Going "green" goes only so far

Going "green" goes only so far

I'm quick to applaud when companies "go green." But I've been struck lately by the fact that it takes a lot more than the greening of big business to solve our environmental problems.

The latest example: Enterprise Rent-A-Car. More than the logo at Enterprise is green. The world's biggest rental car company (its brands include Alamo and National, as well as Enterprise) has developed an environmental stewardship program that is thoughtful and wide-ranging, encompassing the kinds of cars and fuel that the company buys, the way it encourages customers to offset their carbon emissions and its donations to a big tree-planting project and to fuels research. Enterprise is an admirable, very successful family-owned company. (My FORTUNE colleague Carol Loomis wrote a great story last year about Enterprise. Fun fact-it hires more new college graduates than any other company in the U.S.)

But I argue in today's Sustainability column that there are real limits to what even a big and well-intentioned company like Enterprise can do. Here's how the column begins:

Enterprise Rent-A-Car, the nation's largest rental car company, wants to become a better steward of the environment. Its efforts demonstrate the limits to how much - and how little - one company can do.

To its credit, Enterprise offers the world's largest fleet of fuel- efficient cars, including more than 440,000 vehicles that get better than 28 miles per gallon on the highway. About 5,000 of those are hybrid electric cars and another 73,000 are "flex-fuel" vehicles that can run on E85, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gas. The company has also pledged to plant 50 million trees in America's national forests and this month began inviting customers to offset the carbon emissions of their rental cars.

As a family-owned company that expects to generate revenues this year of more than $12 billion, Enterprise is well positioned to have an impact. It's got a strong commitment, ample scale - its tree planting initiative is the equivalent of planting the trees in New York's Central Park every 10 days for the next 50 years - and plenty of patience.

You can read the rest here.