Esurance: Creating Innovation with a Paper-Less Model and a Cartoon Character

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Esurance was founded in 1999 during the peak of the dot com boom. It was the first auto insurer to offer its services exclusively online, from quotes to purchasing to communications to policy documents. As the company capitalized on a technological revolution, it helped create an innovative new business model, one that is inherently greener than its rivals, in an industry that has been seemingly anchored in institutionality and tradition.
“Beginning with the online model, the environmental message was baked into the product,” said Joann Lee, Community Relations Manager for the insurer.

Take, for example, policy documentation. When you sign up for an insurance plan, you will receive a hefty multi-page document that you will hardly be able to understand, outlining all the provisions within it. On average, every new policy holder receives 60 pages in documentation. Broken down over all of Esurance’s policies, that could conceivably result in over 60 million pages of documentation a year.
By providing documentation to policy holders online, Esurance has been able to outright eliminate these types of resource demands, saving the equivalent of roughly 3,500 trees by the end of 2008, according to company research. And to offset what paper the company does have to use in its operations, Esurance has worked with over 20 environmental organizations to engage in urban and other reforestation projects.
So Why Would the Insurance Industry Care About the Environment?
Beyond the obvious fact that green is very popular these days, the answer is surprisingly very obvious.
As an industry, companies like Esurance are prone to collect data of weather patterns, accident rates, and public health phenomena to calculate loss ratios. Lee said that with increase in climate change, “it’s been nearly impossible to predict trends and how that relates to accident patterns.” And that makes it even harder to price rates, which ultimately get transferred to the customer.
When the company began environmental outreach in 2005, very few insurance companies were talking about the environment. Within the past two years, however, Lee said that there has been a significant jump in companies having green programs, green products, LEED certified projects, and mileage-based discounts.
Partly because it’s a newer company where change is more easily exacted, Esurance has always led by example, according to Lee. It offers hybrid or the aforementioned mileage-based discounts. It has a carbon calculator on its website, and offers green-living tips. It has even piloted a carbon-offset policy in the UK. “Now it’s up to everyone to push for more changes, such as product innovations and more transparency, like carbon emission tracking and climate report cards to measure against a standard,” added Lee.
Talking About Green Starts With Employees Talking to Each Other
At some point, Esurance realized that if they wanted to be talking about the environment to its customers and the public, it shouldn’t just be marketing green, it needed to be doing the stuff themselves. With its corporate headquarters in San Francisco, and 13 offices and 1,800 employees nationwide, that isn’t necessarily a simple task.
Though they don’t specifically call it a green team, Esurance formed an internal steering committee led by its COO to assess opportunities for sustainability to be incorporated in its operations. One of the biggest initiatives to arise out of the committee was “Are You Being Green?”, a campaign to foster environmental awareness throughout all its offices. It has since instituted recycling in every office (though some of us in San Francisco may take something as fundamental as workplace recycling for granted, Lee mentioned that in places like Tampa, recycling was at the time an issue not on many people’s radars).
It also traded out all disposable cups for mugs and reusable bottles. In the first of the program’s institution, 78,000 fewer paper cups were used, which amounted to an annual savings of $10,000.
Beyond paper usage, the company realized that a very large footprint of the insurance industry was claims adjusting. More specifically, the cars that claims adjusters use. It’s corporate fleet has been made up of hybrid vehicles since 2001-2002. Keep in mind, this is years before hybrid cars found mass demand. There are only 2 non-hybrids in Esurance’s fleet, and Lee was quick to add that even those would likely be decommissioned soon.
By the end of 2007, the gas mileage savings alone had amounted to an annual savings of $76,000 for the company.
Erin: Esurance’s Changeagent… in the Flesh One’s and Zero’s

On this site, and particularly in this series on Green Teams, the focus is often on corporate changeagents. Changeagents speak to the core fundamentals for sustainability integration in the business world. Along with metrics and executive sponsorship, changeagents are almost requisite for instituting change within a corporation.
Ranging from CEOs to entry-level associates, they are rockstars within companies who champion the ethos of sustainability, which ultimately helps transform the business’ operations from the inside out. Esurance’s particular changeagent is slightly different than most others. She’s a cartoon.
Erin was born in 2005. As a company ultimately grounded in emergent technology, Esurance recognized the power of rich media in speaking to its customers and audience. Erin was animated to differentiate Esurance from others, especially speaking to the company’s core demographic, who are early-adopters. Erin also speaks towards shift towards female characters in media. Think back to 2005. Beyond Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives, Alias was one of the most popular shows on TV, and strong, ass-kicking women were becoming more and more ubiquitous. Most people will likely not catching themselves talking about how glamorous or sexy the insurance is. Esurance wanted to create something catchy to help change that.
Equally, the environmental movement was also not seen as glamorous or sexy until sites like Treehugger, Grist, and The Daily Green came along, coincidentally becoming popular right around the time that Erin was created. Since then, Erin has taken on the more important role of environmental defender. As a spy, one of her first commercials tackled the Greenfinger, a tree-munching robot nemesis. Though Erin may not be seen on Nickelodeon or Adult Swim any time soon, as a print, TV, and digital spokesperson, she has served as a great platform to reach a large audience about environmental issues (not to mention help develop a great brand icon).
More recently, Esurance has taken the media platform to a larger scale, forming collaborations with the Live Earth in 2007 and the WWF to promote Earth Hour this year. To check out some of Erin’s commercials, follow the links below.
Greenfinger Commercial
Live Earth Commercial

Earth Hour Commercial

Ashwin is an Associate Editor of Triple Pundit. He recently returned to the Bay Area after living in Argentina, where he wholeheartedly missed the Pacific Ocean. He is a freelance editor and media and marketing consultant.After a brief stint working in the wine world, when not staring blankly at a computer screen, you'll find him working on Anand Confections or at 826 Valencia, where he has been a long-time volunteer.

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