Felicity Long
Felicity Long

*logoAs Virgin Atlantic celebrates its 25th anniversary, it seems fitting to give a nod to founder Richard Branson, who has been ahead of the curve on the issue of sustainable travel.

But can an airline executive seriously claim to be an environmentalist? After all, how many companies put out more carbon emissions than an airline?

But in fact, Branson has repeatedly laid down the gauntlet over the past several years, challenging the airline industry to reduce its impact on the environment.

Branson takes a multipronged approach, from encouraging the development of fossil fuel alternatives to exploring the use of electric tugs to reduce taxi times on runways.

He has suggested that emission-heavy companies, including his own, pay a carbon tax and is even an ardent supporter of rail for short-haul travel.

That said, Branson is not suggesting we all do our sightseeing from a hot-air balloon, as he has been known to do.

After all, this is the company that created Virgin Galactic with an eye toward offering suborbital and, eventually, orbital space flights.

And in terms of the here and now, Virgin Atlantic just plopped down $2.1 billion for 10 new Airbus A330-300 aircraft, all fuel-efficient, to be delivered in 2011 and 2012.

"Despite the worst economic conditions in decades, we are focusing on sustainable growth in the years ahead using the most fuel-efficient aircraft possible," said Virgin Atlantic CEO Steve Ridgway. "Virgin Atlantic has a strong history of successfully investing during a downturn, and our Airbus order sends a strong signal that now is the time to invest, in order to help protect jobs and get the world's economy moving again."

In short, like him or not, Branson can be counted on to do the right thing.

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