Running a Shop Operations Green in the Shop

How to Be Green in 2013

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We’re a green shop.

Matt Dewalt hears that phrase so often that he’s not even sure what it means anymore.

“It’s almost a diluted term now—green,” says Dewalt, vice president of Scott’s Collision Centers. “Everybody says they’re green and doing green things in their shop. One shop’s doing this; another’s doing that. It seems like it’s everywhere.”

That’s not necessarily a problem, though, Dewalt says. Sustainability is one of the main organizational values of Scott’s Collision’s two locations in eastern Pennsylvania, and he likes hearing that other shops are getting on board with environmental practices.

“The key is figuring out what you can do to stand out,” Dewalt says. “I mean, what’s really green today?”

Waterborne paint, recycling, energy efficient lighting—these are becoming basic standards in facilities nationwide, says Sue Schauls, who runs an Iowa-based independent environmental consulting firm that bears her name. It’s time for shops to progress and take the next steps.

FenderBender spoke with a number of shop owners, consultants and suppliers to figure out just what those next steps are in an industry of seemingly perpetual change. “It’s about building a foundation,” Dewalt says, one that allows shops to steadily improve and adjust, and one that incorporates green practices into every aspect of business—facility improvements, tools and equipment, processes, and marketing.

New Ways to Improve Facilities

Think Inside the Box

His big idea came out of practicality more than anything, John Kimpton says. The Pacific Northwest has long had a passion for environmentally conscious business, and Kimpton’s Springfield, Ore., shop, ‘A’ Street Automotive & Collision, is no different.

To officially get “green certified” through his county, though, Kimpton needed to clear quite a few hurdles in spill containment. Because the county’s water is supplied through wells, it has a zero-tolerance standard for water contamination. All hazardous liquids, Kimpton says, are required to be stored on large “containment platforms” to guard against spills and leaks.

That wouldn’t normally be a problem, except to reduce waste, Kimpton buys all of his fluids—oil, anti-freeze, etc.—in bulk.

“I’m sitting there thinking, how the heck can I get a 55-gallon barrel of oil off a platform to use?” he says.

So, he got to the center of the issue—literally.

“The problem was that we can’t have any harmful liquids go down our drain,” he says, “and our drains were right in the middle of the shop. The whole shop funneled right to the middle. So, I covered up the drain.”

He then purchased berms (think plastic speed bumps) and had them installed at every door in the shop.

“Basically, we turned our whole shop into a containment area,” he says. “No liquids can get in or out.”

The results have made his staff more careful in their work, Kimpton says, and when spills do occur, there are dry cleanup kits stationed throughout the shop, the remnants of which are either sent to an industrial cleaner or recycled.

“Finding ways to lessen your facility’s impact is important. That’s a good example,” Schauls says of Kimpton’s containment system. “Containing your water contamination, whether it’s while cleaning tools or for leaks, is a big step.”

Kimpton says it was an inexpensive fix (he spent “just a couple hundred bucks” on the berms and kits), and it led to his shop becoming certified and producing much less waste.

Better Footing

After a water leak damaged his Easton, Pa., location’s front office area, Matt Dewalt needed to replace the building’s wood flooring.

Rather than going the route of simply reinstalling traditional flooring, Dewalt found a more affordable and more eco-friendly option in a local Lancaster, Pa., company that makes interlocking rubber flooring tiles out of recycled tires and Nike sneakers. Dewalt installed a black-and-orange pattern to match his company’s logo colors.

“It was right on par or cheaper than other flooring options,” Dewalt says, “and it’s actually nice to walk on. When you come in from outside, your feet don’t slip. It’s really safe. You drop things, and you don’t have to worry about it. I’ve had that in for about a year now, and it’s been great.”

Three Modern Tools of the ‘Green’ Trade

Photo courtesy Urethane Supply Company

The Tool: Nitrogen Welding Systems

Recommended by: Joel Armile, Wheeler’s Auto Body Supply

The Use: Armile, says nitrogen welding is the future, and allows shops to make quick, strong repairs on virtually all plastics. Armile, the president of the Cedar Valley (Iowa) Collision Association, has seen it used primarily for repairing bumpers. It can also work well on headlights and other plastic features of vehicles.

The Environmental Benefits: This goes two-fold. First, nitrogen produces fewer emissions than conventional welding, and the process—which is a one-step application, unlike other plastic-repairing methods that require multiple products and chemicals—produces less waste. Second, it allows shops to repair, rather than replace parts, which also cuts waste.

The Cost: Around $3,000 (the 6056 system from Urethane Supply Company, which is Armile’s recommendation, is listed at $2,950 on the company’s website).

The Return: By eliminating the cost of some parts in repairs, shops are able to make higher profit margins through jobs that consist mostly of labor, Armile says. The payoff will be very quick.


Photo courtesy Sartorius Stedim North America Inc.

The Tool: Smart-mix paint scales

Recommended by: Joel Armile, Wheeler’s Auto Body Supply

The Use: Although many shops have used variations of digital paint-mixing scales over the years, Armile says the latest models are much improved and more effective in mixing paint to the proper color and quantity.

The Environmental Benefits: Shops who use them store, buy and, most importantly, waste less paint.

The Cost: It varies depending on the brand, but there are plenty of options from major manufacturers.

The Return: It’s a little difficult to calculate, Armile says, but shops will definitely see an immediate drop in paint costs.


Photo by Peter Gourniak

The Tool: Nitrogen-based air compressors

Recommended by: Matt Dewalt, Scott’s Collision Centers

The Use: Dewalt’s painters have used them for the past six months or so; all painting is now done through the nitrogen system.

The Environmental Benefits: The biggest benefit, Dewalt says, is transfer efficiency. Tip size is reduced with this system, and a painter needs less material to get full coverage. There’s less waste and far fewer air pollutants from the process.

The Cost: Roughly $64,000 for Dewalt’s two units.

The Return: Less than two years is a “very conservative” estimate, Dewalt says; his material savings and efficiency increases have been significant.

A Better Way: Trends in Green Processes

Sometimes it’s the simplest ideas—even repurposed ones—that will make the biggest difference in a shop, says Lauren Poole, a Denver-based environmental consultant and president of Flashy Green Communications LLC.

“You need to look at your sustainability efforts as the larger picture,” she says. “Look at everything you do. Where can you make improvements? Where’s the waste? Where’s the [inefficiency]? Don’t just say, ‘We recycle our oil,’ and stop there. Look at everything you do and where you can make any improvements.”

It’s the progressive shops, she says, that have an all-encompassing green environment—or at least, a continual focus on it. Recycling oil, or paper, or even going paperless—those are tasks, items that should be part of an overall mindset.

And that mindset, according to Schauls, is something the industry has focused on for decades.

“This industry has always been about quality control—always,” Schauls says. “And that’s probably the best way to think of the entire green issue as far as processes go. Being a green shop today is about quality control.”

Repair vs. Replace. Armile says the industry trends over the past couple decades have led to a much larger emphasis on replacing damaged or worn-out parts rather than repairing them. Armile suggests trying to put more emphasis on repairing when possible.

“You have to make sure you’re following the right guidelines, and sometimes, things can’t be repaired, but if you’re always looking for ways to do it, it’ll cut down on waste and it’ll save you a lot of money in parts,” he says.

Spill Containment. ‘A’ Street Automotive & Collision is an example of how facility upgrades can help reduce liquid waste and water contamination from shops. But, Kimpton says, the biggest change at his shop was how his team began to focus on ways of preventing spills, leaks, ruptures, etc. before they took place.

“At the very least, they know they can’t just wash it away if it happens; they have to clean it up,” he says.

This has led to his staff being “much more conscious about what they’re doing,” Kimpton says. Before beginning repairs, they put pans down, and have rags or cloths ready for any spills. They also fix leaks the moment they’re spotted. “They do a lot of things now to make sure they’re careful and not having spills.”

Painting Efficiency. Schauls cites a number of studies she’s seen that show a direct correlation between training for improving paint-spraying techniques and the reduction in air emissions from the painting process. More simply put: Spray better, pollute less.

Armile says a focus on technique, even for the most experienced painters, is paramount. There is “digital training,” he says, that offers painters the chance to measure their efficiency and see exactly how much paint and spray emissions are missing the target. The programs, which are becoming more and more popular among progressive shops, Armile says, are available at most tech schools around the country.

Courtesy Sue Schauls


Ask the Expert

Sue Schauls, Independent environmental consultant



What recent environmental issue has had the most impact on the collision repair industry?

The biggest is definitely the NESHAP 6H rule, which has essentially taken the practices of good, quality shops and turned them into regulations.


What are the highlights shop owners should remember?

It’s an [Environmental Protection Agency] law. It requires that all painting is done in a booth and that the booth filters 98 percent of all air emissions. It also requires shops to use the right spray guns, and for techs to be mindful of the cleaning process. It requires regular training every five years as well.

It was passed in 2008, and in 2010, all shops were required to register. They had until 2011 to be compliant with the regulation.


Are most shops compliant with it?

I can tell you that the progressive ones definitely are. I’m not sure that every shop, everywhere, has all of the knowledge of what the regulations include and require. It’s definitely something all shops should be familiar with.

*For more information on the regulation, visit

How to Market Your Green Message

Shops have used green practices, and have called themselves green, for quite a while. Still, few seem to have a solid strategy for letting customers know, says Poole, whose company, Flashy Green Communications, focuses heavily on green marketing.


“The biggest problem is people need to realize that their marketing is part of their sustainability strategy; it’s not separate,” she says. “You’re not just trying to sell green products or green work. Sustainability needs to be part of your company culture, your brand, who you are as a company. That’s where you’ll differentiate yourself from everyone else.”

The second problem that Poole sees is the perception of the customer who cares about green practices.

“It’s not just hybrid owners, or people like that,” she says.

Many segments of your current customer base, and of potential customers in your area, have strong support for environmentally friendly businesses.

“Remember that people buy on value, not price,” she says. “You need to communicate the value to the customer. You’re trying to create an image in the minds of customers that you’re a company that cares about the community that you work in. You care about the customers. You’re trying to create an image for your business. You’re not just selling a product.”

She has a few tips for how your shop can do this:

Don’t be afraid to call yourself green. No shop is 100 percent sustainable, Poole says, and shops shouldn’t be afraid to promote themselves as green when they are only doing a handful of sustainable practices.

“Everyone has to start somewhere,” she says. “Being sustainable is a process, and all you’re doing is letting people know you’re a part of that process.”

Get out in the community. People want to do business with people they know, Poole says, and getting the opportunity to share your story with customers and potential customers is crucial. Do volunteer work, join community groups and networks, or host a “green car care day” for customers, she says.

List your business in green directories. Many people will check listings for green businesses, Poole says. Make sure your shop is on your area’s lists. (Examples: Green Business Bureau,,, etc.)

Promote your story to news outlets. Whether it’s the local newspaper, TV news or magazines, Poole suggests sending press release_notess and contacting them to explain your green initiatives.

Include your green work on marketing materials. Your sustainability efforts need to be present in all of your advertising and marketing campaigns. Whether it’s simply including a logo of your certification credentials, or a list of your green practices, Poole says to let customers know.

The Benefits of Being Green

Since he founded the shop in 1988 with longtime friend Chris Kuhnhausen, John Kimpton says ‘A’ Street Automotive & Collision has benefited greatly from its environmentally conscious values.

“It’s not just for reducing your waste stream or water contamination,” he says. “There are a lot of reasons why having this type of mindset is good for your business.”

First off, it provides a better work environment for employees, he says. Employees know that the shop is safe and clean. “It also lets them know that you care,” Kimpton says. “If you’re going out of your way to do some of these things, your staff is going to notice and appreciate that.”

It also helps shops to regularly evaluate their practices. If you’re always trying to reduce waste and streamline processes, Kimpton says, then you’re always analyzing current systems and looking for improvements. It’ll make a difference in all areas, not just ones focused on sustainability, and obviously, it will help to create efficiencies.

Lastly, Kimpton says that most sustainable practices happen to be the most cutting-edge, as well. “You’re always focused on new technology,” he says. “That’s going to help your shop’s practices, and it’s going to make a difference in public perception of your shop.”


Putting a Number On Innovation

Matt Dewalt’s father opened Scott’s Collision in 1971. To be in business for 40-plus years, Dewalt says, the company has had to have a continual focus on “staying ahead of competition.” That means being on the cutting edge of technology. It means finding ways to streamline processes, cut costs, employ and recruit the best employees. And maybe most importantly, it means differentiating themselves from their competition.

“One thing we do quite a bit of is outside sales,” he says. “We have a sales rep who’s out visiting other businesses all the time. We developed this business snapshot sheet to hand out (shown below), sort of like a big business card.

“With all the green things that we’ve done for the past 10 years or so, I started making a list. And, now, we have it on the back of that business snapshot.”

Photo by Peter Gourniak

Here’s a look at some of the items on Dewalt’s list:

We recycle about 57,000 pounds of steel per year

We recycle about 11,000 pounds of aluminum per year

We recycle about 36,000 pounds of cardboard per year

We recycle about 150 tires per year

We recycle about 275 gallons of liquid paint waste per year

We recycle about 300 gallons of motor oil per year

We recycle about 125 gallons of coolant per year

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