Leveraging Sustainability through Communications

I was traveling this week and noticed a new bus at Boston’s Logan airport branded with Enterprise, National, and a few other car rental companies touting the slogan “Working together for the environment.” I also noticed the big yellow Hertz bus, conspicuously independent and, one had to think, seeming like a blight to the environment, as Hertz ‘s one bus gave off emissions equal to that of the bus operating on behalf of a number of companies.

Communications, reputationThe buses were a good reminder that every interaction is an opportunity for an organization to communicate what it stands for. The bus branded just “Hertz” communicates only the company’s name and whatever it is you might associate with Hertz. The jointly-branded bus with the environmental slogan communicates that these companies are committed to sustainability and reducing their environmental impact (not to mention that the shared service and equipment benefits their bottom line).

In an age when consumers are increasingly interested in engaging with companies who are doing good – be it through their community involvement, environmental efforts or charitable giving – it left me wondering: What is Hertz doing around sustainability?

I was surprised to find, quite a bit. A link at the bottom of their homepage takes you to the Hertz Living Journey – a microsite devoted to the company’s sustainability efforts. Hertz talks about its sustainability efforts around smart mobility (fuel-efficient vehicles that use clean, low-emissions technology), the environment (renewable energy, operations, construction & design and resource use), their community (philanthropy), and their corporate commitment (“Our goal is to integrate sustainability throughout our business, partnerships and employee programs”).

The company tracks and makes visible its impact, too – such as 50,000 IT units recycled since 2005, more than 80% of car wash water recycled, 645,000 gallons of used oil recycled in 2010, and annual paper use reduced by 56% since 2006. You can download their summary report if you want to read more.

I don’t rent cars often, but when I do, I usually shop by price. However, that’s not the case with everything I buy (which one of my colleagues says is “a lot”), and seeing that jointly-branded bus touting the environmental message at Logan made me rethink that strategy. If I didn’t take the time to look into Hertz’s commitment further, how would I have known about their efforts? I might have crossed them off my list as a company I want to support.

This is a good reminder that, while your organization may be doing good, others won’t know about it unless it’s communicated. When Hertz’s competitors started conveying their environmental commitment on the shuttle buses, Hertz should have thought about how it could convey its own commitment, and also how that communication shift by competitors could negatively impact the company.

Hertz has the opportunity to increase communication around its sustainability efforts and build goodwill among consumers. For starters, the company could feature the Hertz Living Journey prominently on its homepage, start a blog about the company’s sustainability efforts, add a decal to the side of the Hertz bus, or better yet, partner with other car rental companies/airport services to consolidate efforts and decrease the number of buses giving off emissions. Doing good but not communicating it is a missed opportunity.

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