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The Woodchuck Cafe

The Better World Travelers Club
By Arthur Stamoulis

You're driving down the road late one Friday night, on your way to visit relatives a few states over. You're just about a half-hour from making it, when all of a sudden your car starts acting up. You pull over, pop the hood and notice smoke. Crud. Even if you know how to fix the problem, you certainly don't have the tools and supplies necessary to repair your car there on the side of the road. What on Earth are you going to do?
If you're like 43 million other Americans, you reach into your pocket, pull out your AAA card and call the trusty American Automobile Association for a tow.

Founded in 1902, AAA has been providing drivers with reliable roadside assistance for almost a century. They also offer free maps, hotel and restaurant discounts, bail bonds and more. But their work doesn't end there.

Unbeknownst to many members, AAA also spends their dues money on car-friendly lobbying efforts that, according to Harper's Magazine, "fuel pollution and sprawl." AAA has fought against strengthening the Clean Air Act, and has opposed rules requiring cleaner exhaust systems for cars, trucks and SUVs. At different points, the automobile club has opposed safety regulations such as air bags. AAA even belongs to a lobbying group that goes so far as to claim that building roads is good for the environment, because "cars stuck in traffic waste fuel." Mass transit is apparently off that lobbying group's radar screen altogether.

Auto owners who don't support AAA's anti-environmental legacy, but are wearisome of abandoning its roadside assistance safeguards, do have options. The Better World Travelers Club offers similar service to the venerable AAA for a similar price, but without the destructive political agenda.

Launched from existing "green" travel agencies by entrepreneurs Mitch Rofsky and Todd Silberman in 2002, the Better World Travelers Club offers towing, flat tire assistance, locksmith allowances, hotel discounts, trip routing, and almost all the rest. But unlike AAA, the Better World Travelers Club goes out of its way to support sound environmental policies like mass transit funding and the Clean Air Act — and they put their money where their mouth is. One percent of all the club's revenues go towards environmental cleanup efforts nationwide. Last year, its travel agency alone donated $615,725 to environmental programs.

This support of good causes is not unusual for Rofsky, who was former president of Working Assets Capital Management, a mutual fund best known for its social responsibility, and before that a consumer advocate in Washington, DC. Silberman brings long-time experience with travel agencies to the table, as founder and former head of Lifeco Services, once the third largest travel company in the nation.

The Better World Travelers Club goes even further in its support for the environment than simple donations. It offers big discounts on what it calls "eco-travel services," such as stays in green hotels and spots in Earth-friendly tours. Better World also offers discounts of up to 20 percent for people who choose to rent electric or hybrid cars, and even offers discounts on bicycle sales.

One of the company's most innovative services is its "Travel Cool!" program. Recognizing that the average domestic airline flight in this country releases over 1700 pounds of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, each time one of its members books a flight through its agency, the Better World Travelers Club makes a free donation to a project that will offset some of that carbon dioxide production. The club also sells these pollution-offset credits, which are certified by the Climate Neutral Network, to people looking to balance out the emissions from their day-to-day driving.

One project funded through the "Travel Cool!" program was the upgrade of Portland Public Schools' old-fashioned oil-burning boilers, a measure that has reduced greenhouse emissions by tens of thousands of tons, not to mention saving the school district a considerable amount of money.

This type of innovation — coupled with increased revelations about AAA — has helped garner the Better World Travelers Club a fair amount of support very quickly.

Consumer-rights guru Ralph Nader claims, "The Rosky-Silberman effort in blazing a new trail in the travel business should remind American business that profit-making enterprises can operate with a conscience and with an authentic concern about the environment and health."

"We're signing up [with Better World] immediately," said Tom Magliozzi, co-host of National Public Radio's popular program "Car Talk," who added, "If AAA thinks that it's a good idea for every single person to get to work in 3000 pounds of iron, we sure don't want to help support such a silly idea. Cars stink. Everybody knows that."