Going Green without Breaking the Bank

April 1, 2011
There are lots of ways to make your shop more eco-friendly, each with its own price tag and potential payback. With a little research, anyone can reap the benefits of going green.

Alex Legros’ motivation for investing in green strategies was threefold: He wanted to save cash, build better relationships with insurance companies and lessen his shop’s impact on the environment.

As manager of Sawgrass Ford’s collision center in Sunrise, Fla., Legros has seen all those goals met. Overhead has dropped, revenue is on the rise, the shop just strengthened a DRP relationship through a green certification program, and Mother Nature has benefited from every move. Plus, customers have noticed.

“We’ve had customers come in and acknowledge it,” Legros says. “It does draw attention.”

The 30,000-square-foot facility, which has 24 employees, repairs more than 200 vehicles a month and earns roughly $3.5 million annually, didn’t go big when it went green. Its efforts: recycling materials, solvents, antifreeze and oils; using low-energy fluorescent lighting; installing EnergyStar equipment; recycling carwash water; and switching to low-pressure paint fittings.

You won’t find any solar panels on the roof. No wind turbine towering overhead. No geothermal cooling system. The shop hasn’t even made the transition to waterborne paint. Yet, it’s been recognized with Broward County’s Emerald Award for eco-minded practices every year for a decade, and this year achieved the Coordinating Committee for Automotive Repair’s (CCAR) GreenLink status.

“Going green” can be an overwhelming prospect that implies radical—and expensive—change. But the reality is that many eco-friendly business strategies are possible for just about any collision repair shop, on any budget, to implement.

What You Can Do

“Going green is really just a sensible use of your resources,” says Jim Newman, owner of Newman Consulting Group, which has helped develop energy-efficient, sustainable buildings for just about every use.

A few years ago, Newman was involved in the development of the first ever Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) GM dealership, which included a body shop and service center (see the article “LEEDing The Industry”). LEED certifications, issued by the U.S. Green Building Council, are widely considered to be the highest form of green status a building can receive.

But Newman says a building doesn’t have to be LEED certified to be energy efficient.

Using the assumption of a roughly 25-year-old building, 20,000 to 25,000 square feet in size, his company put together a list of environmental strategies and payback periods categorized by cost. Revenue, he says, does not factor into the payback calculation; it is simply the cost of the retrofit divided by the savings. For example, if you pay $10,000 for the change and the utility savings is $2,000 per year, the payback period is five years, Newman says.

“But simple payback is not a good way to look at energy savings,” he says, “as the savings keep on putting money in the owner’s pocket after the payback period is over.”

See Newman’s tips for going green, categorized by cost and payback period, below.

Low-cost, fast-return

green strategies

These upgrades and strategies are inexpensive, do-it-yourself projects that can typically pay for themselves—and start saving you money—in less than one year.

Best for: Shops just starting the green journey that aren’t ready to make a big financial commitment just yet.

Install interior window film, primarily on south and west exposures.

Use timers or photocells for exterior light control.

Use LED exit signs.

Reduce duct leaks, which can boost efficiency as much as 20 percent.

Change air conditioning and heater filters regularly.

Install a water heater blanket.

Use compact fluorescent lamps in all recessed fixtures.

Plant natural vegetation for shading.


relatively fast-return

green strategies

These strategies do require an investment—typically less than $6,000—and might require some expert help to install. They’ll pay for themselves and start paying you back within about three to five years.

Best for: Shops that have already made a number of small green changes, and are ready to take it to the next level by investing some money and time in their green strategy.

Use EnergyStar computers, monitors, copiers, fax machines, scanners, printers, refrigerators, microwaves, vending machines and water coolers.

Install large ceiling fans for ventilation and better heat and cooling distribution.

Install a gray water recycling system.

Switch to more efficient gas water heaters.

Install low- or no-water use urinals and toilets.

Install a cistern to collect and distribute rainwater and air conditioning condensation.

Install automatic closers on all doors, including overhead.

Install directed
skylights or light pipes.

Sizeable, long-term

green investments

These upgrades can require financing or a sizeable stack of cash—anywhere from $6,000 to $50,000 or more—and can take up to a decade to pay for themselves.

Best for: Shop owners whose eco-minded principles make them calculate ROI in environmental impact, not just financials.

Install radiant heaters for shop space.

Install waste oil furnaces for water or space heat.

Install a geothermal heating and cooling system.

Install wind turbines.

Increase roof insulation.

Purchase a new energy-saving paint booth.

Install solar panels.

Install automation systems to control temperatures and lighting, and stagger demand.

 Unmet Expectations

Implementing green practices can save energy and money, reduce environmental impact, improve efficiency, increase customer traffic and even boost employee morale. But some repairers have found that going green is not by itself a guarantee of success, so owners should carefully consider their motivations and expectations before making any changes.

“I thought spending extra money would get me extra business, but it hasn’t,” says Rick Carpo, who runs T. Masters Collision and Service Center in Hammonton, N.J., with wife Ann Marie Carpo.

T. Masters, a 12,000-square-foot, 12-employee shop that lately has repaired three or four vehicles a week, was the first in the state to receive green certification from the New Jersey Green Automotive Repair Program. Carpo has sunk about $750,000 into a variety of green strategies including a 50-kilowatt solar array, radiant heating, an on-site recycling center for materials and waste oil, aluminum air lines that eliminate sweat and contaminants, high windows for natural light, waterborne paint, and a light-colored exterior for sun reflection.

He says he’d do it all again because of his environmental convictions, but he was surprised by the lackluster community response. He says he’s approached numerous insurance companies about advertising T. Masters as a green shop, but none have shown interest. Other “green” shops have also expressed that concern, an issue CCAR is working to address with at least one insurer. It was through CCAR’s GreenLink certification that Sawgrass Ford collision center (see main story) was able to get on Geico’s radar as a green shop.

“We see this as a way to promote shops not only in the industry, but ultimately to the consumer,” CCAR Executive Vice President Bob Steward says of the GreenLink program.

As more shops take their own steps, big and small, to go green, Steward hopes his organization will be able to help market those achievements. CCAR has recognized 99 shops during the past two years, and is hoping that will translate into more business for those shops.—JW 

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