Running a Green Shop

July 14, 2023
Environmentally-friendly initiatives aren't a marketing tool—they're just the right thing to do.

Sustainability has become somewhat of a buzzword these days, with plenty of businesses using green practices as a marketing tactic to drum up business. 

But for John Carmack, owner of John’s Paint and Body in Lexington, Illinois, running a “green” shop is anything but an advertising ploy. It’s the way he’s operated his business from Day 1. 

“When I purchased the shop 20 years ago, we started with the cleanest refinish process right out of the gate—from a multi-filter system for the paint to protect the surrounding environment all the way down to putting all waste through a recycler at the end of the paint cycle,” he recalls. “I’ve just always felt that it’s my responsibility to do what’s right … and focusing on the long-term health of the planet is definitely the right thing to do.” 

Carmack believes that environmentally friendly practices should be the standard for every business, in fact, regardless of the industry they serve. 

“Outside of the website, we don’t market our green practices,” he adds. “I feel that being ‘green’ should be more of a priority for businesses and less of an advertising gimmick. Being environmentally friendly should be a bare bones standard, not a plus for consumers to look at.” 

The Problem 

The nature of body shop work necessitates the use of paint and other materials that are damaging to the environment if not disposed of properly. 

Focusing on those areas first is where shops can make the biggest impact, in Carmack’s opinion. 

“We have a paint recycler, of course, but it goes beyond that,” he says. “The biggest asset to a shop when it comes to improving its carbon footprint is the team you surround yourself with. You can put as many of these ‘practices’ into place as you want, but it only matters if the people around you share a similar worldview and follow the practices because they truly want to help. Without a solid foundation, the whole journey forward will crumble.” 

He’s quick to add that simply ignoring environmental responsibility isn’t an option, either. That only leads to a faster deterioration of the planet. 

“If we want to leave any kind of healthy environment behind for future generations to enjoy, it’s up to individuals and corporations alike to push for sustainability.” 

The Solution 

When it comes to implementing the kind of green practices Carmack advocates for, alliances with other companies who share a similar mindset is key. 

“As I mentioned before, I believe the biggest areas of pollution in a collision shop traditionally revolve around paint and materials. So, you can make a change today by simply evaluating your partners in business … by partnering with like-minded companies, you can start changing how things are done today.” 

Carmack and his team have relied on partnerships with multiple vendors like 3M, NCS, Axalta and New Pig to help them achieve the high environmental standards in place at John’s Paint and Body. 

“If you’re serious about improving your carbon footprint, start with partners,” he recommends. 

With the help of his partners, Carmack has gone beyond improving his carbon footprint to eliminating it all together, in fact. His website says it best: “With no waste stream and by recycling 100% of parts and liquids used, the EPA classifies John’s Paint and Body as leaving no carbon footprint. Every piece of sheet metal or damaged fender goes through a recycling process. Potentially hazardous chemicals are turned into thinner that will be reused. While other shops take waste off-site to dump, we recycle and reuse leftover chemicals and parts at our location.” 

According to Carmack, achieving a zero-carbon footprint isn’t difficult when it’s a top tier priority in your business model. A small change in mindset will change your way of thinking and the rest will follow. Think of it as prioritizing the future rather than focusing solely on profits, he advises. 

“It might sound silly, but it even comes down to something as miniscule as recycling paper for reprint and reuse at my facility, something I’m a real stickler for. You will find yourself actively seeking out ways to get better with sustainability the more you make it a priority. Not to mention, outside of a mindset change and a small initial investment, there’s no downside!” 

The Aftermath 

“At John’s, our team shares a similar view when it comes to pollution, so any practices implemented are almost customary at our facility,” says Carmack. “Not having to use oil dry due to our relationship with New Pig, keeping everything well filtered, things remain a lot cleaner around the shop. Everyone loves a clean workspace.” 

Carmack is also a proponent for electric vehicles, and feels strongly that body shops should fully embrace and support the EV market. 

“Don’t be afraid to jump in feet first for EV certifications,” he encourages. “It can seem scary at first, but that’s the future of sustainability and we can help usher that along.” 

John’s Paint and Body has started working closely with a local EV manufacturer, and Carmack says he’s been nothing but impressed with their worldview and the technological advances they’re bringing to market. 

“They’re leading the charge into an adventurous future,” he says, and it’s a future John’s has every intention of being a part of. 

The Takeaway 

The ability to implement successful “green” practices into any shop really comes down to two things, in Carmack’s opinion: The right mindset and the right partners. 

“If you can start striving for environmental sustainability in your personal life, the rest will follow,” he reiterates. “Change your mindset and surround yourself with a team that has a similar mindset, and the pieces will fall into place. Even if you don’t see an immediate impact on your business, your impact on the environment and longevity of the planet is priceless.” 

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