Raising the bar
Natural Habitat Adventures to offset air travel emissions for all clients
by Will Brendza
hen Court Whelan isn’t in the process. The company has been leading zero-waste advenoffering sustainable travel adventures tures through Yellowstone, since 1985, but now, if you travel with watching polar bears from Natural Habitat Adventures to Africa, a rover in the Canadian Asia or even up into the Arctic, you Arctic, or taking teachers and curious can do so with a carbon-clean-coninsect aficionados down to Mexico to science, knowing that your trip is netwatch the migration of some 400 mil- zero from start to finish. lion monarch butterflies, he spends his “It’s not cheap and it’s not easy, days counting carbon emissions by the but it’s absolutely the right way to do pound. it,” Whelan says. As the director of sustainability In 2017 Natural Habitat and conservation travel for a world Adventures became the world’s first leader in sustainable travel, Natural net-zero travel company, offsetting all Habitat Adventures, Whelan is conof its emissions from both field and stantly balancing tons of carbon emitoffice operations. With this new ted against tons of car- JJ HUCKIN bon sequestered. “I do a lot of calculations for vehicle miles per gallon,” Whelan says. If a group is traveling by car, he’s keeping track of the distance traveled and gasoline burned. If they need a boat he’ll talk with the captain or supply company to see how much diesel is burned per nautical mile. And, of course, NATURAL he’s always thinking HABITAT about air travel. “At announcement, Whelan says, the Adventures is a the end the day the company is hoping to inspire othleader in sustainable travel, and it flights are the biggest ers in the travel industry to step just upped the factor,” he says. up, too. ante. One single air mile “What we’re really hoping to produces about 53 do is influence the influencers, pounds of carbon dioxide, according spread information throughout the to Blue Sky Model, an online open industry and raise the bar,” Whelan source estimate of carbon dioxide says. “If they want to be competitive in emissions. It’s an ominous figure when this marketplace, truly in a business you consider that more than 87,000 sense they’re going to have to do what flights crisscross this country every we do and that’s what we feel really day. According to carbonbrief.org, warm and fuzzy about.” worldwide tourism accounts for 8 perTo accomplish this carbon councent of global greenhouse gas emisterbalancing, Natural Habitat sions. Adventures is investing carbon credits That’s why the Boulder-based in three separate sustainability projects Natural Habitat Adventures recently scattered around the globe, all in placannounced a promise to offset all cares where the company hosts explorabon emissions produced by their clition programs. ents’ air travels, saving approximately In India, it’s investing in the 450 million pounds of CO2 annually Mytrah Wind Power project, which BOULDER COUNTY’S INDEPENDENT VOICE
will provide wind energy for three separate southern Indian states, create 150 jobs, bring clean water to 12,000 people via water plants and is annually projected to reduce carbon emissions by 479,448 metric tons. In Zimbabwe, it’s investing in a project called Kariba REDD+ Forest Protection, which is working to prevent deforestation and land degradation, establishing numerous health clinics in the region and providing 60,250 people with clean drinking water. Then in Rwanda, Natural Habitat is distributing 10,800 efficient cookstoves to communities throughout the region, weaning villagers off of charcoal and firewood cookstoves to improve air quality and prevent deforestation. “It’s taken a lot of connecting the dots to find the right projects,” Whelan says. Natural Habitat is also helping to install hydroponic gardens in the Arctic so people have access to fresh greens in one of the most merciless environments on Earth. It’s sponsoring the re-introduction of jaguars and sun bears in Brazil and Borneo, respectively. And, this July, it’s offering the first ever zero-waste adventure trip in Yellowstone. “We’ll be recycling, reusing, reducing, composting, upcycling and terracycling everything,” says Whelan, who not only designed the trip, but will also be the expedition leader. With these and other initiatives, Natural Habitat is pushing environmental responsibility to a new level in the travel industry, challenging competitors, peers and fellow tour agencies to up their game; to acknowledge their role in climate change and to do something to mitigate it. “It’s not a wildly crazy cost to offset carbon emissions,” Whelan says. “Really, it’s just an investment in our world.” MAY 9, 2019
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