In Alaska's capital city, a new program invites visitors to lighten their carbon footprint while making a long-term local impact.
Renewable Juneau, a nonprofit that promotes clean energy through advocacy and educational programs, launched the Juneau Carbon Offset Fund in June.
On the fund's website, guests can quickly calculate the carbon impact of individual trip components, including jet travel, cruise travel, flightseeing tours and whale-watching outings.
Then, travelers can purchase designated offsets or make flat-rate contributions to account for those activities.
Money generated by the offsets supports a home heating replacement program benefiting income-eligible Juneau families. By trading oil-burning stoves for more efficient heat pumps, the Juneau Carbon Offset Fund helps cut long-term heating expenses for lower-income residents while also reducing the emissions produced by sourcing, refining and transporting traditional home heating fuel.
Renewable Juneau estimates that each heating system upgrade eliminates an average of 17,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per year, per home, and reduces annual home heating costs by up to 50%.
Organization board member Andy Romanoff said that many carbon offset programs fund international projects. Renewable Juneau, however, chose to create a campaign that keeps its offset funds local.
At the same time, the group raises money from people who have a personal connection to Juneau, including tourists who arrive in the city by plane or by ship. An estimated 1.3 million cruise passengers are expected to visit Juneau this season. Romanoff said that a $2 offset purchase from 1% of that audience would generate the funds to assist five Juneau families.
"The Juneau Carbon Offset Fund is unique in that we created both the funding program and the project that it supports. And, it's all directly tied to this bucket-list destination," Romanoff said. "People know that Alaska is an incredibly beautiful place with incredible wilderness activities. Now, they can balance out the carbon-intensive nature of many of those activities, while doing good for lower-income Alaska families."
The price of offsets available for purchase on the fund's website are shaped by several factors. An overall carbon offset cost for a boat tour, for example, takes into consideration the vessel's engine type, the engine's fuel efficiency, the length of a typical trip and the average number of passengers on each tour. Each preset category outlined on the website includes those calculations, so that guests can see how the offset purchase price was determined.
The Juneau Carbon Offset Fund suggests, for instance, that an individual who flies from the eastern U.S. to Seattle might cover his or her roundtrip carbon use with a $35.89 offset purchase. If that person then boards a cruise ship that carries 1,200 to 1,500 passengers to Alaska, the offset cost would be $28.26 for a seven-night cruise. The suggested offset cost for a 60-minute helicopter tour is $5.56; for a catamaran trip between Juneau and Tracy Arm, it's $2.85.
Travelers can also use the site's personal calculator to determine their average annual carbon use, and then purchase the offsets to match.
As the new program takes off, Romanoff and his colleagues hope that Juneau-area tour companies will update their own sustainability programs by adding an optional offset fee to their rates.
"We'd like to see the flightseeing, tour boat and whale-watching operators offer an opt-out fee that balances the carbon contribution of each guest's trip. Then, when customers buy a trip, they can include that in the final total, or check a box that says they don't want to participate," he said. "If the businesses partner with us, the money will come in and we'll be able to reach more families while reducing carbon emissions."
Travel Juneau President and CEO Liz Perry said her organization will soon promote Juneau Carbon Offset Fund options through its website and visitor centers. Her team will also market the program to meeting planners.
"A lot of organizations want to do something socially responsible when they come to Juneau, and this is fairly easy for them. It helps our lower-income residents and certainly provides benefits for the wider community, as well," Perry said. "This is a friendly and easy way to raise awareness and help cruise passengers, independent visitors and meeting attendees understand the impact that they have on any given town that they might visit."
Perry and Romanoff each emphasized that the Juneau Carbon Offset Fund isn't meant to make travelers feel guilty.
"We hope that families will do what they can to lower their own carbon footprint first, by heating their home efficiently, driving an electric vehicle and the like. Carbon offsetting comes after that," Romanoff said. "We want travelers to love their outings, excursions and experiences. Offsetting just provides a method to treat travel more responsibly and more sustainably."