Discount airline, JetBlue, plans to be the nation's first airline to be carbon neutral when it begins in July to purchase carbon offsets for all of its flights, according to CBS News.
"Air travel connects people and cultures, and supports a global economy, yet we must act to limit this critical industry's contributions to climate change," said Robin Hayes, JetBlue's CEO in a press release. "We reduce where we can and offset where we can't. By offsetting all of our domestic flying, we're preparing our business for the lower-carbon economy that aviation – and all sectors – must plan for."
JetBlue also announced that starting in July all of its flights departing from San Francisco International Airport will run on "sustainable" fuel.
The sustainable fuel it will purchase is made by Neste. Called MY Renewable Jet Fuel, the fuel is made 100 percent from waste and residue raw materials. It's fully compatible with existing jet engine technology. The JetBlue press release says that throughout its lifecycle, the "sustainable" fuel has a carbon footprint that is up to 80 percent smaller that fossil jet fuel.
JetBlue will invest in carbon offsets, by donating money to environmental projects including forest conservation; capturing and reusing methane gas emitted from landfills; and developing solar and wind farms in areas that would otherwise rely on fossil fuels for energy, as CBS News reported.
While the company did not disclose the cost, it did say buying carbon offsets would not force the airline to raise prices.
"This is the cost of doing business," said a JetBlue spokeswoman in an email to CBS News. "We've always anticipated customer's need and expectations — from TV to leg room. From a business perspective this is similar. The difference is that in addition to answering our customers' needs, it also addresses an urgent societal issue, growing emissions."
The airline produces over 8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year. The company is working on a plan to compensate for international flights, said Sophia Mendelsohn, JetBlue's head of sustainability, as Bloomberg News reported.
The move to buy offsets now also makes financial sense as the demand for carbon offsets increases with public pressure.
"By purchasing these now, we're ostensibly locking in a hedge against rising CO2 prices," said Mendelsohn as Bloomberg News reported. Other U.S. carriers purchase offsets on a far more limited basis.
JetBlue is following in the footsteps of Europe's second-largest discount airline, EasyJet, which announced in November that it would be the first airline to offset emissions from its flights, according to Bloomberg News.
The idea of buying offsets draws criticism from environmentalists who see it as a way to throw money at a problem that really requires a change in behavior. Kevin Anderson, a climate change researcher, has written that "offsetting is worse than doing nothing" because it allows people and companies to continue emitting greenhouse gasses without feeling the need to change their behavior, as CBS News reported.
However, others praise the company for acknowledging the detrimental impact of its carbon footprint, looking to address it, and to support sustainable fuels. Mark Jaccard, a longtime climate policy researcher and author of The Citizen's Guide to Climate Success told CBS News, "We need more airlines talking like this, and that is really nice."
JetBlue is working with consultants at EcoAct and South Pole, as well as Carbonfund.org, a nonprofit organization that's funded carbon-reduction and tree-planting projects across more than 40 states and 20 countries to help direct its offsets, as Bloomberg News reported.
"We have put an incredible amount of rigor behind making sure these are real, they're legitimate, they're auditable, they're traceable," Mendelsohn said, as Bloomberg News reported. "We selected a carbon offset partner with a long-term reputation that's survived the squalls of carbon offsetting ups and downs."