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Published on July 20th, 2009 | by Scott Cooney

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A Ride on the Hornblower Hybrid Ferry to Alcatraz

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July 20th, 2009 by  

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Ariel Schwartz covered the inauguration of the first hybrid powered ferry boat, of Alcatraz Cruises, Inc., that would bring tourists to Alcatraz and Angel Island, back in December of 2008, with the potential concern that the boat was simply a “publicity stunt”, unless “Alcatraz Cruises takes the time to educate the school groups and visitors from around the world that take trips to Alcatraz every day.”  One reader’s comment under her original blog post asked whether it was inefficient to use wind energy to create electricity, when you could simply use it to power the darn boat in the first place (I’m paraphrasing).

It’s a good question, and one that is answered by Alcatraz Cruises on the boat itself, which cuts to Schwartz’s original concern.  Indeed, there is ample environmental education on the ferry itself, as I found out on a recent trip to the islands aboard the ferry (which, by the way, I highly recommend.  As residents of San Francisco, we often ignore the incredible array of tourist attractions in our own backyard, but this one is certainly worthy of its pricetag, which is modest and affordable).

Visitors are informed on a flat screen display about the hybrid system, detailing both the wind generators and the solar panels, and how they contribute to the ferry’s performance.  One announcement over the PA also made mention of the efficiency gains of the system, though it was brief, and contained several other announcements.  There were also eco-friendly materials throughout the ferry.  The countertop of the on-board cafe was Vetrazzo, made locally in Richmond, CA, of recycled glass.  There was a sign onboard that detailed some of the other environmentally conscious decisions made when retrofitting the ferry from its previous life as a fishing vessel, including a sign made partially from bamboo fibers.

There are opportunities to do more.  It could certainly be argued that this may not be the place for it, and that Alcatraz Cruises has done their due diligence in this aspect, but just in the interest of helping them continue their evolution as a leader in sustainability, there are a few points they could consider.  Trash, for example, is all inclusive and not marked, giving passengers the impression that their plastic bottles and compostable waste are headed for a landfill (it’s apparently not true–I asked an employee who informed me that they sort the waste afterwards).

But the impression and directive for personal responsibility it gives are not good ones.  Foodwise, there were a variety of organic options on the menu, but not much for vegetarians, so the menu was a mixed bag in terms of sustainability, and the company could certainly do more in this regard, what with the Bay Area’s remarkable access to local, organic, and whole foods.

As Alcatraz itself was closed due to high maintenance costs, it would give the company a terrific platform to discuss the costs of shipping food (and water) over great distances and to focus their menu on a lot of locally produced goods.  But perhaps the most interesting opportunity, and I confess ignorance on the practicality of this measure, would be to turn the diesel engines of the ferry off entirely and allow passengers to witness the capabilities of the hybrid engine and solar/wind combo for lighting and propulsion.

Or perhaps the captain could use the PA to discuss the hybrid system with passengers (captive audience) in a focused announcement about the company’s commitment to a cleaner world.  Just this moment of focused attention may help bring sustainability to top of mind for some of the 1.5 million annual visitors to Alcatraz Island.

Scott Cooney is the author of Build a Green Small Business (McGraw-Hill), and looks forward to the day when the green economy will simply be viewed as…the economy.

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About the Author

Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, green business startup coach, author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and developer of the sustainability board game GBO Hawai'i. Scott has started, grown and sold two mission-driven businesses, failed miserably at a third, and is currently in his fourth. Scott's current company has three divisions: a sustainability blog network that includes the world's biggest clean energy website and reached over 5 million readers in December 2013 alone; Pono Home, a turnkey and franchiseable green home consulting service that won entrance into the clean tech incubator known as Energy Excelerator; and Cost of Solar, a solar lead generation service to connect interested homeowners and solar contractors. In his spare time, Scott surfs, plays ultimate frisbee and enjoys a good, long bike ride. Find Scott on



  • http://respectourplanet.com Kate Krueger

    Scott,

    Thank you for your piece on our boat, the Hornblower Hybrid. I’m glad you had the opportunity to enjoy the boat in action. You certainly don’t have to be an Environmentalist to appreciate the wonder and excitement of the experience as the Hybrid pulls away from the dock in complete silence, moved by 100% electric battery power.

    One of our highest priorities at Alcatraz Cruises is to promote environmental education and real dialogue on sustainability, so we are grateful for all the discussion and feedback the Hybrid draws. Our corporate outreach programs garner similar interest. Our Environmental Days Program invites local green businesses to our landing to showcase their eco-friendly products and promote eco-conscious choices to our 4,800 guests a day. We are also pleased to offer Educational Bay Cruises, an environmental education program aboard the Hornblower Hybrid that serves to educate youth about our local ecosystems, green technology and environmental stewardship.

    In addition to our Environmental Awareness campaigns, Alcatraz Cruises is deeply committed to reducing our company’s environmental footprint. With the great leadership, hard work, skill and ingenuity of the Alcatraz Cruises Team– Directors, Management and our Crew– our company has a lot to be proud of. We track our environmental footprint closely to identify areas of greatest impact as well as opportunities for improvement. Engine upgrades and minor adjustments to our schedule reduced our fleet’s fuel consumption by 230,000 gallons. Our Green Purchasing Guidelines mean we give preference to local, organic, and eco-conscious vendors. The Crew Member you spoke with was correct about our waste management practices: We separate all waste on the landing to ensure responsible disposal. Thanks to the hard work of our Recycling Team, we recently celebrated a new victory…Our team recycled and composted 74% of all our waste on the landing, diverting 434,438 lbs from landfills!

    Again, thank you for your comments. We always welcome feedback and you can rest assured we will use it moving forward in our process of continual improvement. We invite everyone to join us and continue the conversation at http://respectourplanet.com , Hornblower’s corporate homepage for Environmental Responsibility. Also, visit our Hybrid Blog to follow the construction of our next Hybrid vessel, a Hydrogen Fuel Cell boat that will ferry visitors to the Statue of Liberty in Spring 2010; ask our engineers questions and learn more about hybrid technology at HYPERLINK “http://hybridferry.blogspot.com/” http://hybridferry.blogspot.com/.

    Cheers!

    Kate Krueger

    Respect Our Planet & Environmental Coordinator

    We’re on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/respectplanet

    We tweet! http://www.twitter.com/respectplanet

  • http://respectourplanet.com Kate Krueger

    Scott,

    Thank you for your piece on our boat, the Hornblower Hybrid. I’m glad you had the opportunity to enjoy the boat in action. You certainly don’t have to be an Environmentalist to appreciate the wonder and excitement of the experience as the Hybrid pulls away from the dock in complete silence, moved by 100% electric battery power.

    One of our highest priorities at Alcatraz Cruises is to promote environmental education and real dialogue on sustainability, so we are grateful for all the discussion and feedback the Hybrid draws. Our corporate outreach programs garner similar interest. Our Environmental Days Program invites local green businesses to our landing to showcase their eco-friendly products and promote eco-conscious choices to our 4,800 guests a day. We are also pleased to offer Educational Bay Cruises, an environmental education program aboard the Hornblower Hybrid that serves to educate youth about our local ecosystems, green technology and environmental stewardship.

    In addition to our Environmental Awareness campaigns, Alcatraz Cruises is deeply committed to reducing our company’s environmental footprint. With the great leadership, hard work, skill and ingenuity of the Alcatraz Cruises Team– Directors, Management and our Crew– our company has a lot to be proud of. We track our environmental footprint closely to identify areas of greatest impact as well as opportunities for improvement. Engine upgrades and minor adjustments to our schedule reduced our fleet’s fuel consumption by 230,000 gallons. Our Green Purchasing Guidelines mean we give preference to local, organic, and eco-conscious vendors. The Crew Member you spoke with was correct about our waste management practices: We separate all waste on the landing to ensure responsible disposal. Thanks to the hard work of our Recycling Team, we recently celebrated a new victory…Our team recycled and composted 74% of all our waste on the landing, diverting 434,438 lbs from landfills!

    Again, thank you for your comments. We always welcome feedback and you can rest assured we will use it moving forward in our process of continual improvement. We invite everyone to join us and continue the conversation at http://respectourplanet.com , Hornblower’s corporate homepage for Environmental Responsibility. Also, visit our Hybrid Blog to follow the construction of our next Hybrid vessel, a Hydrogen Fuel Cell boat that will ferry visitors to the Statue of Liberty in Spring 2010; ask our engineers questions and learn more about hybrid technology at HYPERLINK “http://hybridferry.blogspot.com/” http://hybridferry.blogspot.com/.

    Cheers!

    Kate Krueger

    Respect Our Planet & Environmental Coordinator

    We’re on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/respectplanet

    We tweet! http://www.twitter.com/respectplanet

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