B.C. airline leads North American carriers in going green

VANCOUVER – A speedskating ice arena being built for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver is helping a Vancouver-based airline become what it says will be the first carbon-neutral airline in North America.

Harbour Air Seaplanes, a floatplane company offering regular and charter flights to and from the Vancouver area to Vancouver Island, says it will be carbon neutral by the end of the year.

As of Oct. 1, Harbour Air tickets included a carbon offset surcharge ranging from 50 cents on a flight from Richmond to Nanaimo to $10 an hour on some charters. By Jan. 1. the company will institute a policy to track, reduce and offset its corporate greenhouse gas emissions.

The airline is working with the Vancouver-based Offsetters Climate Neutral Society, which provides high-quality carbon offsets for those trying to reduce their climate impact.

Going carbon neutral means a company tries to offset its own pollution through the purchase of credits from green projects elsewhere, such as wind farms, solar installations or energy-efficiency projects.

One of the initial offsetting projects Harbour Air will contribute towards is using heat from the Richmond speedskating oval project, currently under construction for the Olympics, to heat nearby homes, says Randy Wright, Harbour Air’s senior vice-president.

“When you put a sheet of ice on the oval, the heat goes all up though the stacks in the ceiling,” he said. “They’re going to capture that heat and power the homes that are being built all around it. Twenty-one hundred homes.”

Wright said the carbon offset money will go towards other local energy efficient projects and help pioneer new technologies.

“We’re not planting trees,” he said. “A lot of the European companies are doing that. We’re flying the West Coast. We’re not going to be in Brazil or Africa or even central British Columbia.”

Other Canadian Airlines – WestJet and Air Canada – offer carbon offset packages, but Harbour Air says it’s the first North American airline to make carbon offset costs mandatory.

It’s estimated air travel accounts for three per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions and airplane emissions are increasing by three per cent a year.

Wright credits environmentally conscious staff members with convincing senior management to make the airline carbon neutral.

“We have a very young staff here at Harbour Air,” he said. “The staff were concerned about the emissions and what’s going on with the Earth, the ozone and the heating of the planet. They believe with a company as ours, that we should be doing something. We listened thoroughly.”

Wright said customer surveys indicate there’s support for the mandatory carbon offset charge.

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