Can an airline be completely carbon neutral? National Geographic Traveler contributing editor Chris Elliott spoke with Alexi Huntley Khajavi, the chief marketing officer for Costa Rican carrier NatureAir, to learn more about the company’s commitment to eliminating their carbon footprint.
What does it mean to be a carbon-neutral airline?
It means that any and all CO2 emissions NatureAir emits from its operations are sequestered through another activity which reduces or fixes CO2 from being released into the atmosphere. We have chosen to offset our emissions through conservation of tropical forests here in Costa Rica.
Deforestation is the largest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions and also the major reason behind the loss of bio-diversity. Our mission is to protect the wildlife, the soil and water sources of local communities as well as reduce the release of CO2 into our atmosphere.
We look at that as being a very positive force of good. Right now, we are protecting over 300 acres of primary tropical forests and each flight we take, we will continue to protect more land from deforestation.
At the same time however, we know that offsetting emissions without reducing them is just not the right way to operate. That’s why we have implemented a program which has reduced our CO2 emissions from flight operations by seven percent since 2004, the same year we became carbon-neutral. We did this through improving our flight plans, spreading out our schedules of departures therefore reducing taxi time for the aircraft and also training our pilots to practice gradual ascents and descents into our airports. The bottom line is we are saving money by improving our efficiencies.
Do you think any airline can be carbon-neutral, or is this just something that you can do because of your market?
Of course any airline could be carbon-neutral, all it takes is the initiative. However, we do have an advantage in the fact that we fly in Costa Rica — a place known for being the birth of sustainable and eco-tourism. In addition, approximately 74 percent of all our passengers are visiting a national park while here in Costa Rica. These passengers are naturally concerned with their impact on the destinations and feel a deeper connection with NatureAir knowing their flight is helping to protecting the very places they are in Costa Rica to see.
Carbon neutrality is a simple concept really, but I don’t think many companies have taken it to this level of commitment like we have.
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Although we also see it as really good business. In essence, if we can protect the places that are providing us with a growing number of tourists each year, while also building relationships through these programs with our core markets, its obviously a win-win for us, our clients and the destinations we fly to.
You can read the rest of the interview on Chris Elliott’s blog, www.elliott.org. And to read more about NatureAir, which was named a 2009 winner of the Geotourism Challenge, a contest sponsored by Ashoka’s Changemakers and National Geographic’s Center for Sustainable Destinations click here.