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Getting ‘Green:’ Reduce, Reuse, Recycle To Reignite Your Business

By now it’s evident that the whole ‘green’ movement is more than just a fad. In fact, successful businesses everywhere have
adapted their operations to cater to consumers who are looking
for more environmentally friendly products and services.

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As senior editor of Tire Review magazine, Denise writes feature articles on various tire segments and columns on boosting dealer profits, as well as managing and editing the magazine's various featured columns. She also manages Tire Review Online, the magazine's well-read Web site. Prior to joining Tire Review, Denise served as feature section writer and news reporter for the Medina Gazette and was a reporter for the Barberton Herald, both located in the Akron area. She is a graduate of the University of Akron with a degree in communications.

While consumers may not base their purchasing decisions solely on this aspect, it does come into consideration when choosing a variety of purchases, including automotive ­repair.

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Many shops have made the move to become more efficient and less wasteful. While some are just starting out, others – especially those on the West Coast, where compliance with high environmental standards is required by law – have been working for years to institute in-depth programs. Whether you’re looking for ideas to start being more green or ­researching ways to expand your existing programs, taking a look at other shops that have excelled in this area can help.

Though their strategies and programs may differ, Curry’s Auto ­Repair, with five locations in ­Virginia, Larry’s Auto Works in Mountain View, CA, and A+ Japanese Auto Repair in San ­Carlos, CA, do have a few things in common. All three shops have not only partnered with AskPatty.com to become ­Certified Female Friendly, but they have also taken advantage of AskPatty.com’s ­BeGreen ­recycling program.

“Women are very interested in looking at more eco-friendly products and solutions right now – in their homes, vehicles and all ­aspects of their lives,” says Jody ­DeVere, CEO of Ask­Patty.com.

The BeGreen ­program, which is ­included with a shop’s Female Friendly certification, provides owners with tips on how to adopt eco-friendly business practices, as well as a coupon program to attract customers by offering them a free “10-Point Green Checkup.”

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The coupon, which shop owners can distribute via mail, their website or e-mail, is good for an inspection that will “ensure the fuel economy of their vehicle is up to speed,” ­DeVere says. “And while the customer’s vehicle is in the shop, techs can check to make sure service intervals are up to date.”

Among other things, the checkup includes inspecting motor oil, oil and air filters, engine performance, evaporative emission controls and tires – for both wear and correct inflation pressure.

AskPatty.com’s Certified Female Friendly and BeGreen programs also provide shops with a link from AskPatty.com’s website, in addition to a co-branded microsite that provides visitors with shop details. “We teach shops to position themselves and provide green and eco-friendly solutions that women are looking for,” ­DeVere explains.

Curry’s Auto Service

Curry’s recently became Certified ­Female Friendly. But the company is no novice when it comes to being eco-friendly.

Curry’s recycles everything imaginable – oils, antifreeze, chemicals, refrigerants, metals, tires, coffee cups, paper and more. The shop has also partnered with Recycle Bank, a national community-focused recycling program. Under the program, ­residents fill recycling bins, which are measured by the pound and then turned into coupons for local merchants – including Curry’s.

With a fleet of eight hybrid loaner cars and vast experience working on alternative-fuel vehicles, Curry’s wants to show customers that it is a leader in this area. The shop is also partnering with Genovation Cars, which ­develops, designs and manufactures custom-crafted green vehicles.

“We want to be seen as an expert in ­hybrid, electric and alternative fuel vehicle ­repair,” says Matt Curry, president. “We’re pioneering that in our area. There are shops that work on ­hybrid vehicles, but to actively pursue that business and have a fleet of vehicles to show people that we are in that business, I don’t know of anyone else doing that.”

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Curry’s has upgraded to energy-efficient lighting and plans to install waste oil heaters in all of its locations next year. The company has also started using Motul’s synthetic, ester-based oil, which is renewable, unlike petroleum-based products, and is made from vegetables, minerals and animal fatty acids, Curry says.

“We’re a consumer education company, not just a tire and auto repair company,” he says. “We want to educate our customers about how we do things, as well as what they can do to save money by reducing emissions and increasing gas mileage.”

“Once companies start doing these things, they need to let consumers know what they’re doing and why they’re doing it,” explains Judy Curry, vice president of marketing and advertising. “This is something we work hard and strive for every day, and we’re proud of it.”

A+ Japanese Auto Repair

As the first Certified Green Business in San Mateo County, CA, as well as the first in the county to become Certified Female Friendly, A+ Japanese Auto Repair is a shining example of how to run a business.

The shop changed all of its 252 fluorescent light bulbs to high-efficiency versions, resulting in a 60% reduction in electricity usage, according to owner Eric Sevim. Though the switch was the company’s largest ­expense in its journey to go green, A+ had help from a local utility company’s rebate program.

A+ also undertook an extensive recycling program, reducing waste from what used to be a large dumpster filled every week, to a single 55-gallon garbage bin.

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“Most of the waste we generate is packaging from our parts,” Sevim says. “Now each technician has his own bins for cardboard, plastic, aluminum/steel, and a garbage bin for anything else. We had to make it easy for our technicians to recycle, then the program ­really began to work. We service between 60-70 cars per week, and we do it all by filling only a 55-gallon garbage bin.”

The shop also uses the dollars it earns from scrap metal collectors to buy the techs lunch as a reward for contributing to the program.

A+ has been using the AskPatty.com BeGreen coupons for more than a year now. “So far it’s been a success,” Sevim says. “About 10% of the coupons we’ve passed out have come back to us.

“It’s something that can easily be done to promote to our clientele that we’re focused on being sustainable as a business, and we’re also giving them a way to be a part of the green movement,” he continues.

Sevim’s advice to shop owners who want to start a recycling program is to walk around the shop – service bays, offices, showrooms, etc. – and look at where the most waste is generated. Then think about the following:

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Reduce – Are you using too much of a certain product, or is it possible to buy in bulk to reduce packaging?

Reuse – Can certain items be used more than once? For example, A+ switched from paper to plastic floor, seat and steering wheel covers so they can be used for multiple vehicles.

Recycle – Look into recycling as many different materials as possible.

“Look at the shop, then move up to the office and showroom,” Sevim says. “Once you start looking at things this way, ideas develop and you become a lot more mindful of green practices.”

Larry’s Auto Works

As is the case with many businesses in California, Larry’s got into going green out of ­necessity. “In the Bay Area, the environmental issue started out when the local sewer districts needed to ­reduce the amount of metal content that was going into the bays,” says owner Larry Moore. “They identified automotive businesses as one of the main sources. So we got into it over 20 years ago not as a positive thing, but to prevent it from being on the negative side of the ledger. The first thing we did was to make sure everything that came off of a car was recycled or reused, or at least did not go somewhere it wasn’t supposed to go.”

When Larry’s moved into a new building seven years ago, skylights were installed, in addition to energy-efficient bulbs. Because of the frequent California sunshine, there are many days when techs don’t even need to turn on the lights since so much natural light enters the shop, Moore notes.

“We also put timers or sensors in rooms that aren’t in use all the time,” he says. “For example, lights in the restrooms and training room are only on when someone is in the room. We installed timers in the closets so lights turn off if we forget to shut them off.”

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Moore recommended the following four-step spill clean-up procedure to ­ensure all waste reaches the proper location:

1. For spills in the shop, first take a hydrophobic mop and pass it through the mess – the mop will pick up only petroleum-based products. Squeeze that into a waste oil container.

2. Next, use a cotton mop to clean up the rest, then squeeze that into a bucket. This will contain a little oil on the surface, mostly coolant, and some dirt. Dip the hydrophobic mop in the bucket to take the oil off. You’ll be left with recyclable coolant.

3. Use shop rags to wipe the floor dry – companies that process rags have a way to separate out the oil, so the remaining oil will be recycled.

4. Once a week, mop the floor with soap and water. If the first three steps are done properly, the floors of your shop will be no dirtier than the floors of any office. That dirty water can then be dumped into the sink and processed as wastewater.

In California, legislation allows businesses to pass along any costs of handling ­customers’ vehicle materials back to the customer. “We can’t make a profit, but we can pass it along,” Moore says. “So we keep track of that, and every year it nets me about $20,000 that would have come from my bottom line, but instead is paid for by the customer.

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“It started out as a pollution prevention program but goes beyond that now,” he ­continues. “We do get a lot of comments from our customers who say they appreciate knowing they’re going to a shop that does that.” 

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