Last week we celebrated the one-year anniversary of the launch of the Icelandair Group's carbon calculator, as part of our carbon offset option for passengers. And what better way to celebrate than with the planting of more than 10,000 trees!
Right now, travel looks very different to the way it did 12 months ago, but the need to reduce the environmental impact of air travel is still an essential goal for Icelandair Group. We take our responsibility towards the environment seriously: you can read about our policies and initiatives online.
In September 2019, Icelandair and Air Iceland Connect gave passengers the tools to offset the carbon footprint of their air travel. Our carbon calculator makes it easy to calculate the emissions associated with a flight and the contribution necessary to offset travel.
The carbon offset program was devised in co-operation with Klappir Green Solutions (for the data-driven systems) and Kolviður (known in English as Kolvidur - Iceland Carbon Fund), and contributions are used to cultivate forests in Iceland.
2019: Contributions from passengers in the 3 months from the carbon calculator's launch until the end of 2019 amounted to approximately 5,500 trees.
2020: The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had a dramatic effect on travel, and there has been a significant reduction in the number of people flying. From January to August 2020, passenger contributions using our carbon calculator amounted to approximately 5,100 trees. Emissions that have been offset measure around 500tCO2e, or tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.
Einar, supervisor of the volunteers at Úlfljótsvatn, with the seedlings for planting.
The planting of trees is done by Kolviður from May throughout October. On a breezy day in late August, some staff from Icelandair visited the area around lake Úlfljótsvatn, about an hour's drive east of Reykjavík, to see the planting in action.
The land here is co-owned by the Icelandic Forestry Association together with the Icelandic Boy and Girl Scout Association and the Reykjavík Scouting Union. A small group of Erasmus program volunteers together with local employees and contractors have the fun task of planting pine seedlings in the scenic lakeside heathland. Over 100 hectares in this area will have been planted in the 2020 season. You need patience for trees to mature in the Icelandic climate, but the goal is changing the ecosystem for the better.
Planting in the heathland by Úlfljótsvatn.
The efficacy of the program is striking – software monitors the whole process and keeps track of the number and the location of the plants. A team of specialists carefully chooses the plant species and the type of fertilizers best suited to the location. Not all plants survive the process and additional seedlings are planted to replace those that do not survive. The basic criterion is to have 2500 living plants per one hectare of land, which then have up to 60 years to sequester the estimated amount of CO2.
Each member of the planting team uses an app to record their efforts, but the high-tech solutions can't do the most important task. Everyone's favorite tool is the clever Finnish-designed pottiputki machine, which saves backs and uses foot-power to perform the actual planting.
Planting made easier by the foot-powered pottiputki.
Spot the small seedling, planted in a semi-sheltered spot.
Equipped and ready for planting (wearing an insect net is a good idea).
Trees and Iceland have a mixed history. It's a cheesy joke but often told to tourists: What should you do if you find yourself lost in an Icelandic forest? Answer: Stand up.
The joke perpetuates the myth that there are no trees in Iceland (there are – forests of them, in fact, with more to come!).
When Iceland was first settled, some 1100 years ago, birch forest and woodland covered between 25% and 40% of the country. The first centuries of settlement were marked by deforestation – Vikings needed timber for boats, houses and fuel (for heating and cooking), after all, and land was cleared for farming and grazing of livestock.
Deforestation continued over several centuries, and it's estimated that in 1950, the country had less than 1% cover of birch woodland. Soil erosion exacerbated any efforts to replant. In the mid-20th century, the focus switched to afforestation, the best means to reclaim and rehabilitate the eroded and degraded land.
Read an excellent summary of local forests (in English) on the website of Skógræktin, the Icelandic Forest Service.
Set to become a forest by the lake, one day – thanks, in part, to contributions from Icelandair passengers.
All photos by Hörður Ásbjörnsson.