A Ride on the Hornblower Hybrid Ferry to Alcatraz

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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).

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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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Scott Cooney

Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is a serial eco-entrepreneur focused on making the world a better place for all its residents. Scott is the founder of CleanTechnica and was just smart enough to hire someone smarter than him to run it. He then started Pono Home, a service that greens homes, which has performed efficiency retrofits on more than 16,000 homes and small businesses, reducing carbon pollution by more than 27 million pounds a year and saving customers more than $6.3 million a year on their utilities. In a previous life, Scott was an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, and author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill) , and Green Living Ideas.

Scott Cooney has 150 posts and counting. See all posts by Scott Cooney