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U-Can Do It: U-Haul Makes it Easy for Customers to Offset Emissions at Checkout

U-Haul, the largest do-it-yourself moving company in North America, wanted to give its customers renting equipment at more than 15,000 locations in the U.S. and Canada and on a simple way to make their move a little bit greener. Beginning in 2007, the company partnered with The Conservation Fund’s Go Zero program to offer customers a chance to donate $3, $5 or $10 at checkout to plant trees and offset their moving-related emissions.

Overwhelmingly, customers choose to give back: nearly 660,000 U-Haul customers have donated to the program to date. The $2 million raised has resulted in the planting of almost 250,000 trees across 825 acres—equal to over 740 football fields or nearly the size of New York's Central Park.

To learn more, I asked Dr. Allan (Yilun) Yang, Director of Corporate Sustainability at U-Haul International and Jena Thompson Meredith, Director of Go Zero for The Conservation Fund, what makes the program resonate with customers, what is next for the partnership, and how those donations are making a difference on the ground.

Amon Rappaport (AR): More than 660,000 customers engaged and $2 million raised—these are huge milestones.  Why does this work so well?

Dr. Yang (AYY): On a very basic level, it works because it’s priced right, it's simple and it’s directly integrated in the purchase path. But it also works because it resonates with the consumer. Working closely with The Conservation Fund provides a meaningful way for people to account for the CO2 emissions related to their moves and make a difference for our global climate, for wildlife and for people.

Jena Thompson Meredith (JTM): It works because there’s a champion at the highest levels at U-Haul.  Allan and his team believe we are making a difference, and we are. Go Zero donors are providing critical, private capital that will help address two of the most extraordinary environmental challenges of our time, climate change and habitat loss. We know U-Haul customers, and really all of our donors, want assurance that their donations deliver real, measurable results to help address climate change and restore important wildlife habitat on behalf of the American people.

AR: Companies, and their customers, have an overwhelming number of choices to make when it comes to sustainability programs. How do you choose, and design, approaches that make a real difference?

AYY: This approach to sustainability isn’t new for U-Haul. Looking back, corporate social responsibility has always been a part of our core values. U-Haul was founded by a Navy veteran who grew up during the Great Depression. Tires and gas were rationed or in short supply during the late 1940s when U-Haul began serving U.S. customers. Today, that background is central to the U-Haul Sustainability Program.

JTM: Gone are the days where companies turn to environmental organizations for advice on basic sustainability issues.  Much of that expertise has been brought in house. Our goal with U-Haul has been to get very creative and engage both customers and employees in programs that are a fit for their culture, by balancing environmental protection and economic development.

AYY: Jena’s right.  We know our long-term success depends on our ability to manage our operations responsibly and efficiently in today’s increasingly complex environment. So we are continuously looking for ways to reduce, reuse and recycle.  We look to implement effective programs and policies to conserve energy and resources, and to protect the environment.  We’ve invested in fuel-efficient moving vans, refined our approach to neighborhood proximity, created programs that maximize the reuse of moving boxes, and designed moving pads made from discarded material.  For more than 15 years now, U-Haul has offered a biodegradable packing peanut made primarily of corn and potato starch. Even with all that we do to make our daily business more sustainable, we found that engaging U-Haul customers in our brand through programs like Go Zero is really important for us and for them.

AR: So what do you do with the donations? Where do you plant the trees?

JTM: U-Haul customer donations help plant native trees in protected parks and wildlife refuges across the Gulf Coast region that will capture and store carbon over time, while also creating forest habitats that are critical to birds, fish, bears and other wildlife. To date, much of this effort has been focused on restoring lands within the Lower Mississippi River Valley—an area that has lost more than 20 million acres of forestland over the last 100 years.

Every day, we hear about the impacts of deforestation in the Amazon or Indonesia but it’s happening in the Gulf Coast too. Migratory bird populations have lost more than 24 million acres of bottomland hardwood forest habitat over the last century along the Red River and lower Mississippi River valleys. Habitat destruction is more pronounced there than in any other area of the United States.

Moving forward, The Conservation Fund is committed to helping our partners in federal, state and local agencies as they work to restore this damaged ecosystem.  We need champions like U-Haul to help make this a reality. 

Amon Rappaport is a purpose-driven brand and communications strategist who helps companies and causes tell great stories that benefit business and the world. As Chief Storyteller of Rappaport Communications he advances corporate responsibility and creates brand value for clients… [Read more about Amon Rappaport]

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