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Enviroculture

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 SustainLane.com.