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Archive: BWC President Mitch Rofsky is Interviewed by sustainlane

BWC President Mitch Rofsky is Interviewed by sustainlane

Interview Highlight: Mitch Jumps Up and Down on a Couch and Professes his Love for Carbon Offsets

How does Better World Club compete against AAA? An interview with Mitch Rofsky, Better World Club’s President and co-founder.

Virtually everything AAA does, Better World Club does with a green spin. Travel discounts at major hotel chains across the country as well as on eco-travel trips. Car rental discounts and up to 15% off on hybrids and biodiesel rentals. Roadside assistance with discounts on membership fees for drivers of hybrids. And following the likes of Working Assets, 1% of annual revenues are donated to nonprofits working toward environmental clean-up and advocacy. President and co-founder Mitchell Rofsky talked to us about the only environmental auto club in the United States.

Why did you start Better World Club?I’d been managing the Working Assets Mutual Fund when the Board of Directors sold the company. There’d been an explosion of socially screened mutual funds, so I decided to apply the concept to insurance. Within a year or two, the environmental community came to me and said, AAA is part of the highway lobby, can you help us fight them politically? And I said, maybe we can compete with AAA.

Why did you go after AAA’s market?For one thing, they don’t tell their members what they’re doing, politically. You can read a lot of their magazines and not have any idea that they opposed the Clean Air Act and mass transit funding in the past and bike paths and greenhouse gas regulations today.

That must create some challenges for you.AAA’s image is fairly positive. Since nobody knows about their anti-environmental lobbying, we have to find a way to talk about it without focusing our marketing only on the negative. We feel we have to let people know, to a certain extent, what AAA’s track record is. Finding that balance is one of our major challenges. We try to do it in a light way.

How do you keep it light?We try to have fun with everything we do. Take a look at our enewsletters. One of our newsletters, Kicking Asphalt, was labeled The Onion of corporate newsletters.

You offer many of the same services as AAA, but with an entirely different approach.AAA is roughly the 70th largest company in the country. We recognize that. All of our marketing is about differentiation. The history of roadside assistance is that every company that ever competed with AAA said they were just like AAA. We’re the first company to say that our core service is similar to AAA, but everything else about us is different.

What are some of the innovations that have differentiated Better World Club?The first innovation was carbon offsets. We started that in 2001. The next innovation was bicycle roadside assistance. Another innovation involves surcharges for owners or drivers of the three worst gas guzzlers each year, so we can provide discounts for people driving hybrids or other alternative cars. We’re not trying to make people guilty; it’s more that if you drive those cars, you should be offsetting that footprint. The surcharge goes into our environmental donation pool.

How do you come up with these ideas?There’s no system to how we come up with this stuff. It’s from being involved in the community and listening to people.

How do you measure your success?At this point, it’s by membership. We have 20,000 members now. We're growing and our renewal rate is nearly 80%.

But we want to have a social impact as well. We track our carbon offsets. And we are involved with campaigns, such as the one for higher fuel economy standards.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who want to create a green or socially minded business?Anybody who wants to start a business like this today, their timing is perfect. Environmentalism is the number one issue for people under 30.

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Learn more about the people brave enough to interview Mitch at www.SustainLane.com.


Quotes From Members

  • "Also, I'm really pleased that I found Better World; it really suits the values of my family and, by the way, my congregation and my grad students. I don't know how many in either group belong to any auto club or travel club, but they surely would be ashamed not to join up with BW if they ever join any. :)"
  • "Thanks again for your prompt and courteous and helpful support."
  • "This claim was the only time so far that we've needed to use our BWC coverage, but it was exactly what we needed in that situation, so we'll definitely keep our memberships active in case we run into issues on future rides!"
  • "You serve your market with intelligence and humor. I didn't feel like I was a family member when I had AAA, but I feel like an important part of a socially-conscious family with you. Keep the newsletters coming."
  • "Thanks very much! I switched to BWC because I believe you share my values and concern for sustainability. The hybrid discount is a great added bonus. It's great to see businesses thrive on a positive progressive message."
  • "My alternator gave out suddenly one night. I was stranded on a frontage road near the freeway, in the dark, in the rain, a couple hundred miles from home late on a weekend night. When I called BWC, your representative asked if I was in a safe place, dispatched a tow truck, and asked if I needed help finding a hotel for the night. Needless to say, I was impressed. It's good to know folks like you have my back!"
  • "Your newsletter is full of stimulating information--not only revealing the truth about companies/regulations that are unfair, unconscious, or downright despicable, but also highlighting positive efforts and developments for a better world. Really appreciate it. And also enjoy your sense of humor."
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