A lot of nature-lovers can see an upside to the current crisis: cars and aircraft have been grounded, the air is cleaner and there is more room for animals. In addition, car production has practically ground to a halt. Things are a bit more complicated at LeasePlan. The car leasing company is doing its best to give customers access to a vehicle if they really need one, despite the corona crisis. After all, this is the company’s core business. But LeasePlan has been looking into its options for becoming more sustainable for some time now and aims to have a zero-emission fleet by 2030.
1.9 million cars
We asked Tjahny Bercx how they intend to go about this. He is responsible for human resource management in this global company, which leases 1.9 million vehicles in 32 countries. Working from the company headquarters in Zuidas, Bercx is exploring sustainability. LeasePlan is heading in a new direction, thanks to the new CEO Tex Gunning, who used to work at TNT, Akzo Nobel and Unilever. ‘We were already working on sustainability by digging wells in Nepal, for example’, says Bercx. ‘But Gunning really put climate change on the map for us.’ The office in Zuidas is taking the usual steps, such as biodegradable stirrers, LED lighting, organic cleaning products and fewer flights for its staff. The company also joined the Green Business Club Zuidas and has hosted a meeting about sustainable purchasing on behalf of the organisation. In addition, LeasePlan works closely with the municipality. ‘We did this in Almere too’, says Bercx. ‘We help by putting plants on roundabouts, for examples.’
But what about the cars? If they want to do something about climate change, shouldn’t they be trying to keep these to a minimum, including in Zuidas? Bercx doesn’t think so. ‘Zuidas is full of cars, each one bigger and more expensive than another. We can’t stop this, but we can at least make sure that our vehicles are all zero-emission.’ He thinks that Zuidas is just the place to do this. ‘You already see electric Porsches here.’ LeasePlan is stimulating its own staff to come to work by alternative means. They are not given a parking space if they live in Amsterdam, for example. Showers and lockers are provided for staff who come to work on foot or by pedal power. Company bikes are also available for staff travelling between locations. This can be a disappointment to LeasePlan staff, many of whom simply love cars. Bercx doesn’t know if offering them a public transport pass necessarily leads to less car use. ‘People sometimes choose this option because it’s more lucrative’, he admits honestly. ‘But it doesn’t mean that they don’t have a run-about for themselves at home.’
Electric or hydrogen
So reducing the number of cars is not LeasePlan’s game plan. The company would rather invest in zero-emission cars. LeasePlan is affiliated to the EV100, a world-wide group of companies dedicated to electric transport. The company aims to have electrified the 2,500 cars used by its own global staff by the end of 2021. Bercx: ‘This could also mean other types of cars, powered by hydrogen, for example.’ But LeasePlan hopes to make the biggest difference to the climate in its key area: the lease cars. They have some 1.9 million of these vehicles world-wide. LeasePlan’s trump card in this respect is investment money, which, like other leasing companies, LeasePlan has a lot of. This is just how leasing companies work; after all, lease items need to be bought before they can generate long-term income.
LeasePlan tried to go green with its investment budget last year. ‘We introduced what are known as ‘Green Bonds’, explains Bercx with a certain amount of pride. ‘Investors were guaranteed that the money they invested in these bonds would be used to buy electric cars.’ It was a successful try-out. Demand for Green Bonds among investors was much higher than the € 500 million that LeasePlan was issuing in bonds. LeasePlan used some of the money to buy a large consignment of Teslas. ‘We’re trying to persuade people to use them now’, says Bercx. Not all customers automatically choose an electric car. ‘In some countries, driving an electric car is more expensive than driving a diesel’, says Bercx. He is trying to change this by buying in bulk with a discount, from Tesla for example, and charging a relatively low lease fee. Customers are also given tips and training courses about sustainable driving styles and smart loading.
Bercx is hopeful that in future, other players will help to push customers towards electric modes of transport. ‘Thanks to the goals that car manufacturers have set themselves, improvements are being made in the action radius and battery development. And increasingly more governments are closing their city centres to non-electric vehicles.’