For car rental companies, operating sustainably isn’t just about protecting the environment. It’s about ensuring the future of the industry for the long term. That was the message delivered today by Lee Broughton, head of corporate sustainability for Enterprise Holdings and one of the keynote speakers at the 2011 Car Rental Show, an annual conference sponsored by Auto Rental News magazine and the American Car Rental Association.
In his remarks, Broughton encouraged car rental companies to focus on the “triple bottom line”—economic, social and environmental sustainability—while also challenging the industry to start offering more fuel-efficient rental options as well as opportunities to offset carbon emissions associated with rentals. “The car rental industry puts 1.6 million vehicles on the road in this country, from virtually every airport and in nearly every community. This is the marketplace. And this is where we must make the greatest impact,” he noted.
Awareness, Action, Communication
Broughton likewise urged car rental companies of all sizes to raise their level of awareness, action, and communication. For example, in addition to thousands of hybrids and electric vehicles, approximately 35 percent of Enterprise Holdings’ vehicles average a highway fuel efficiency rating of 32 mpg or better. Furthermore, 55 percent of the company’s vehicles average at least 28 mpg.
“I realize that most car rental companies do not have this kind of scale,” he conceded. “But look at it this way. More than half of our entire fleet includes fuel efficient vehicles. That’s a target that can be achieved industry wide to demonstrate our industry’s commitment to improving fuel efficiency.”
Carbon offset programs also can demonstrate the industry’s commitment to improving our climate and air quality by reducing CO2 emissions. In fact, Enterprise Holdings works with its partner TerraPass to offer rental car customers the option of paying $1.25 to offset the CO2 emissions associated with the average rental, and its charitable foundation matches these contributions dollar-for-dollar up to one million dollars per year. In addition, Enterprise Holdings has begun documenting its environmental stewardship and long-term commitment to the sustainability of its business on its www.DrivingFutures.com website.
“So let’s work together,” he concluded, “to create a more open, involved, and assertive voice for our industry to show everyone—from our customers to the entire travel industry to government agencies and legislators—that the car rental industry is involved and engaged for the long term. That’s how we can strengthen the performance of our own individual businesses… and ensure a viable and sustainable future for our industry.”
Leading the Technology Transition
Broughton also pointed to the rise of electric vehicles as another major opportunity for car rental companies to take the lead in advancing sustainable transportation solutions throughout the U.S.
“As plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles begin to gain a foothold in the American marketplace, a possible obstacle is building awareness, so that consumers understand and accept the advances being made in this new technology,” he said. “That’s where the car rental industry can play a key role. We are a hugely significant part of the value chain for bringing alternative-fueled vehicles to the mass market. The service we provide offers a unique way for manufacturers to expose consumers to these cars, while allowing the car rental industry to demonstrate our willingness to help find the right solution to the alternative-power issue.”
For example, Enterprise Holdings and its portfolio of car rental brands, which includes Alamo Rent A Car and National Car Rental as well as its flagship Enterprise Rent-A-Car brand, are in a unique position to help influence sustainability and other public policy issues affecting the car rental industry. That is because the company—with 6,000 neighborhood and airport offices located within 15 miles of 90 percent of the U.S. population—offers car rental and car sharing customers a convenient way to experience electric vehicles and other emerging technologies, right where they live and work.
Broughton noted that in January of this year Enterprise took the next step in this process by becoming the first car rental company to offer the Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicle for daily and weekly rentals. The company has begun to take delivery on 500 Nissan LEAFs and other electric vehicles as they become available from the manufacturers and Enterprise expands its charging infrastructure to support them.
“We’re using our fleet and branches serve as a sort of ‘petri dish’ to present these new alternatives and determine their feasibility in the marketplace,” he said. “As car rental companies embrace new, clean fuel and engine alternatives like electric vehicles—and in effect, test-market them in this way—our entire industry stands to benefit. That’s because, if our efforts help advance the viability of the technology, then we help open the door to the mass market more quickly.”
A Call to Action
Broughton reminded listeners that while car rental providers have an important role to play, the implications of doing business sustainably reach well beyond the car rental or travel industries. He pointed to President Obama’s recent State of the Union speech, with its call for the nation to “break our dependence on oil with biofuels and become the first country to have one million electric vehicles on the road by the year 2015.”
As a result, Broughton believes it is imperative for the car rental industry to be part of the solution and the nation’s collective effort. “Let’s make the American Car Rental Association the hub of our industry’s sustainability efforts, as a common resource where we can share useful sustainability ideas, and as a way to work together to build a common platform for responsible business practices,” he stated.
Broughton directed his call to action to the entire car rental industry, regardless of whether vehicles are being rented for an hour, a day, a week or longer. Today, as Auto Rental News magazine recently documented in its 2011 Fact Book, the U.S. car rental industry continues to evolve and now includes automated local car rental options (also known as car sharing) along with traditional airport and neighborhood services.
With annual revenues of $12.6 billion and more than 68,000 employees, Enterprise Holdings owns and operates, through its regional subsidiaries, more than 1 million cars and trucks, making it the largest car rental company in the world measured by revenue, employees and fleet. Broughton stressed that his company and the rest of the industry need to “maintain the balance between the environment and the social and economic needs of our world, realizing that how we impact the people and communities we touch, and how we impact the planet and resources we use, are just as important to our long-term success as our financial performance.”
In conclusion, Broughton underscored the importance of working together. “Sustainability is a disciplined business practice that’s as good for our respective companies as it is for society at large. It adds to the consumer’s criteria for choosing our brand—and that means renting more cars,” he said. “And it’s one more way that all of us can work together, with purpose, to make a real economic, social and environmental difference.”