Carnival Tries Make Amends With a Big Gift to the Nature Conservancy

It’s been a brutal couple of years for cruise lines, Carnival in particular. Then again, these massive floating hotels have been pretty brutal themselves to the oceans they’ve built an industry on, loathed by enviros for their dumping and pollution. Digging out from scandal, the largest fleet in the world is making efforts to clean up a bit, including making a $2.5 million grant.

Carnival Corporation is the largest cruise ship operator in the world, with 11 individual brands (only one of which is Carnival Cruise Lines, its best known brand in the United States) and more than 100 ships. The conglomerate has floundered, however, following the deadly sinking of one of its ships off the coast of Italy in 2012, then the high-profile "poop cruise" fiasco, in which a fire left a ship's passengers without air conditioning and use of most toilets for five days.

Disasters aside, environmentalists have always railed against the company and other cruise lines for sewage dumping, water treatment and greenhouse gas emissions (its flagship Carnival Cruise Lines earned a C- from Friends of the Earth last year). The company has repeatedly been investigated or fined by environmental regulators over the years. 

But under pressure from consumers and environmentalists, cruise companies like Carnival are showing signs of improvement. One such change is a recent $2.5 million grant to The Nature Conservancy for the next five years for global marine protection work.

The grant comes from the Carnival Foundation, in partnership with the Carnival Corporation, and will go toward areas where industry and community are most dependent on ocean resources, particularly in locations where Carnival operates. It will also benefit coral restoration work in the Caribbean, and fund science on the benefits of coral reefs to coastal communities. 

You might think the Carnival Foundation would tend to give to marine causes often, like competitors such as Royal Caribbean [see our IP profile of the Royal Caribbean Ocean Fund], but that’s actually not the case. The foundation mostly funds arts, human services, education and health, operating more like a more typical community-based corporate funder. 

This may be the beginning of a new wave of giving for the company, however. Carnival has a brand new CEO, a reshuffled executive team, and has even caught some attention for steps to clean up its emissions. For example, Carnival announced it will spend $400 million to install technology that will reduce emissions from its ships’ exhaust.

While it’s unlikely that cruise companies will become environmental darlings any time soon, or whether it’s even possible to run a fleet the size of Carnival’s in a sustainable way, this may be a glimpse into the future of the company and the industry. Or the future of its philanthropic giving, at least.