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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Eco-friendly Road Assistance

Air Date: Week of

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Better World Club is trying to win away members of the American Automobile Association, pointing to, what they call, AAA's not-so-environmental lobbying record. Host Laura Knoy talks with Better World's president Mitch Rofsky about the alternative.



KNOY: Okay, it's late at night and your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Like almost 45 million other Americans, your next move is obvious: you call the American Automobile Association to come rescue you. But now, a new organization called Better World Club is trying to steal away AAA's more environmentally-friendly members. Mitch Rofsky is Better World's president. Mr. Rofsky, why do we need an environmental alternative to AAA?

ROFSKY: AAA, at various times, both at the state and/or the federal level, has opposed the Clean Air Act, has opposed mass transit funding, even has opposed bike paths. And the environmental community was pretty frustrated about it. We thought, gee, that's really interesting. Certainly, our policy agenda would vary from that. But, at the same time, we thought there were just all kinds of issues surrounding transportation that you could do a lot of innovative things with that AAA, and I don't want to single them out, that no other automobile club is doing.

KNOY: AAA says you are kind of skewing their position, a false dichotomy they call it, that yes they're for roads, but they're also for mass transit. They say it's really, you know, it's about balance.

ROFSKY: Well, actually, that's what we say. We say that it's about balance. And, really, I encourage anybody who wants to, to look at AAA's record. They have essentially said that people's interests as motorists should come first.

KNOY: So Mitch, how does Better World Club help people minimize the impact of their travel on the environment?

ROFSKY: First of all, the centerpiece of our effort is what's called a carbon offset program to fight global warming. What that means is that when you fly you're putting almost a ton of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas into the atmosphere per person, per domestic round trip. What we do is we work to offset that. We take a portion of the ticket price and we donate that to nonprofit groups, for example Portland School System, to help them replace old oil-burning furnaces with natural gas furnaces.

We're about to announce that we're going to do the same thing with cars, for people who buy insurance from us. Third, if we have any money leftover after our carbon offset programs, we're looking to--because we want to give away one percent of our gross to various environmental efforts--we're looking at cleaning up locations where our customers go. So, we're looking at beach cleanup and ski resort cleanup. We also provide discounts on eco-tourism, green hotels, and try to promote those as much as we can.

KNOY: What's the roadside bike program? I'm picturing myself sitting by the side of the road with a flat bicycle tire. It's happened a lot of times.

ROFSKY: Well, essentially, if you call us we'll send somebody out who will attempt to fix the bicycle. And if they're not able to fix it, they will then take you to the destination of your choice. It basically covers 30 miles over two service calls a year.

KNOY: I can think of a couple times when I could have used that. But the real test, Mitch--for most people AAA is synonymous with help. And they're in bad situations, and AAA comes in and helps, and that's what people want from these types of programs.

Just a couple weeks ago, I had a dead battery. I called AAA. They were there within half an hour, they fixed it and they were gone, and it was wonderful. Would I have had the same experience if I called Better World?

ROFSKY: Most likely you would have had exactly the same experience. The way it works is that there are six national towing networks around the country. AAA is obviously the best-known. You don't know the names of the other five because they basically service various industries. So, as you may know, Laura, when you buy a car you sometimes get roadside assistance with it. The car manufacturers aren't doing roadside assistance themselves, they're contracting with one of these networks. We've contracted with one of the networks that provides a service to much of the insurance industry, as well as the warranty industry. Our network has been around for over 20 years.

The important thing about these networks is that for the most part they're nonexclusive. As a result, the same people who pick you up for AAA and likely to be the same people who pick you up for us. They all have the same goals, that is, to get to you within 45 minutes. What we say is we provide you with the same roadside assistance that AAA does, but other than that we're completely different.

KNOY: Mitch Rofsky is the president and cofounder of Better World Club. Thanks for joining us.

ROFSKY: It's been my pleasure.



Better World Club



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