Others have more modest environmental ambitions but get their business model right, grow swiftly and go on to make a tangible difference. The Green Insurance Company is in the second category. The eco-car insurer, launched last year, is not offering a revolutionary product but has obviously struck a chord with the public. The company now expects to attract more than twice as many customers in 2008 as it initially predicted. Each one will be engaging with a company proud to have a green streak running right through it.
As the Green Insurance Company itself admits, car insurance is not a product with an inherently high environmental profile. Nevertheless, the firm's founder Andrew McMillan believed there was a gap in the market for a green insurance product to help drivers make a difference.
The company believes that suppliers must make it easy and cost-effective for customers to behave in an environmentally responsible way. It promises cheaper premiums to those with low-emission cars and/or those who drive less each year.
Central to its offer is a pledge to offset all carbon emissions from customers' vehicles on an ongoing basis and at no additional cost. Amounts of carbon to be offset are calculated according to customers' actual vehicles and mileage rather than fleet averages.
The company works with Sedgefield-based carbon-offset provider Forest Carbon to produce carbon credits generated via tree-planting schemes in the UK. As a result of the Green Insurance Company's rapid growth, it has already invested more than £100,000 in forestry and says it has offset more than 26,000 tonnes of carbon emissions.
Forest Carbon schemes are certified by the Institute of Chartered Foresters, guaranteeing each scheme would not have happened without the cashflow from offset purchasers. Growth of forests is monitored over the long term and felling is controlled. As a safety net, only 40% of a tree's biomass is counted for offset purposes.
The Green Insurance Company also makes what it calls a 'rigorous' promise to customers that vehicles that have been written off will be reused or recycled.
Within its own operations, the company is committed to being as environmentally and socially responsible as possible. Although it has only 28 staff, the firm prides itself on providing recycling facilities, procuring greener office supplies and furniture and using timers to switch off electronic equipment. It also plans to give 5% of annual profits to charity.
Employees are encouraged to share in this process. After three months' service, each is offered the option of a Toyota Prius petrol-hybrid company car. All staff can take three paid days each year to work in community projects.
Staff are sent on a six-week training course, which focuses on a combination of customer-service skills and environmental awareness and includes field visits to renewable energy sites.
The company's growth rate has been impressive. Having expected 10,000 customers by the end of 2008, it is now forecasting more than 25,000 and has already gone into profit. It is aiming to attract 100,000 customers in 2009.
Meanwhile, the Green Insurance Company is also eyeing further opportunities to grow and to spread its green message. It's planning an eco-home insurance product, including carbon offsetting and what it calls "green for old" replacement cover. It also aims to create a green information service on its website, designed to show people how they can make a difference by changing their daily behaviour.
Web Links - http://www.greeninsurancecompany.co.uk/; http://www.forest-carbon.co.uk/