A FAST-GROWING Westcountry airport has pledged to make its operations "carbon neutral" by next year – but officials were immediately accused of a "greenwash".
Cornwall Council intends to offset carbon emissions generated by terminal and airfield operations at Newquay airport by improving energy efficiency in Cornish homes and investing in renewable energy projects in developing countries.
The "carbon neutral" goal does not include offsetting emissions from the growing number of flights that take off and land at the Westcountry's second biggest airport. It handles around 350,000 passengers a year.
Environmentalists say air travel is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK.
Cornwall Council, which is working with the Eden Project on the scheme, said it originally planned to offset emissions in five years' time.
The council says Newquay is the first in the country to introduce an offsetting scheme of this nature.
Carolyn Rule, Cabinet member for the economy, said: "By making the airport's operations carbon neutral five years ahead of schedule we are demonstrating our intention to develop the airport sustainability and providing a model for other airports in the UK and Europe to follow."
The airport says it carefully monitors the carbon footprint of its operations and has a range of ongoing projects to reduce its carbon emissions. But it could not say how big its carbon footprint was or how much offsetting would cost.
Bob Egerton, Cornwall councillor for Probus, accused the council of "greenwash", the term for initiatives which are spun to look environmentally-friendly, and the project as a "dishonest venture".
He said the airport is already operating at a deficit that will require a subsidy from the Cornish council taxpayer of £5 million this year.
Coun Egerton said: "I fully support the idea of Cornwall Council funding the insulation of homes in the county. What is wrong is to suggest that this funding will be derived from the operation of the airport. The money will come from the taxpayer.
"Transferring the taxpayers' money via the airport is just a piece of deliberate greenwash. I am disappointed that good environmental organisations such as Eden and Community Energy Plus have allowed their names to be associated with such a dishonest venture."
As part of the programme, the airport will provide top-up funding for government grants so around 50 Cornish households will be insulated for free next year. The insulation scheme is managed by Community Energy Plus (CEP), which tackles fuel poverty and climate change.
The Eden Project's Climate Fund invests in certified carbon reduction projects around the world and education and other projects which "will contribute to a low carbon future for all of us". Eden works with consultants Climate Care, which advises organisations on offsetting.
Mark Beeley, Eden retail director, said: "We're really happy to be supporting Newquay Airport in this venture which goes way beyond what they have to do environmentally.
"If it is successful it could pave the way for many more local offsetting schemes, bringing direct benefits to many British households."
The offsetting plan has been devised with assistance from Low Carbon Cornwall, based at the newly formed, council-owned Cornwall Development Company.
Tim German, head of Low Carbon Cornwall, said: "This is a positive step towards the development of a carbon trading system to support sustainable investment in Cornwall's businesses and communities."