Richard Shiarella’s first love was flying — rising above the clouds, soaring through the blue skies in amazing machines like Hawkers, Learjets and the like — and he racked up more than 3,000 hours of flight time in his pursuit of that passion. But the more time he spent as a private pilot, the more aware he became that his profession was tainting those blue skies with carbon emissions and heat. A Learjet 40 XR, for example, emits 8,904 pounds of CO2 per hour. A Hawker 400XP puts out 9,368 pounds. Even a commuter hop from Atlanta, Ga., to Newark, N.J., emits .592 tons.
“It’s difficult to be a pilot of private jets without feeling an obligation to do something about the carbon pollution that the jets release into the environment,” Shiarella says. “So I began to think of ways I might contribute to offsetting some of the pollution released by the planes I fly.”
So Ecostreamjet was born. The New Jersey-based business doesn’t have its own fleet of jets, instead serving as a private jet-travel brokerage service and booking paperless flights through approved operators. Then, through a partnership with energy offsetter Native Energy, a portion of the profits is used to purchase carbon credits to offset the emissions generated by each flight. With its founding in 2007, Ecostreamjet became the first U.S. private aviation company to offset all jet fuel used in its domestic and international flights.
“Some companies offer carbon calculators, and allow passengers to choose to purchase carbon offsets,” Shiarella says. “A passenger who books a flight and would book it regardless would have an option to click ‘yes’ and pay some additional money to offset that trip. They don’t have to do that when they fly with us. Because it’s our corporate mandate, it’s automatic.”
This business model seems to make sense to today’s moneyed, green-conscious flyers. Because while the best consumer-oriented solution to jet-plane pollution may be the curtailing of air travel, most of these flyers aren’t necessarily willing to cut back on plane trips. According to a study by the School of Geography, Archeology and Earth Resources at the University of Exeter Business School in the UK, “even the most bleeding-heart jetsetters aren’t willing to reduce their flying habits significantly, despite their supposedly impeccable green credentials,” says researcher Dr. Stewart Barr.
So Ecostreamjet focuses on reducing the impact of these flyers’ flights. In the early days after startup, this idea caught fire. Ecostreamjet was “on a roll,” Shiarella says, though he declined to share specific revenue and sales numbers. The company drew in corporate and individual customers from the Midwest, the Gulf Coast and the New York City metropolitan area.
Then came the economic crisis, and private-jet travel — seen by many as an expendable luxury — fell off. Business for the industry as a whole is down 60 percent.
The hope is that the company’s environmental focus will help Ecostreamjet stand out and will serve the business well when the economy turns around again. “The feedback we get from people is very excited and optimistic,” says Kim Canavan, Ecostreamjet’s vice president of operations and client relations.
The Ecostreamjet model is a more politically popular one now, given that the current climate is more eco-friendly than during previous presidential administrations. This is, of course, a positive for the environment but might throw a kink into Ecostreamjet’s business strategy. “It’s possible that, down the road, some of what we do may become mandatory for all brokers,” Shiarella says. “So we’re always brainstorming ways to stay competitive.”
One idea that he and Canavan are mulling over: A move into commercial air travel. They’d like to set up a service like Expedia or Orbitz that would allow travelers to book flights and offset their carbon emissions in the same computer click. “That would be our next move,” Shiarella says.
Eventually, he and Canavan would like for Ecostreamjet to help fund research and development of alternative fuels and clean energy technologies related to aviation.
Says Shiarella: “We want to do more.”
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