as Shores Global have created furniture crafted from repurposed ocean waste, while cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean have eliminated plastic straws from their onboard offerings. However, as scientists issue frank and devastating warnings about the consequences of global warming and filling the planet with waste, it’s clear that no one company can do it alone. To ensure a drastic change, the industry (in fact, all industries) needs to make drastic changes.

Economists and sustainability thinkers believe that a circular economy is just the revolution that industries need. Suppliers, outfitters, and shipyards – or any parties involved in the purchase of materials – will need to adapt their materials process. One method could be leasing materials from a raw materials supplier, who will then collect materials at the end of the product’s lifecycle for recycling and reusing. Suppliers who generate their own materials, such as fabric, flooring or cladding, may themselves do the leasing, collecting their product at the end of the lifecycle and reclaiming the materials for new or refurbished products.

What to do with large-scale waste is a question that dogs refurbishment projects. Could instigating a circular economy system be the answer? Cruise ship refurbishment is an essential way to refresh old tonnage, keep a cruise ship brand consistent, and update ships with popular new features. Refurbishments can range in scale from revamping a handful of cabins or public spaces to slicing a ship in half and inserting an extension. As might be expected, these processes create a lot of waste that could be usefully redistributed within a circular economy.

Waste is a design flaw


Where is the business opportunity?

It might seem like a straightforward issue. If products are designed for longevity, then surely businesses will suffer thanks to a drop in sales. However, nimble operators who are always seeking opportunities for change may see several advantages to adjusting their business model.

One such opportunity comes from the maintenance of products. Suppliers do not sell their products but lease them. This may be for a set period or for the lifetime of the product. By offering a maintenance contract the manufacturer or supplier opens a new revenue stream with the outfitter or shipyard. Maintenance leasing is one of the mainstays of a functioning circular economy. It ensures that manufacturers can be financially rewarded for producing long-lasting, sustainable products.

Product leasing also ensures that all products return to the manufacturer or supplier at the end of their lifecycle. Ideally, within a circular economy, these materials will be recycled or reused. This lowers the cost of materials for the manufacturer or supplier. In some cases, a material may have an initial outlay and then remain in a company’s ‘bank’ for years. This allows it to be repurposed into new products several times over.

There is a lot of material that is very useable from drydocks that goes into landfill – I wish there was a company out there that could figure out a solution to recycle products in the time they are in drydock


New solutions

No one company can tackle this alone. Sustainable Design Summit 2023 host Darian Stibbe is a strong believer that partnerships are key to achieving sustainable design. He argues that “By collaborating, we can exchange ideas and knowledge, learn from each other, and spark innovative, sustainable solutions across the product cycle from ‘cradle to grave’”. For Dansk Wilton and Holland America Cruise Line, this rings true. These brands have partnered together in a pilot project to find solutions for recycling waste as a resource. This is a significant first step in developing new innovative initiatives which can contribute to future large-scale solutions. The results of this partnership include the development of RE:SHAPE material. This is created using recycled carpet waste from Holland America Line’s vessels, transformed into notebooks and different prototypes; coat hangers, signage, coasters and acoustic artworks.

Speaking about the partnership at Cruise Ship Interiors Design Expo Europe 2022, My Nguyen, Director of Interior Design, Holland America Group, noted that there was always work to be done and that working together was the best way to progress.

In partnerships, it’s more inspiring to figure out the solutions together and collaborate. There are more problems to solve than wins, so that’s the most important part of collaboration: to overcome obstacles together.


Future development

The inaugural Sustainable Design Summit established valuable foundations on what a circular economy could mean for the cruise industry. These were explored further in the 2023 summit, which fostered many discussions about how the cruise, aircraft and hotel interior industries can adopt a circular economy and improve sustainability through design. Find out about the next event here.

This blog was originally published on the Cruise Ship Interiors Design Expo Americas blog.

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