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Essentials for Becoming Environmentally Conscious

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When Gustavo Samayoa wanted his collision repair shop to stand out from competitors, he didn’t look to the usual approaches of excellent customer service or innovative marketing. Instead, he decided to take his 10,000-square-foot shop green in a major way—and he made sure to get the certifications and seals of approval to prove his effort and dedication to creating an environmentally savvy business.

The owner of PAR Auto Body Shop in Daly City, Calif., Samayoa followed standards recommended by the San Mateo County Green Business Program, a municipal initiative aimed at resource conservation, waste reduction and pollution prevention. He earned a certificate from that group. His shop also has the I-CAR Hybrid Certification.

PAR Auto Body, which generates about $60,000 in monthly revenues, spent $8,000 over the course of a year to make changes such as switching electronic ballasts to become more compatible with energy-efficient fluorescent lights, and installing low-flow toilets. Samayoa also switched the shop to waterborne paint, and increased the amount of recycled and biodegradable products used.

The experience even led him to become a “Certified Green Consultant” with his own advisory firm, Sustainable GreenBound, which assists companies trying to go green.

Samayoa isn’t alone in trying to green his operations. Collision centers are finding that they can introduce environmentally friendly changes to their shops by following guidelines put out by municipal, state, and federal programs, as well as nonprofit organizations.

Then, like Samayoa, they earn certifications or seals of recognition that not only set them apart from other shops in the area, but could also put them in line for local grant money or state funding that’s been earmarked for environmental cleanup.

CERTIFICATIONS & PROGRAMS

There are several types of certifications or “green seals of approval” that can designate a shop’s environmental health:

City, county and state designations. Every state has an environmental agency, and many municipalities and counties are implementing rewards for green businesses, similar to San Mateo. California tends to take the lead when it comes to green certifications, including a Bay Area Green Business Program started 13 years ago that became a model for other cities, such as Los Angeles.

Another example is the Green Business Partnership in Sarasota County, Fla., that offers a seal and also publishes an online directory where consumers can browse earth-friendly companies. The partnership provides free site assessments in conjunction with utility company Florida Power & Light.

Environmental Protection Agency approval. The EPA created the Automotive Refinishing Partnership in 1997, according to EPA spokesperson Mary Cushmac, as a way to promote best practices that reduce exposures to chemicals. The partnership is under the umbrella of a program called Design for the Environment, or DfE, as the agency calls it.

Also under the broader program is the Collision Repair Campaign, with a Web site (epa.gov/collisionrepair) that brings together a DfE emission reduction calculator, a self-evaluation checklist, and information on waterborne basecoats. Coming soon is a free 20-minute training DVD featuring NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon and several shop owners, who cover topics such as worker protection and new paint regulations.

Following EPA guidelines is particularly important as it can lead to other certifications, but Cushmac emphasizes that the agency doesn’t offer a seal or designation of its own. Despite that drawback, she’s noticed a large increase in interest from collision repair shops that want to send employees to EPA workshops.

There may also be some form of certification or approval in the near future, Cushmac notes: “We’re looking for ways to recognize collision repair businesses that commit to implementing best practices and follow through on this commitment.”

Independent nonprofit organization designations. Similar to a consumer product trying to get a Good Housekeeping seal of approval, a designation from a nonprofit independent group isn’t tied to a state or federal agency. A good example is Green Seal, a group that provides environmental certification standards. Cost depends on the annual sales revenue of a business. For instance, shops earning less than $200,000 might pay just under $5,000, and a shop making over $5 million annually will pay about double that amount.

“The designation [shops] receive shows that they’re really attempting to go green, as opposed to just making claims that they’re trying.”
—Linda Chipperfield, vice president of marketing and outreach, Green Seal

Green Seal has a certification for fleet vehicle maintenance that would be relevant for a collision repair shop, notes the organization’s vice president of marketing and outreach, Linda Chipperfield. A shop can find an application form at greenseal
.org and Green Seal will assess areas like use of alternative fuels and reduced carbon footprint.

For example, shops must drain used oil filters of residual oil and make sure the filters aren’t disposed of in a landfill. Also, retreaded tires should be used to replace at least 70 percent of tires at a shop, with worn or defective tires sent to retreading facilities.

“As a third party, we give businesses credibility,” says Chipperfield. “The designation they receive shows that they’re really attempting to go green, as opposed to just making claims that they’re trying.”

Organizations can also be locally oriented rather than national, such as Green Partners, a group in Lakeland, Fla., that came together to recognize businesses that make a commitment to the environment. Companies that develop programs with the assistance of the organization will be able to use the Green Partners decal at their businesses, and also use the group’s logo when advertising.

Although Green Partners doesn’t have collision repair–specific requirements, many of its conservation and resource management tactics apply to a shop. For instance, the group makes sure that water heaters have timers, that hoses have shut-off nozzles, and that properties are designed to manage runoff.

There are a wealth of these type of local independent organizations cropping up, including the Green Business Alliance (greenbusinessalliance.com) in Boca Raton, Fla., and the Sustainable Business Network (sbnow.org) of Washington, D.C.

The seals that these organizations provide can be used in multiple ways. The shop can put the seal in ads and other marketing materials, as well as on a shop Web site, and there’s often a plaque that can be displayed in the customer waiting area. Also, these get-green organizations tend to publish and promote educational materials like directories, both online and in print, that list local green businesses.

GETTING HELP

With so many different organizations providing seals and certifications, it’s not surprising that there would be different requirements based on whichever group is handing out the seal.

Shops are assessed, generally, by the documentation they can produce. For example, showing a change in water usage is easily done by comparing utility bills from a previous year with current bills. With green building certifications like those available from the Green Building Council, documents might include statements from construction companies verifying that the materials used were from sustainable or recycled sources.

But the paperwork can get tricky, notes Samayoa, and unless a shop owner has a passion for the process like he does, it’s helpful to go to an outside expert like an independent auditor. Because there are so many rules put out by municipal and state agencies, keeping track of certification requirements can turn into a part-time job.

“It’s similar to doing your taxes,” says Steven Schillinger, president of GRC-Pirk Management, an environmental assessment and auditing firm. “You can do taxes on your own, or you can use a CPA who knows all the ins and outs of the process.”

An auditor will usually do a walk-through of the shop and note any improvements that would qualify the business for local tax incentives. The consulting relationship is often ongoing from there, with the auditing firm keeping track of utility bills, EPA rule changes and permit compliance.

“Assessments almost always start with permits, because the overall green movement dovetails with permit compliance,” says Schillinger. “For example, there are permits about volatile organic compounds that need to be followed. If you’re not in compliance with your permits, you won’t get any further with a green initiative.”

Auditors also help to set goals, he adds, noting that shops don’t get green overnight. It takes a dedicated plan with specific goals to create a cohesive strategy. For instance, a shop might decide it will reduce its electricity bill by 30 percent within the next year, and that will give the business time to work on tactics—installing more efficient lighting, upgrading power equipment, etc.—that will help reach that goal.

Another option is to hire an environmental service company (ESCO), which goes beyond assessment and into consulting. Usually employed by very large shops, according to Schillinger, an ESCO often installs building-wide control systems that can regulate heating, lighting and ventilation. Once that type of work is finished, a shop can then bring in an auditor to find relevant certifications based on those changes.

“Customers are more likely to choose a shop that’s taken steps to make their operations more efficient and to reduce waste”
—Gustavo Samayoa, certified green consultant, owner of PAR Auto Body Shop in Daly City, Calif., and owner of Sustainable GreenBound

BENEFITS

With so many requirements for green certifications, potential expense with operations changes, and the time and energy necessary for starting the process, many shops might be tempted to skip the green path altogether. But there are a number of reasons to make the effort, Samayoa believes.

Shared values. Most notably, he thinks, is customer perception. Many consumers are jumping on the green bandwagon, trying to recycle more materials and to buy environmentally friendly products, and it’s likely that they’ll also take notice of a collision repair shop that shares their values, Samayoa states: “Customers are more likely to choose a shop that’s taken steps to make their operations more efficient and to reduce waste.”

Financial sense. Another big benefit to greening operations is the amount of funds available to companies that are willing to go through the certification process, says Schillinger. Local tax incentives, grants and funds can offset the cost of making changes. “Particularly with the new Obama stimulus money available, each state has created its own plan for driving environmental changes at businesses,” he says. “That funnels down into local areas where you have water companies or utility companies offering rebates.”

Environmental care. Finally, there’s the environmental impact that can occur, Schillinger adds. Being kinder to the earth is sometimes its own reward, he says: “There’s simply a good feeling when a shop owner decides to go green. You have a sense of making a contribution to something greater than yourself.”


Seals of Approval: Several types of certifications are awarded to shops that achieve certain green standards:


  •  Bay Area Green Business Program
  • U.S. EPA - Design for the Environment
  • Green Business Alliance
  • Green Seal
  • Green Business Partnership

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