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Developing a Sustainability Plan

Creating a written sustainability plan can help your shop engage customers, employees, and suppliers in your environmental efforts



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Going green is not a new concept for Jeff Butler. As the owner of Haury’s Lake City Collision in the eco-friendly area of Seattle, Butler says being environmentally conscious has always been important to his shop.

But during the holiday season of 2010, he was struck by a National Public Radio presentation about the future of environmentally sustainable business and how businesses could offset their environmental impact. Butler said the program made him realize he needed to take steps in his own business to become more sustainable.

Butler’s marketing manager, Jacob Cook, had recently taken an environmental sustainability course in college, and Butler tapped Cook to help create a sustainability action plan for the shop.

Since implementing the plan two years ago, Butler says it has allowed his shop to put protocols, checklists and measurements in place that have helped his shop achieve many of its goals, as well as create customer confidence and loyalty. And while he acknowledges that it’s not inexpensive, he says implementing the plan has become an integral part of his brand promise.

“It’s something we can share with our customers that we’ve gone to this level of depth to ensure this is what we’re committed to and this is how we’re going to do that,” he says. “There’s integrity to what we’re saying. We’re letting our customers know who they’re dealing with.”

Butler, Cook and Mike Shesterkin, founder of What’s Next Consulting LLC, explain how any shop can develop a similar sustainability action plan. 

Defining an Action Plan

An action plan, according to Shesterkin, is a strategic plan that addresses the who, what, how and when surrounding a course of action. In the case of environmental sustainability, the plan addresses how a shop can increase its current and future green efforts.

“It has to be built around what the entity is doing from where they are today to where they need to be in terms of becoming a green operation,” Shesterkin says.

Butler’s plan is explained as a guide that outlines a series of steps that employees, the administration, and the shop can take to lessen their impact on the environment, limit energy use and carbon output, and help to anticipate possible future challenges posed by climate change and energy shortage.

While Butler emphasizes that the owner has to value these kinds of efforts, he says it also can save money and provide a clear path to leading change in any company.

Setting Your Goals

Shesterkin says that deciding the time frame of the plan should first be based on the current state of the collision business.

For Butler’s shop, the plan took a year to completely implement.

Shesterkin says to start with the “easy-to-attack problems” like recycling cardboard, turning lights off and reducing waste, and then moving on to long-term goals.

“Let’s look at the paint booth itself, for example,” he says. “We know the booth has an impact in terms of carbon output and electricity. The owner may decide that, depending on the age of the booth, they want to invest money in putting variable speed drives on the fans so that it will go to an idle position when it’s not being used. Or, if the booth is older, the shop may decide they want to invest in a scrap solvent recycling system to lower the amount of waste that leaves the shop.”

Assessing Your Market

During the goal-setting process, Cook says shop owners should be conscious of their customer demographics and how to properly market these new initiatives to them. While Butler knew people in Seattle tended to be particularly environmentally conscious, Shesterkin says that may not be the case for every shop across the country. That’s why it’s important to first assess your market.

Shesterkin says to identify whether the market you’re analyzing is urban, suburban or rural and to then identify the characteristics of people who live in the market. You can obtain information from U.S. government and census data, chambers of commerce or state municipalities. He says that you can even find estimates of the number of hybrids or electric vehicles in your community.

Shesterkin says that if environmental sustainability is not a huge focus in the community, these efforts should be marketed as a way to keep your shop top of mind to customers and emphasize your values and goals.

“I think a lot of us understand that protecting the environment and adding to the social well-being of our community is a good thing,” he says. “But in our industry, we’ve heard before that, many times, people aren’t very interested in knowing that the shop might be less environmentally impactful because what they’re really worried about is getting their car back and having it repaired completely. There’s a marketing opportunity to help your shop stick out in a person’s mind because you value the same sorts of things that they value.”

Examining the Shop

While his sustainability plan eventually became a 20-page internal document, Cook started by dividing the plan into three stages:

Best Practices. For the first stage, Cook meticulously went through both the front and back of the shop and noted the best practices for energy consumption, recycling, procedures for handling customer vehicles, and even office supplies ordering.

“It’s the little things that we can do to start making an impact right now,” he says.

For resources on sustainable best practices, Shesterkin recommends browsing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website.

Retrofits and Upgrades. The next stage explores some of the longer-term goals of the plan. The stage details modifications and investments that could be made to enhance sustainability.

“It also considers things like our fleet of loaner vehicles,” Cook says. “So one of the things on the list is to create a list of loaner vehicles that we could upgrade to in the future that are either electric or consume less gasoline.”

Campaign for Marketplace Change. Finally, the third stage involves working with suppliers and vendors to encourage sustainable practices in their own company, such as limiting deliveries or reducing the amount of packaging materials.

“We try to show them the example we’re setting and explaining how it would be beneficial for them to improve how they do business,” Cook says.

To focus the plan, Shesterkin recommends creating a map of the shop built around the Six Sigma model of supplier, input, process, output, and customers.

“We look at the body shop as a system,” Shesterkin says. “In each piece of that map, there are aspects and impacts that impact the environment or the community around the shop. What we’re doing here is coming up with a table of the different aspects of the shop, what the shop is currently doing to mitigate the negative impacts or enhancing the positive impacts that it has on the environment, and then creating a prioritized list that becomes a strategic plan.”

Getting Staff Buy-In

After the plan was drafted, Butler says the next step was getting the staff onboard. Management sat down first with the front-office staff and then with the technicians to explain the plan and what would be expected of them.

Cook says that getting the employees to participate in the program from the start was key to its success.

“They didn’t view it as an obligation,” he says. “They viewed it as something cool that their colleagues at other shops weren’t doing and something that set them apart from the competition.”

For staff members who may have difficulty seeing the value, Shesterkin says that finding a personal connection with the plan can help motivate employees to feel engaged.

“Some people may be cynical around it,” he says. “Engaging them and making it tangible for them in terms of, what sort of ideas do you have? Getting them to contribute whatever small thing it may be is getting some skin in the game.”

Reviewing as the Key to Success

To ensure the plan is on track and properly implemented, Shesterkin says reviewing the plan on a monthly basis is critical.

“As you’re striving to achieve something, you’ve got assignments for people and you’re regularly keeping up with each other to make sure it gets done,” he says.

Cooks says that from the start, they scheduled follow-up meetings with each group of staff members to get feedback and see how they were adhering to the goals.

The plan is also reviewed with each employee and updated at the end of each year.

Look to the Community

Butler is currently in the third stage of his plan, which involves working with suppliers, vendors and community partners to get on board.

“When you order parts, they arrive in a huge cardboard box, with tons of styrofoam and packaging,” Cook says. “That can be a major impact on your business, as well.”

Besides specifying ordering and receiving procedures, the shop is also going through the list of vendors regularly used and sending letters and invitations, and educating them about sustainable supply chain management.

“When you reach out to your suppliers and are able to articulate what you’re attempting to do from your strategy, they can better understand the role they play in what you’re doing,” Shesterkin says. “Suppliers, the community, the employees, the government, they’re all stakeholders in what you do and they can be engaged.” 
 

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