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Visitors bureau launches carbon offset program

Published: 05/06/2009

Green-minded visitors, whatever their political hue, can now fly or drive to Salt Lake City without worrying about their carbon footprints.

The Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau has started a carbon offset program on its Web site,, for travelers to gauge the number of tons of carbon dioxide that will get belched into the atmosphere on their trips to and from Salt Lake City.

The site asks if the traveler wants to offset the CO2 emissions by purchasing tree seedlings that its partner, TreeUtah, will plant in the Salt Lake Valley. The month-old effort is in conjunction with Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon's One Million Trees for

Orange flags mark where trees have been planted at the Jordan River ecological restoration site near 11200 South. The Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau has launched a carbon offset program on its Web site. Travelers to the city can estimate their carbon footprint, and then purchase tree seedlings to offset the impact of their trip on the environment. (Steve Griffin / The Salt Lake Tribune)

One Million People program aimed at planting a million trees by 2017.

Over its life, each $5 seedling purchased by a conventioneer or tourist should grow into a tree that scrubs a half-ton of carbon dioxide from the air. Trees take in CO2 through their leaves and convert the greenhouse gas to oxygen and water vapor.

"It's one of those things where oftentimes in our industry we are sort of led there by our clients," said Scott Beck, president and CEO of the convention and visitors bureau.

In this case, the client was the Outdoor Retailer show staged twice a year in Salt Lake City by Nielsen Business Media and sponsored by the Outdoor Retailers Association. The show has offered a carbon-neutral travel program for several years.

"They started theirs quite a while ago. (Ours) was launched through discussions about how can we localize it here where their (Outdoor Retailer) convention is held," Beck said.

The true test will be on whether anyone buys seedlings. Beck said the Universal Unitarian Church, which will stage its annual general assembly in Salt Lake City next month, is promoting the carbon offset program on its Web site. So is Meetings Professionals International. Its convention will be in Utah in July.

Convention and visitors bureaus in the West are increasingly embracing green programs as good business. In Portland, the Oregon Convention Center is participating in a program to offset natural gas consumption in its million-square-foot building by investing in projects in other parts of the state that reduce greenhouse emissions.

"We are auditing this year how much traveling our staff does, and we are going to try a pilot (carbon offset) program first to see how that would work to offset our emissions," spokeswoman Veronique Meunier said.

The Washington State Convention and Trade Center provides convention clients compostable water bottles, drinking cups and coffee cups, as well as bamboo plates and birch or bamboo cutlery.

Denver's Visitor and Convention Bureau touts the region as one of the premier places in the nation for a green learning vacation. On the bureau's Web site are links to the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder and the National Energy Renewal Laboratory in Golden.

"There is more of an emphasis on resources, so for the visitors that's their interest," said Teresa Stephenson, spokeswoman for the Western Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus.

The quantities of carbon released to the atmosphere by tourists and conventioneers traveling to Utah can be staggering. Someone driving an SUV 1,600 miles to and from Salt Lake City will put a ton of CO2 into the air, according to the bureau's carbon footprint calculator. A round trip flight of 2,000 miles will emit a half-ton of the greenhouse gas per passenger.

To practice what it preaches, the bureau started the program with itself. Bureau officials estimated the staff will travel 1 million miles this year and emit 212 tons of carbon emissions. The bureau then bought 424 seedlings to offset its impact on the environment.