European Carriers Let Passengers Fight Global Warming

British Airways and Scandinavian Airlines System have established programs that give travelers the opportunity to pay carbon-offset fees to help fund clean technology projects.

"Right now,'' he said of British Airways' program, "it's primarily about raising awareness. You have to do business in a way customers will accept. The fact that it's a voluntary program helps.''

Scandinavian Airlines -- 50 percent owned by the governments of Sweden, Denmark and Norway -- began its program March 14, linking to British firm Carbon Neutral Co., according to Niels Eirik-Nertun, the SAS Group's environmental director.

Carbon Neutral collects fees to fund clean energy programs through SAS, which flies between Europe and New York, Chicago, Seattle and Washington. The airline features the new program on the home page of its Web site.

According to Nertun, the Carbon Neutral Co. will direct money from SAS customers to "three projects, all in renewable energy.'' Carbon Neutral, he said, funds wind energy projects in New Zealand, China and India. All three projects, he said, are audited by KPMG.

Spokesmen for British Airways and Scandinavian Airlines emphasize that the voluntary passenger carbon-offset fees are just one element in their approach to environmental sustainability.

"We have improved the fuel efficiency of our aircraft by 27 percent since 1990,'' said Hayes, who added that the London carrier, one of Europe's biggest, is also striving to reduce the amount of emissions it generates by flying lighter planes.

In addition to offering the carbon fee on its passenger flights, SAS is talking to its cargo customers about paying carbon-offset fees, too, said Nertun, noting that awareness of the greenhouse emissions issue is especially high in Europe.

For example, Norway's prime minister recently said in a speech that all international flying by members of the Norwegian government will include carbon-offset fees, Nertun said.

So far, no U.S. carrier uses carbon-offset programs, though it could happen.

"Offering customers a voluntary carbon-offset program is something we're evaluating for the future,'' Bryan Baldwin, manager of corporate communications for JetBlue Airways, wrote in an e-mail. "We don't have plans for anything immediate, but it is of interest to us, as we know it is to a growing number of travelers today. Right now, we focus on efficient-use policies, such as maximizing ground power rather than auxiliary/engine power whenever possible, taxiing with one engine and keeping our aircraft weight down to increase fuel efficiency,'' Baldwin said of JetBlue, a popular discount carrier that serves Oakland International Airport and Mineta San Jose International Airport. JetBlue plans to begin service at SFO next month.

But while carbon-offset fees are becoming more popular in the travel industry, it is likely such piecemeal programs will last only until something more inclusive and ambitious can be put in place, Harteveldt said.

"The carbon-offset genie will never go back into the bottle,'' he said. "Regardless of whether it's voluntary or mandatory, the standard needs to be worldwide and it needs to be consistent. Otherwise, airlines won't know what to do.''

SAS' Nertun agrees. "We see this as the first step into a global consumer market,'' he said.

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