Lindblad Expeditions has unveiled plans to become the first carbon-neutral company in the cruise business, raising the ante in the contest among some cruise lines to become the most environmentally progressive.

While many companies have taken steps to be carbon neutral, few of them are in the transportation business where fossil fuel combustion is a high-volume source of carbon dioxide emissions.

Sven Lindblad, CEO of Lindblad Expeditions, said the company's annual carbon emissions from all sources totals 50,000 metric tons, an amount he said is the equivalent to the exhaust of about 9,000 cars.

The company plan is to make investments in clean-energy projects that offset not only the fuel burned by its 13 ships, but also by carbon produced by all land excursions, employee travel and offices in New York and Seattle. 

"It's everything we can identify," Lindblad said in an interview. "We are going to offset the entire enterprise," he said.

Lindblad said his company worked with consulting firm South Pole, headquartered in Zurich, to identify six projects to invest in. The investments focus on renewable energy (both solar and wind) and reforestation in three countries visited by Lindblad-National Geographic ships: Mexico, Vietnam and Peru.

In three other countries -- India, Zimbabwe and Rwanda -- Lindblad will invest in cooking stoves that burn wood and charcoal more efficiently, leading to a reduction in carbon emissions.

The company did not disclose the size of the investment required to offset the 50,000 metric tons it produces. But Lindblad said the investment would be made so that the offset will be retroactive to Jan 1, 2019.

Asked if Lindblad-National Geographic fares would rise as a result of the investment, Lindblad conceded they could, but added, "If we raise our prices too much, it would hurt us, so we're going to be very careful about that."

"Everything we do has a cost attached to it," Lindblad said, but he said some costs are necessary. "Nobody is going to prosper in a degraded world," he said.

While Lindblad is the first to declare carbon neutrality, other cruise lines have taken similar steps on a smaller scale, most prominently Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., which invested in a 200-megawatt wind farm in Kansas operated by Southern Power Co. intended to offset 12% of its carbon emissions.

Like Lindblad, RCCL did not disclose the cost of the investment.

Other cruise lines, such as Hurtigruten, are equipping new ships with large battery racks that can be employed to reduce peak loads on engines, saving fuel that would otherwise produce emissions.

Bio-diesel fuel and shore power are other cruise line initiatives that hold down carbon release.

Some carbon-offset programs have drawn criticism for being ineffective, or for exaggerated claims. Others are a work in progress. 

For example, a 2016 study published in an environmental journal found that more efficient cooking stoves provided to 21,000 families in India made no "statistically significant difference in wood use." 

The stoves are designed to be 67% more efficient than traditional ones. But the study found 40% of Indian women used them alongside traditional stoves rather than as a substitute for them.

Lindblad vice president of conservation, education and sustainability Amy Berquist said that South Pole requires independent third-party verification and regular monitoring of all projects in their portfolio to ensure they deliver the stated impacts and adhere to the highest international standards. 

She said South Pole ensures emission reductions are accurately measured and verified to deliver "transparent annual public reporting." 

In addition to being carbon neutral, Lindblad in the next month or so will introduce a carbon calculator on its website that passengers flying to meet their cruise can use to estimate how much carbon dioxide their airline flight will produce, and what it would cost to offset.

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