Monday, January 14, 2008
Although it is relatively new to aviation, having only been offered to passengers in the last year, carbon offsets have become a $54 million industry, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which regulates advertising claims in launching hearings into green marketing.
Carbon offset programs raise a host of questions such as where the money goes and what is it used for. How are the programs monitored for accuracy and for actual emissions reductions? How are emissions calculated and what percentage goes to the project versus airline/environmental partner administrative costs?
The exchanges being developed around the world have answered many of these questions, especially about monitoring and measurement. Indeed, calculating emissions is not objective with several different methods used. Related Story Even so, certification of such programs and measuring their effectiveness prompt more questions, according to a report in The New York Times.
During hearings last week, the commission expressed concern at the accuracy of some claims, something environmentalists call “greenwashing,” according to the Times, which quoted Commission Chair Deborah Platt Majoras as saying “there’s a heightened potential for deception.” It also reported that panelists at last week’s session questioned how claims are certified for accuracy and whether carbon offset providers are counting projects that would be completed regardless of carbon offset contributions. In addition, others wondered about costs, citing a VW offering saying consumers can contribute to the planting of a forest in the Mississippi Valley for $18, said the newspaper, which quoted providers as saying the actual cost of planting a tree is roughly $5. Interestingly, they also said the tree must live for at least 100 years to fully compensate for the emissions in question, again raising the question as to just how effective such programs are.
FTC. guidelines date back to 1998 and leave out such newly created terms as renewable energy, carbon offsets and sustainability. These “Green Guides” need updating say industry and the agency has issued a request for comments on how to do that.
The airline industry is slow to the carbon offset market, although British Airways has been offering them for some years. Related Story Continental and Delta announced programs last year, but the Times reported that sales were slow for the $5.50 contribution per round trip flight offered by Delta. The money goes to the Conservation Fund’s Go Zero program which manages Delta’s program.
FAA Outlines Alternative Fuels Initiative
In the wake of quickening research into alternative fuels with the Air Force having tested the first synfuels transcontinental flight and the Boeing prediction that biofuels could become a feasible alternative within five years, FAA outlined its alternative fuels initiative. Related Story In 2006, for the first time in history, fuels became the single largest component of U.S. airline operating costs, said the agency. Even so, U.S. commercial aviation consumes less than three percent of U.S. total energy use, but drives about six percent of the U.S. gross economic output and just under nine percent of national employment. This, coupled with growing concerns about aviation’s environmental impact, have increased pressure for secure and sustainable fuel sources that reduce green house gas (GHG) emissions.
The Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI) was established to promote the development of alternative fuel options that offer equivalent levels of safety and compare favorably with petroleum-based jet fuel on cost and environmental bases by exploring the potential use of alternative fuels. It acts as a clearinghouse for the aviation community to engage the emerging alternative fuels industry and to work together, share and collect needed data, and motivate and direct research on aviation alternative fuels.
CAAFI’s participants are drawn from all elements of the international commercial aviation industry, fuel suppliers, universities, and U.S. government agencies, including the Departments of Transportation (DOT), Defense (DOD), Energy (DOE) and NASA. The initiative’s sponsors are:
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Office of Environment and Energy, Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA), the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), and the Air Transport Association (ATA).
CAAFI participants are evaluating alternative fuels in four areas:
• Certification and Qualification — to ensure the safety of any alternative fuels given the demanding environment posed by aviation operations.
• Research and Development — to cover a broad range of potential sources and technologies in developing alternative fuels.
• Environment — to assess the broad environmental impacts of any alternative fuel options developed.
• Business and Economics — to evaluate the market and business case for use of alternative fuels compared with conventional ones.
Work to date includes:
• Creating roadmaps to communicate aviation needs and solutions
• Disseminating flight-test data on synthetic fuels and bio-fuels
• Supporting research and development on low carbon fuels sourced from plant oils, algae and biomass
• Understanding life cycle environmental impacts of production and use of alternative fuels
• Planning for certification in 2008 of a 50 percent synthetic paraffinic kerosene fuel, 2010 for 100 percent synthetic fuel, and as early as 2013 for additional “drop-in” bio-fuels
• Developing a handbook for calculating environmental and economic benefits and costs of alternative fuels for airports
• Educating the public and private citizens on the unique needs and practical solutions for aviation in the area of alternative fuels