Lyft Goes Green

How the $15 billion ridesharing company has made ‘going green’ a part of its brand and works to communicate its sustainability goals.

With one look at Lyft’s Twitter feed, it’s clear that the company is making a major effort to define its image through CSR initiatives and progressive stances on social issues, like equal pay and voting access. But the Lyft leadership team has focused a large share of its attention on the environment, pushing their sustainability efforts publically and making the issue a central component of its evolving brand.

In the last year, Lyft unveiled an ambitious sustainability campaign that has drawn attention and further differentiated the company from its largest competitor, Uber. In making this public commitment, Lyft joins other major players like Patagonia and New Belgium Brewing that are changing the way brands engage with environmental issues.

In April, Lyft co-founders John Zimmer and Logan Green co-wrote a piece on Medium announcing that all rides through Lyft would be “carbon-neutral.” By purchasing carbon offsets from environmental sustainability company 3Degrees, Lyft is ensuring that an equal share of carbon produced by its rides is eliminated from the atmosphere through carbon capturing at landfills, reforestation efforts and other emission-saving measures. This makes Lyft one of the largest purchasers of these offsets worldwide.

Given the size and scale of the carbon neutral move, Lyft received a tremendous amount of recognition in the weeks following the announcement. But it’s what Lyft has done following this initial wave of attention that highlights its desire to make environmental responsibility one of its core brand commitments. The company’s actions also serve as a testament to how many companies are beginning to take substantive action on issues that are important to both executive leadership and customers.

A handful of weeks before Lyft announced their carbon-neutral rides, Lyft brought on its first sustainability director, Sam Arons. In addition to getting the first major initiative across the finish line, Arons has helped Lyft further its environmental ambition and solidify its messaging on the topic, steadily announcing expansions of current efforts and the addition of new ones. For example, in September, Lyft announced it was purchasing enough offsets to neutralize all carbon emissions the company produced, not just those coming from rides. In the same announcement, Lyft also locked itself into using 100 percent renewable energy to power all office spaces, driver hubs and electric vehicle miles. And, perhaps most importantly, the company is supporting its environmental efforts with the requisite level of funding. Lyft’s carbon offset commitment alone will cost several million dollars to maintain each year.

With each climate-responsible move, the rideshare company reinforces its dedication to corporate responsibility and aligns itself with many of its millennial users who increasingly demand the brands they use to share their values. According to a study released by Sprout Social earlier this year, two-thirds of consumers today believe it is important for brands to take a stand on social and political issues.

One distinguishing element of Lyft’s communications strategy surrounding their environmental priorities is that it does not solely rely on one sustainability landing page on the company site. Major announcements on sustainability are often accompanied by an article or blog post written by company executives. New staff dedicated to sustainability and social responsibility are frequently featured in the media. Thoughtful social media content drives engagement on environmental issues. It’s a part of their woven narrative.

Lyft is making its sustainability efforts known and creating a strategic communications model for other companies to follow. They’re also pressuring their competitors to either step up to the plate on corporate responsibility or risk garnering negative comparisons in the media and facing consumer backlash as a result. Take this headline from May in Quartz for example, This is one way Lyft is definitely better than Uber, which summarizes Lyft’s environmental efforts and contrasts them to Uber’s.

All of this is not to say that Lyft’s corporate social responsibility model is perfect. The company is still a contributor to the broader transportation industry that recently replaced power plants as the number one emitter of carbon dioxide. But it’s a business. One that identified a gap in the market, filled it and has since grown into a multi-billion dollar company well on its way to an IPO. What’s important is that Lyft has matched its growth with a good faith effort to develop a responsible business model with a strong focus on the environment. And as the company has done so, it has set an example for how companies can communicate their honest sustainability goals in a way that will activate customers and draw favorable attention in the press.

For years, brands have been using environmental responsibility to check a box and gain some positive publicity, but have seldom supported their words with meaningful action. As more consumers start to care about their favored brands’ involvement in social causes and as more environmentally-conscious, often millennial, entrepreneurs assume positions of leadership at major companies, that is finally starting to change.