Enterprise's Green Benefits

When Andrew C. Taylor, CEO of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, sent out an email recently to his 75,000 employees describing a pledge to plant 50 million trees, the email replies were “astounding,” he says. “Many were from employees with children, saying ‘thank you for doing this for our children.’”

At a pace of one million trees planted per year, the program will cost Enterprise about $1 million annually. For another $1 million per year, the rental car company is also matching carbon offsets purchased customers for their rentals. The payoff for these programs? Huge, Taylor believes. “We will do well and get a competitive advantage by doing good,” he says. “We will attract better people [to work at the company] and the business will grow faster.”

It’s fashionable these days to dismiss companies’ environmental initiatives as ‘greenwashing.’ But Enterprise is just the latest example of how companies believe they are getting real benefits from those efforts. Some of these benefits add directly to the bottom line directly. Enterprise’s plans to make its corporate headquarters in St. Louis, plus thousands of branches, more energy efficient will save money. But there are other, less tangible, benefits. Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott, for instance, has said that the retail giant’s move into ‘green’ measures like energy efficiency has been worth it simply because of the boost it has given employee morale. Similarly, Enterprise’s Taylor figures that tree planting and carbon offsets will make it easier to recruit and hire the best new employees. “We’re not being a do-gooder,” he says. “We’ve figured out that most businesses really have to understand the societal impact of what they do, and have a relationship with the community.”

Are there other good examples like this out there?