The benefit of driving a green vehicle is more about being a responsible consumer

It’s easier than ever to book a green car rental on your next holiday to the USA, writes Julie Moline.

Even if you’re as green as you can be at home, a holiday can transform you into something of a carbon-emitting clod.  To make environmental amends, you can buy carbon offsets that ameliorate some of that CO2 from your flights.  And on the ground, you have lots of options for green transport: public transportation, a green limo service, or a car rented from one of several environmentally-aware firms.

Many of the major car hire companies in the U.S., including Budget and Avis, have expanded their fleets to include hybrid, flex fuel (cars that use more than 10 per cent ethanol in the fuel mix) and/or low-emissions vehicles.  In the two years since Hertz spent $68 million to buy 3,400 Toyota Prius hybrids to launch the Green Collection, the company now has 35,000 cars in that fleet, and a total of five fuel-efficient car types, each of which get 28 or more miles per gallon. Green Collection cars are available at more than 50 U.S. airport locations.

Even with Hertz’s sizable investment, though, the leader in the greening of the car rental industry is Enterprise (www.enterprise.com), which not only offers the biggest number of hybrids and other fuel-efficient cars, but an entire environmental corporate  “platform.”   The company has donated $25 million to a plant science center to help develop renewable fuels, and has partnered with The National Arbor Day Foundation and the U.S. Forest Service to fund the planting of 50 million trees over the next 50 years.

It also offers customers the chance to offset the CO2 produced by the rental car they drive – $1.25 per rental – to fund carbon offset projects. Enterprise matches that dollar for dollar, up to $1 million a year.

How to Book a Green Car

You can book a green car directly from Hertz and Enterprise, or through these sites:

Kayak (www.kayak.com) has a hybrid filter in its search engine. You can also search for cars based on fuel efficiency.

Rezhub (www.rezhub.com) is a portal to environmentally-sensitive car rental companies, including Ace, Advantage, E-Z, Hertz, Thrifty and Dollar.  The company donates 20 per cent of all proceeds to environmental or volunteer organizations.

You can also book a hybrid through Orbitz (www.orbitz.com) if you’re headed to the West: the site has partnered with Alamo, Avis, Budget, Fox, Hertz and National in Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

If you’re renting a car in San Francisco, note that The San Francisco International Airport authority launched the country’s first Green Rental Car program, which rewards anyone renting a Honda Civic Hybrid, Nissan Altima Hybrid or Toyota Prius with a $15 discount at the car rental counter.

You can also try smaller firms, like bio-beetle on Maui (www.bio-beetle.com), whose fleet of Volkswagen Beetles runs on bio-diesel made from used cooking oil, and eQocar (www.eqocar.com) in Burbank, California, which offers not just the Prius but GMC Yukons (an SUV) and the hybrid Lexus LS600 in its fleet of 45 cars.

The bottom line: Yes, you can expect to pay a higher rate for a green car.  That Lexus costs a staggering $650 per day.  The benefit is really more about being a responsible consumer, and perhaps a future hybrid owner.  A car rental is a smart way to test drive a hybrid or flex-fuel car in the real world, not just around the dealer’s neighborhood.