How Green Can Car Rentals Be?

The amount of Americans who own cars is staggering. Up to 95% of Americans own vehicles, there are on average 2.28 vehicles per household, and American cars burn more fuel than the cars in any other nation. While public transportation options are getting better, Americans are still completely reliable on personal cars for both business and personal needs.

Even when American travellers leave their own vehicles behind their doors, they are reliant on cars for their vacations or business trips, and there are a number of rental car companies that cater to those needs. Enterprise Rent-A-Car and its subsidiaries, National and Alamo, are consistently ranked as some of the best companies, and they’re competing with a number of others – Hertz, Avis, Dollar, Thrifty. Enterprise is also the largest of the car rental companies, with locations within 10 miles of 90% of the population and a fleet consisting of more than one million vehicles.

While green initiatives catch on and more Americans began trying to trade out their personal vehicles for more sustainable modes of transportation, many car rental companies are still generating profits. In 2010, Enterprise brought in more than $12.6 billion; Hertz made more than $7.5 billion. With their profits growing so much, it’s hard to imagine what rental car companies could be doing to positively impact the environment – but many of them claim to be doing their part.

Enterprise recently implemented a plan, costing $150 million and spanning the next five years, to make many of their locations more environmentally friendly. They’ll improve over 1000 locations with green roofs (some using solar panels), a car wash water recycling program, and the first LEED Silver-certified rental location. They expect that this will cut water and energy costs by up to 35%. Hertz undertook similar updates to their locations in 2008, and focused on immediate fixes like lighting and HVAC systems at their locations. In addition, a number of rental car companies are starting to include hybrids and electric vehicles in their fleets, which consumers can rent if they want to be more environmentally friendly.

But is it enough? Avis claims that the average age of cars in their fleet is only 5 months, and Enterprise typically turns its vehicles over to the sales fleet before they hit 40,000 miles. In addition to the pollution caused by rental cars that are in use, rental car companies frequently purchase a huge amount of new inventory – and more cars being built certainly leads to more environmental impact from car manufacturers.

In general, as much as rental companies try to be more environmentally friendly, they are still essentially selling a product that’s unsustainable, and Americans need to keep sustainability in mind for travel as much as for the daily grind.

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