Carnival Cruise CEO Says Sustainability Is 'High Priority'

Carnival CEO Arnold Donald. Photo Credit: Cheddar
September 18, 2019

Months after Carnival was handed a second multimillion-dollar fine for polluting, Carnival CEO Arnold Donald says sustainability is a "high priority" for the cruise conglomerate and is spelling out the steps the world's largest leisure travel company is taking to correct course.

"One mistake is one too many," Donald told Cheddar at the Skift Global Forum in New York on Wednesday. "We made a mistake, we had some missteps — we own those, we pay the penalties, we learn from it, and we get better."

Donald was referring to a series of fines levied on Carnival ($CCL), first in 2016 when its Princess Cruise Lines brand received a record $40 million fine for illegally dumping oil-contaminated waste into the sea and attempting to cover it up. The company received another fine this past June for violating its terms of probation, including the illegal discharge of plastic in Bahamian waters, according to U.S. officials.

Donald, who the court forced to issue a statement taking responsibility for the probation violations, told Cheddar that the company's faults were "unintended in most cases." He added that if the company finds violations were intentional, they "cannot be repeated. We know we have to get even better. We know have to be better. We can not tolerate even one misstep."

To that end, the CEO noted Carnival has taken steps to increase its sustainability efforts and limit its carbon emissions. The company has hired former federal prosecutor Peter Anderson to head up its newly-created ethics and compliance group. Donald says it's speeding up its plans to eliminate single-use plastics and is working to drastically decrease food waste on the ships.

"We're exploring technologies to make food waste not even an issue, where there is zero food waste going forward," he said. "There are food digesters and other methodologies we're exploring."

The company has also announced plans to introduce a total of 11 new ships into its global fleet by 2025 that can be powered by liquefied natural gas, a far cleaner-burning fossil fuel. Donald also noted the recent addition of a lithium battery to one of their ships, creating a limited hybrid energy source.

Whether those efforts will mollify critics remains to be seen. Carnival has been a target of protests and harsh criticism from advocacy groups over its environmental record. In its 2019 report on the cruise industry, Friends of the Earth gave the company an F Rating and called on Carnival to "spend some of their massive profits to clean up the communities they have dumped on."

In a statement to Cheddar, Roger Frizzell, chief communications officer for Carnival Corporation, pushed back on the Friends of the Earth criticism and also said: “Over the last three years, we have spent almost a billion dollars on environmental initiatives, implemented new and more effective procedures, and invested in hundreds of thousands of hours of training for our crew members.”

Beyond sustainability, Donald spoke of the humanitarian assistance Carnival has offered in the wake of Hurricane Dorian. The company deployed two of its cruise liners to the Bahamas earlier this month to provide food, water, and relief supplies to communities recovering from Hurricane Dorian, which devastated much of the Caribbean nation. The conglomerate's philanthropic organization, Carnival Foundation and the Micky and Madeleine Arison Family Foundation, also pledged $2 million to support recovery efforts.

"There is no question that climate change is affecting many things on our planet, including the marine environment," Donald said, adding that the company's mission now is to "bring guests and keep the [Bahamian] economy going."

Editor's Note: This article was updated September 20 to provide additional context to the interview with Carnival CEO Arnold Donald.