Green grows the industry

Jun 9, 2010

It’s good business to make your shop eco-friendly for you, your workers and your customers; and it will save you money in the short and long run.

It’s not always about money.

Our connection with nature is our heritage. Sometimes, in the busyness and stress of our lives, we may lose that connection. But with the “green” evolution striking a chord both with consumers and businesses, it’s getting easier thoughtfully and economically to be green.

Who says a vehicle restyling business needs to look like a garage or warehouse in today’s business world – even if the building is a garage or warehouse? We want to do anything to attract customers, bring them inside and then show them what a restyling operation can do for them and their vehicles.

Here are a few quick ideas to start. We’ll get into more detail later.

Start outside. If you can plant some trees, do so. Put some potted plants and flowers outside near your entrance. Businesswise, it makes your operation more appealing, welcoming and professional.While you’re at it, bring a bit of nature inside with some greenery on counters and desks. Even one of those small fountains in the office area catches customers’ notice.And “green” isn’t just about green plants. Have you large windows or maybe a skylight? Sunlit areas not only conserve energy, especially when it’s cold outside, they make for healthier people during the winter months, studies show. Strategically placed skylights may be something you want to consider for the future if you don’t already have them. Add some background music – not blaring away – that makes for a relaxing ambience.

Small, but big impact

Smaller businesses make up about 98% of all companies in America. Cumulatively, they can account for a huge positive environmental impact the more they consistently use green practices. They can make a difference, one business at a time.

Remember your human resources – your employees.  Let them know how much you value them by making sure you attend to their safety. Make sure your company abides by all applicable safety regulations. Be a good example to your employees and give them training in safety and handling procedures pertinent to their jobs.

To lessen allergies, asthma, lung and other health problems, low- or no-VOC (volatile organic compound) paints, stains and adhesives should be used in new construction and in redecorating. Think safe, durable and non-toxic for all construction and redecorating materials. Sure, there is a great impact made by the giant corporations on the environment, good or bad. But realize that small businesses also make a bigger environmental impact than you might think.

Office smarts

You will discover that a lot of measures you can take are just good common sense: high-efficiency lighting, lower heat settings (especially at night) during the cold months, higher air conditioning settings in the warmer months, programmable thermostats, low-flow toilets and faucets. These are smart policies that not only make your shop greener, they’re proven cost-savers. Most business owners and managers already know that plugging all office machines into power strips and turning them off when you leave the office saves electricity.

Save more – and waste less – by printing double-sided memos, brochures, informational items, etc. on recycled paper with plant-based ink in the cartridges. And don’t just throw away papers. Shredded paper makes for good packaging material; cardboard boxes can be reused or recycled.

Maximilian Motorsports in Chehalis, Wash., for example, is a small business that has taken practical steps to reduce, re-use and recycle. Excess cardboard boxes and packaging material are given to a neighboring business that makes good use of reusing them. The restyling shop also separates recyclable garbage and puts it in labeled containers (glass, paper, aluminum, steel, etc.).

Be sure employees use their own mugs instead of paper cups. The aluminum industry paid out more than $800 million annually for aluminum cans; organizations like Habitat For Humanity, schools and charitable causes benefitted by some of this revenue.

Other recycling efforts, specifically for a restyling/rebuild shop, offer other win-win benefits.

Recycle, reuse

Convenience adds to the bottom line when the time and energy used to complete a task your business requires is done by someone else for free. For instance, at Maximilian’s shop, used antifreeze is poured into a 50-gal. barrel provided by a recycling company that collects the full barrel and transports it to its facility. There, the spent antifreeze is distilled, decontaminated and reconstituted again to be sold as recycled antifreeze, which is delivered back to the shop. Be aware that in this case, the shop would still be responsible for the cleanup of its share of the used antifreeze if a spill occurred on the way to the recycling facility, so keep accurate and complete records of recycling, and make sure the company you deal with is licensed, bonded and insured.

How about green air conditioners and heaters? In cold weather, a waste-oil heater burns free waste oil to warm the premises at Maximilian Motorsports. In warm weather, an evaporative cooler does its job without the use of an ozone-harming refrigerant – and compared to conventional air conditioning it uses one-tenth to one-third less electricity.

The EPA estimates that indoor air pollution may be two to five times higher than outdoors. Indoor air quality can be vastly improved with eco-friendly air purifiers, which can eliminate or greatly reduce mold spores, viruses, pollen, dust and toxic vapors, etc. You can get portable plug-in units, if that is all you need.

Talkin’ trash

Did you know that landfills generate methane, one of the gasses that contribute to global warming? The more materials we keep out of the landfills, the better. Because one person’s trash may be another person’s treasure, we can use this to benefit each other and the earth. You can get things free or hugely discounted and have lots of fun in the process. Furnish your office and shop, remodel or redecorate, donate your own unwanted items. At Craigslist (craigslist.org) and Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore (www.habitat.org), for example, you can find quality used and surplus building materials sold for enormous discounts (check out where their closest store to you is on their websites).

Cruise your own neighborhood for demolition sites to contact; go to junkyards, other businesses, people going out of business, or groups that barter – do an online search for a local group.

Look around your own place with a new perspective. What do you already have that you could turn in to something usable yourself? At Maximilian Motorsports, parts of cars have been turned into fun and functional counters, a classy sofa for the waiting area, and a wheel turned into a clock. For some funky decor, half of a red Porsche 944 is installed inside the shop above the waiting area. More projects are in the hopper, all using cast-off car parts to add color and personality to a shop for next to nothing.

Clients, shops work together

The best approach for you may be to do something fairly easy that you know is doable, and then make it a consistent practice. You should see measurable results from your efforts in time, so keep track of things and know that it is a process. Make everyone in your shop a valuable asset; they have their own creative ideas, as well.

Let your customers know of your ongoing progress, invite them to contribute their own observations. People love to be included in a good cause that benefits everyone and the planet. You could have a “Green Suggestion Box” and a bulletin board of eco-minded ideas. You might want to choose one green idea a month to implement and reward the customer who suggested it with a discount coupon for your services or products. Post the customer’s name and idea on the bulletin board.

Maximilian Motorsports includes a flier in any shipped package that explains, among other things, what the business has done to go green and, by doing so, cut costs and lowered the overhead of doing business, and passed some of the savings onto the customers.

One example is the very package the shop receives its products in. There are large bins at the back of the shop to receive scrap metal such as car doors, brake rotors, water pumps, etc. Aluminum and steel parts are in separate bins and ready to be hauled off by the scrap haulers for recycling when the bins are full.

Shop owner Maximilian Macdonald also likes to share his knowledge with the community and other businesses and trade organizations, where he speaks about ways green business practices can enhance the bottom line in practical, real-world situations. He’s spoken at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas and at the local college on Earth Day.

Is anybody out there?

Having the appropriate help and support you need is important because you can’t always go it alone, especially in these times of rapid and complex change. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources you can access. Look around locally; you can join eco-groups and network with other businesses. Contact your local government for information and training programs – many for free.

The Internet is loaded with fantastic resources. Go to www.ecobiz.org, to the Eco-logical business Program home page and then click on Auto Program. You can download “Keep Your shop In Tune,” which outlines “the best management practices to control and prevent pollution for automotive shops and related industries. Through this organization you can even become a certified Eco-Logical Business. You can get green help on topics ranging from construction, hazardous waste management, alternative machines and products, EPA fact sheets, and most anything that pertains to or is related to your automotive business. You’ll also find links to even more information.

Other websites of interest include www.greenbiz.com and earth911.org.

Don’t overlook books as sources of great usable and inspirational information.  Some you might like to check out are: Go Green-How to Build an Earth-Friendly Community by Nancy H. Taylor and Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage by Daniel C. Esty and Andrew S. Winston.

You have the power

Once again, do what you can on the local level. You and millions like you have the power to do. Support legislative initiatives that encourage industry to use sustainable manufacturing processes and reduce, reuse and recycle what is being produced. Become informed on environmental issues and contact you elected representatives with your feedback.