Save the Waves: RCL’s rallying cry for 25 years

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Somebody’s figurative paintbrush was too broad. Adam Goldstein wasn’t having any of it. The remark hit him in the gut.

Goldstein, president and COO of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., remembers that it happened at “a pretty important environmentally-oriented breakfast.” The offender, who was not in the cruise industry, made a comment about stuff going overboard from cruise ships.

“And I’m like, ‘Not our cruise ships.’ I mean, it was visceral,” Goldstein recalls. “I am so confident our people understand that nothing goes overboard that I responded fairly strongly, let’s put it that way.”

Goldstein’s still visceral recollection was included in a chat about the 25th anniversary of Save the Waves, an “unofficial” but nonetheless rigidly followed environmental program that began with company-wide recycling in 1992. It since grew to encompass emissions reductions, wastewater treatment and more.

The four pillars of the program began with: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Next was Practice Pollution Prevention, which to be more specific means, “It is strictly forbidden to throw anything overboard.” In the years since that law was laid down, it has become so ingrained in RCL culture that Goldstein had an immediate reaction when someone ignorantly suggested otherwise.

Third was go Above and Beyond Compliance (ABC) with environmental regulations. And last, a simple mantra: Continuous Improvement, explained as, “Change is the only constant. Innovation is encouraged and rewarded.”

These were the seeds of a commitment to the environment in which and on which RCL plies its business, even expanding to include like-minded partnerships with the World Wildlife Fund, the University of Miami, the Pan American Development Foundation and others.

“I imagine by now other companies have their variants of Save the Waves,” Goldstein says. “But it is very possible that we were ahead of our time.”

Just four years after the start of Save the Waves, RCL established The Ocean Fund to support non-profit groups and institutions with worthy environmental initiatives. It has since granted many millions to such programs.

“I think people at some level connected [the fund] to the Save the Waves program,” Goldstein says.

Looking back over its 25 years in existence, Goldstein acknowledges the way things were before and how they’ve changed since.

“We definitely had our environmental difficulties in the 1990s,” he says. “Can’t be in denial about that. I would say since the late ‘90s, when we extricated ourselves from those problems, the last more or less 20 years have been an ‘A’.

“I think for a lot of people it’s hard to understand exactly where does Save the Waves start and where does it end and how much of all of that does it encompass,” Goldstein continues. “But as a simple mantra, I think in most people’s minds here it sort of captures all of that, whether its strict definition does or not.”

They’re just three words that encapsulate the tremendous commitment to the environment Royal Caribbean has demonstrated over the years. Or, as Goldstein succinctly puts it, “We back up our words with actions.”