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I had the opportunity in November to participate on AkzoNobel’s Sustainability Leadership Symposium, just before the start of the 2013 SEMA Show. 

The focus of the discussion, the third AkzoNobel has hosted, was on how to institute sustainable business practices within the collision repair industry, and the industry’s place in the broader “system of personal automotive transportation.”  

The panel discussed a range of subtopics, such as the impending generational shift in vehicle owners and their driving habits, new vehicle technology (including crash avoidance systems and autonomous vehicles), roadblocks to vehicle repair such as repairer/insurer conflicts and excessive “totaling,” and ways in which the industry can produce a “triple bottom line,” (people, planet, profit). It was a fascinating talk, with panelists representing shops, insurers, educational institutions and beyond. 

The last part of the symposium examined what it will take to move past the discussion and develop real solutions for a sustainable future, for both collision repair and the auto industry at large. It raised a lot of questions.

For example, panelist Ron Giutini, an expert in commercial and military remanufacturing, suggested a shift to vehicles that are made to be remanufactured. Such a change would require a whole new way of thinking for vehicle manufacturers, who are unlikely to stray from their priority of selling new cars. Is it realistic to think the OEMs will ever put more stock in repairing or remanufacturing vehicles than in selling them? 

Panelist Keith Hudd of The Economical Insurance Group in Canada shared how his company has had success with a lean/green assessment program for shops on its DRP network. The program not only encourages shops to be more sustainable, but also helps Hudd’s company get a handle on which facilities will be in business for the long haul, he says. But, are insurance-driven sustainability initiatives viable in today’s market, when so much tension already exists between shops and insurers?

The panel also broached the subject of repair standards and the impact they could have on the development of a sustainable industry. The same issue was discussed at length days later at the Collision Industry Conference. And there, where the standards conversation has gone on for nearly two decades, attendees couldn’t reach a consensus on whether they should be developed, or how.

The AkzoNobel panel noted that a big roadblock to progress on the sustainability front, no matter how you splice it, is making a business case for sustainable efforts. Whether you’re a shop, an insurer, a vehicle manufacturer or vendor, an initiative has to benefit the bottom line to stand a chance. In an industry that is so segmented, finding common ground, or a mutual benefit, is a big challenge.

So, where do we go from here? I’d like to know what you think needs to happen to make sure the collision repair industry, and the auto industry it’s a part of, not only survive, but thrive in the years ahead.   

Jake Weyer, Editor

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