From guilt trip to green trip: Rental car companies jump into carbon offset game

I think it was Delta that was the first U.S. airline to experiment with allowing customers to dabble in carbon offsets.

I think it was Delta that was the first U.S. airline to experiment with allowing customers to dabble in carbon offsets. Someone will certainly correct me if my memory is faulty. Well, now, three of the largest rental car names are working together on a program that lets renters fund various offset projects.

As part of a program that started on New Year's Day, when you reserve a car at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, National Car Rental and Alamo Rent A Car, you have the option to pay $1.25 (plus tax!) per rental to purchase a carbon offset. The companies (which are all run by the Taylor family from St. Louis, Mo.) are matching the purchases dollar-for-dollar up to $1 million. (They've been wielding a lot of green for the green movement in the past 12 months, including $25 million for the Institute for Renewable Fuels.)

The program is being run in conjunction with TerraPass, and its main intention is to help neutralize the pollution created by its fleet. That fleet includes about 1.1 million vehicles. According to the press release describing the program, about 30 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions will be offset for every 100,000 customers that choose the option.

A PR rep from the company reached out to let me know that about six percent of National and Alamo customers opted to take the option on the first day it was available. During the last two weeks, about 1,000 customers per day from the combined brands agreed to buy the offsets, which translates into about 2 percent of all rentals.

Do renters really know what they're buying? Have the reservation and counter agents been trained to talk about what carbon offsets really are? This promotional YouTube video for the companies' overall environmental effort (Keys To Green) makes you wonder.

But as far as I'm concerned, those three companies just became a much more attractive rental car option for this traveler.