Over the years the car hire industry has had many critics for having a dreadful impact on the environment. Environmental sympathisers have put forward the argument that car hire is simply a means for people to carry on selfishly travelling alone when their time and money could be spent on public transport, a far more ecologically sound method of travel. Public transport creates better fuel economy per passenger than a car and subsequently the argument centres on the fact that your carbon footprint will be larger if you travel in your own car or a vehicle from a hire company. It is not always the case that public transport is an option however, in predominantly isolated rural regions, sometimes the traveller is forced to hire a car; there are however methods which the industry can employ to make their environmental impact less.
In the past the car hire industry has purported the rather lame argument that if you use hire cars rather than owning one the instances of using a car will be lessened and hence less damage will be caused to the environment. Car ownership in the current world climate of high fuel costs is still surprisingly growing; it may be the case in the future that many of us will have to hire a car rather than own one, simply due to the exorbitant cost of fuel. Seemingly the industry has realised this and is now pursuing strategies that will make their fleets and business operations less environmentally harmful, an added bonus for hire companies is the new found ecological guilt present in consumer's mind today.
One of the most forward thinking strategies is to create hire fleets with larger numbers of 'green' cars. This does not mean they will be painted green but instead means that they will be less harmful, with fewer emissions and greater fuel efficiency. Hybrid cars are at the top of the list as a stop gap measure to make the car hire industry friendlier to the environment. There is a firm in Sweden, a remarkably ecologically aware country, which has incorporated hybrid cars into their fleet wholeheartedly. While the Swedes have a well developed sense of environmental fairness due to the stunning surroundings, unfortunately the rest of the world has not yet developed this need for greener options wholesale.
Carbon emissions that give travellers an idea of their own carbon footprint have also become a popular method of making the customer more ecologically aware. Some car hire companies have published tables of their entire fleet's emissions; by giving the customer a black and white choice of a greener car it is hoped that their own guilt for the environment will lead them to make the friendlier choice. This subversive way of convincing customers to go green is advisable as rather than ramming it down their throats it allows the customer to make up their own mind.
As a result of this carbon publishing some car hire companies have realised the importance of carbon offsetting. This put simply is an initiative in some companies where every pound of carbon that is emitted either by one of their cars or by the company itself, means a bush or tree is planted to balance the negative effect on the environment. Ultimately the company is striving to make itself neutral in terms of the carbon it produces, more importantly for many is the publicity that can be gained from such an initiative.
These environmentally friendly approaches are in no way widespread across the car hire industry. It is mainly small independent chains who are carving a niche in the market by giving customers the greener choice. As these companies seem to be doing well however it seems the case that the larger players in the industry are taking note. As more and more consumers demand these types of services it is understandable that the major players will follow the lead from smaller companies. If enough of the population requests this kind of service, it could well become a standard across the industry.
Industry expert Thomas Pretty looks into ways in which the car hire is tackling the environmental problems it faces.