Virgin America offers consumer carbon offsets

But will already cash-strapped consumers take the opportunity to donate to clean-air projects?

Virgin America

Virgin America announced Thursday it will offer customers the option to pay a voluntary fee when booking their ticket, which will go toward supporting carbon offset projects.

The U.S. domestic airline based in California, of which Richard Branson's Virgin Group is a minority share investor, has partnered with Carbonfund.org on the effort.

Through Carbonfund.org, the money Virgin America collects from consumers will be directed toward projects sanctioned by the Environmental Defense Fund's (EDF) official CarbonOffsetList.org.

One of the projects from that list that Virgin America chose to support, for example, is IdleAire.

IdleAire lets truckers connect their cabins to electricity sources at rest stops, rather than keep their engines idling to keep their power on. The process saves each trucker about a gallon of diesel per hour, according to Virgin America.

While IdleAire sounds like a practical project, it's questionable whether consumers will go for it.

Many other airlines have tried offering carbon offsets with lackluster results. Virgin Atlantic, admitting its online option wasn't getting many takers, announced last year it would try guilt by offering an offset in the air alongside the drinks.

Consumers could get nitpicky about each individual project. Donating to IdleAire sounds fine, but where is that electricity the truckers' tap into coming from? Is the local electricity being used generated from a renewable resource or coal?

There's also the world food shortage, and many poverty and disease-fighting nonprofits struggling from a lack of available charity due to the tough economy. Consumers might place environmental causes at the bottom of their charity list if they themselves are limited to what they can give this year.

Then, again, it's been argued that some water and food shortages can be directly linked to environmental changes in those problem areas. Will consumers feel there's a long view to be seen and donate toward offsetting pollution with that hope of improving things down the road?

Perhaps more promising is the second tact Virgin American plans to take.

While it's not in place yet, the airline plans to offer an onboard option. Through the touch-screen televisions on their flights, consumers will have a second chance to donate once their flight is already in the air.

Will a view of the clouds (and the occasional smog ruining skyline views) shame the guilty into donating? I'm just not sure.

After all, with Virgin America's new Gogo in-flight Wi-Fi service, consumers could just as easily donate online to another cause if they're feeling charitable while airborne.

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