when we heal the earth, we heal ourselves. david orr

Alicia on The Mike Nowak Show

Chicago horticulture expert Mike Nowak invited me on his radio show to discuss Earth Hour. LISTEN HERE. I'm about 3/4 of the way into the recording.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Greenwashing or Green Victory?

In addition to buckling your seat belt, pushing up your tray table and putting your seat in an upright and locked position, Northwest flight attendants are also asking you to RECYCLE your trash at the end of every trip.

I found out about this "revelation" in airline travel while flying back to New Mexico a few weeks ago. The change was a bit predictable. Being green is the latest trend, and in a corporate climate where all the cool kids are doing it, what other ostensibly eco-responsible initiative could a large company like Northwest Airlines (NWA) take to show it cares?

I was encouraged (at first). At least this meant I didn't have to find a recycling bin to stash my plastic cup after the flight...but when I realized the airline easily could have been recycling for the past three decades, I started to suspect NWA is more concerned about padding its bottom line than saving trash from the bottom of a dump. I'm sure there are plenty of people who'd prefer to fly with an airline that passes around a recycling bin as they cruise into their final destination to help them forget about the indelible carbon footprint they've just smashed into the environment.

Flying is bad for the Earth. Any eco-conscious person knows that. Well, any eco-conscious person who isn't an airline executive, as I soon found out.

After contemplating the motives behind NWA's recycling program, I picked up a copy of the in-flight magazine in my seatback pocket. It didn't take me long to find a column titled "Green Initiatives." Take a look at the second paragraph:

"Currently, the U.S. Department of Energy data show that air travel is more efficient than bus, truck, or rail when measured on a per-passenger basis. The combined airline (NWA/Delta) transports its customers across the world with an efficiency of about 55 passenger miles per gallon- equal to a hybrid-electric car with one occupant."

The thought of current airline travel being marketed as "efficient" was unsettling. The aviation industry has been described as "public enemy number one" in regard to CO2 emissions- you know, the stuff causing global warming and leaving cute little polar bears clinging to melting glaciers.

Let's look at some other data: Flying contributes MILLIONS OF TONS CO2 into the atmosphere every year, and according to THIS website, my flight down to Albuquerque emitted 436 lbs of CO2 per person on the plane.

The magazine article dodged real measurements when it mentioned carbon emissions, but it did say it's decreased them by 25% since 2000 by renewing its fleet, retiring old aircraft and replacing some ground-handling equipment. It's also committing "to a 30 percent fuel efficiency improvement between 2005 and 2025." And about that recycling program: the airline is using proceeds to build a Habitat for Humanity home.

So what do YOU think: Greenwashing or green victory?

As a sidebar, It's impossible for me to write this entry without examining my own hypocrisy. After all, my ass was in a plane seat and here I am criticizing the industry, but I couldn't miss a best friend's wedding- I was the maid of honor, after all. I'm looking into buying carbon credits to clean up after myself for every flight I take this year...more on that later.

In the meantime, check out the BUZZ in the news about changing the way planes land to cut carbon emissions and click HERE to read about a ZERO CO2 emitting plane. We need to get these babies in the air!

Click the thumbnail below to read the full NWA article mentioned above.

1 comment:

Stephanie said...

Lol, while reading your article I kept thinking, "does she realize she is on THAT airplane she is talking about?" but I got to the bottom and saw the sidebar which made me laugh.

While it is pitiful that it has taken airlines and other companies decades to get around to recycling, since some states even pay you to recycle which is a money maker in itself, and it seems to be a fad with companies today, at least it has become a fad and hopefully a permanent fad.

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