By Karen Rainbolt, Foghorn Managing Editor
The Yankee Freedom III has a distinct honor: it has been certified "green" by both the environmental protection agency and it has earned an environmental award from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).
Owned by Jerry and Carol Hill, Yankee Freedom III, built by Gladding-Hearn, Somerset, MA for Yankee Fleet, which operates in Key West, FL and Gloucester, MA, is a high speed, state-of-the-art, all aluminum catamaran recognized world wide for safety, performance and passenger comfort.
"We at Yankee Freedom III take great pride in the tremendous strides we’ve taken to comply with the standards set forth by ISO and EPA’s Performance Track. The products purchased by the Yankee Freedom III are either recycled or environmentally friendly," the Hills announce on their website. "We keep a watchful eye on how much non-recyclable waste is produced each year and consistently reduce the number as years go by. We promote the recycling of bottles, cans, paper and even our printer and toner cartridges. Green-tipped fluorescent light bulbs are a must. "
According to both Carol Hill and one of the ferry’s captains, Capt. Rick Gauron, no one at the organization set out to create a green ferry. "It just sort or happened," Gauron explained. "We did one thing, which led to another, and before we all knew it, we were going down a path toward making the vessel green."
Gauron learned through research that many of the practices that he and the crew were doing had the potential to harm the ecosystem, so he and the others made a concerted effort to correct and replace harmful practices with responsible ones.
"We reduced the amount of waste and we pulled off the boat every day when we started a recycling program," said Gauron. "But we quickly discovered that some of the products that we had onboard the vessel couldn’t be recycled, like styrofoam cups. So we stopped buying styrofoam and after looking around at the alternatives, bought only cups, plates, napkins, paper towels, and forks that are recyclable."
Hill related a similar concern about the chemicals that were used in and on the vessel that could find their way into the waterways. "We participate with the National Park Service in the protection of indigenous wildlife in our area. We didn’t want to add to the problem by unintentionally allowing harmful chemicals, such as bleach, to enter the water. So after a little research, we found products that will not harm the plant and marine life but will still clean the ferry."
Gauron said that working with supplies was a great help. "We are lucky that we have local supply stores that carry eco-friendly cleaning products."
Both admit though, that accreditation is a time-consuming process. "I wouldn’t say that it’s hard, but it does involve a lot of paperwork and documentation," Gauron said. "I’d definitely recommend it to other operators."
Hill said they got their first certification in 2003 and continue to provide documentation to prove that their operation is still green.
The EPA’s Nation Environmental Performance Track ("Performance Track") is a public-private partnership that encourages continuous environmental improvement through environmental managements systems, community outreach and measurable results.
According to the EPA, Performance Track is based on the premise that government should complement existing programs with new tools and strategies that not only protect people and the environment, but also capture opportunities for reducing cost and spurring technological innovation. EPA provides exclusive regulatory and administrative benefits to Performance Track members, places them at low priority for routine inspections and offers public recognition, networking opportunities and other benefits.
Among the criteria for membership in Performance Track is a commitment to challenging environmental goals and a dedication to continuous improvement. Members report annually on the progress toward their goals. Representatives from the EPA even toured the facility to see firsthand what practices have been implemented.
While the paperwork may be tedious, the program is reaping rewards for Yankee Freedom III. "People are much more aware of the environmental issues now," said Gauron. "I have heard people say that they chose our vessel over another one because they saw on our website that our ferry only uses recyclable products. In fact, one passenger complained that our plastic forks were not recyclable. I had to show him the box to assure him that they are in fact, recyclable. People are really starting to care."
Indeed, Hill reported that they keep a visible checklist for passengers to see all the earth friendly products and practices that the Yankee Freedom III does. Finally, she said that the crew and staff are genuinely proud to work in an organization that is so focused on conserving the environment.
Their commitment doesn’t just stop there. The Yankee Freedom III gives generously to Save the Turtles, Reef Relief and countless other environmental organizations. The Yankee Freedom III keeps its eye on the ecology of the Florida Keys and the Dry Tortugas islands so that future generations may enjoy them as much as we have.