LAS VEGAS -Lee Broughton, head of corporate sustainability for Enterprise Holdings and one of the keynote speakers at the 2011 Car Rental Show in Las Vegas, 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," Broughton said. "This is the marketplace. And this is where we must make the greatest impact."
Broughton also urged car rental companies to raise their level of awareness, action, and communication. "More than half of our entire fleet includes fuel efficient vehicles," he said. "That's a target that can be achieved industry wide to demonstrate our industry's commitment to improving fuel efficiency."
In addition to a call for the industry work together, 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."
Broughton noted that in January of this year, Enterprise became 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."
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."
"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 said.
Broughton also 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."
Lastly, Broughton reiterated 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."