With companies of all types trying to present themselves as green and environmentally aware, some people argue that consumers have become immune to such claims. But I think making an effort to lessen our shop's impact on the environment still makes sense.
First and foremost, I feel it's the right thing to do. But beyond that, even though in a few cases going green increases our costs, just as often it ends up saving us money. And I think it still offers shops a marketing benefit. Many people don't expect to see environmental concern when they go to get their car repaired. I think our green efforts help us if not gain new customers at least build customer loyalty.
Here are some ways to credibly show you're doing your part for the environment.
Transition to waterborne
If you're not in a market that mandates the use of waterborne basecoats, making the switch is a great way to promote your business as being easier on the environment than other shops. All of the paint companies offer ads and posters to help shops promote their use of waterborne paints. We made the transition last year, and while it might not be what brings customers to the door, I think it makes some of them feel better about leaving their vehicle with us.
Find power alternatives
Using cleaner, more renewable forms of energy doesn't require installing solar panels on your shop's roof (though some shops have done that). Like other utilities, ours offers the option of choosing renewable energy sources – wind, solar, geothermal or biomass – for some or all of our power usage. The added fee can be as little as $2 a month, and the utility helps promote companies that make the switch. Alternatively, organizations such as NativeEnergy ( www.nativeenergy.com ) and Terrapass ( www.terrapass.com ) help you estimate how much carbon-based pollution your business creates. Your purchase of "carbon offsets" through these organizations is an investment in renewable energy sources that reduce emissions to the same degree your business contributes to it. You can tell your customers your business is "carbon-neutral."
Replace old lighting
You may be able to improve the lighting in your shop – something your technicians are sure to appreciate – and save energy and money on your taxes at the same time. Check with your local utility or state energy department to ask about rebates or tax credits that can offset much of the cost of replacing old lighting systems with new, more energy-efficient lighting. They also may offer overall energy audits, free inspections of your facility to suggest other ways to reduce energy consumption.
Sell the benefits of recycled parts
Like many shops, we have a bit of a love-hate relationship with used parts. In the right circumstances, they can be a great choice, but even then some customers are interested only in new parts. The green argument may be the right one to help that customer feel good about their choice of a used part.
Cut your garbage bill
Are you still paying to have dumpsters full of cardboard parts packaging and damaged sheet metal hauled away? Depending on the current price for scrap metal, haulers will remove all your shop's scrap metal for free or may even pay you a small fee for it. Your garbage hauler can help set you up to recycle your scrap cardboard and paper, often reducing your garbage disposal fees. Companies that refurbish damaged bumper covers, radiators and headlights might pick those items up from your shop for free or even pay you a small fee.
Look for recognition programs
Environmental regulators in my area offer an "EcoBiz" recognition program for shops that use certain best practices. On a federal level, the Coordinating Committee for Automotive Repair (CCAR) offers a similar "Greenlink" program ( www.ccar-greenlink.org ). Such programs can help you find other ways to reduce your environmental impact – and get some recognition for doing so.
Going green may or may not offer your shop a marketing edge, but many of these activities will help you improve productivity, reduce your costs or generate a little revenue – all things that can add a little more "green" to your bottom line.
Camille Eber is the second-generation owner of Roth & Miller Autobody in Portland, Oregon.