Ecofriendly auto dealerships are still relatively unusual. But dealers across the country are beginning to catch on to the pluses of “going green” — such as saving money and drawing increasingly green-minded customers, not to mention ridding the world of tons of greenhouse gas emissions. The trickle of activity a few years ago has become a flood of facility upgrades and new construction totaling nearly $1 billion. Some stores employ cutting-edge heating and cooling methods and efficient lighting; others are brand-new, state-of-the-art “carbon neutral” facilities using alternative energies like wind and solar power.
Forty-eight percent of the nation’s energy—including 70 percent of its electricity—is consumed by buildings, says the U.S. Green Building Council. Dealerships — with their 24/7 security systems and extensive lighting — tend to devour energy. EPA estimates that if all dealerships reduced their energy consumption by just 10 percent, they would save about $193 million in energy costs and cut more than one million tons of greenhouse gases each year.
Nearly 750 dealerships are now members of Energy Star’s Small Business Network and have taken the first step toward reducing their energy use by 10 percent under NADA’s Energy Stewardship Initiative. Meanwhile, the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system has two stores (Pat Lobb Toyota, McKinney, Tex., and Toyota of Rockwall, Tex.) already certified and two dozen others well on the way. The LEED program assesses a facility in five areas (site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality), then assigns points that determine the project’s rating (Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum).
SEEING GREEN IN SAVING GREEN
Some green dealers have slashed energy expenses by upgrading facilities and monitoring monthly usage. You don’t have to spend millions to save a lot, says dealer Jack Fitzgerald, Fitzgerald Auto Mall, Bethesda, Md., whose 12 stores recycled more than four million pounds of waste last year. Whether by greening up their stores or steering customers toward ecofriendly vehicles, Fitzgerald says, dealers should do what they can to help the environment. “You don’t have to do it all, but you ought to do something.”
Some dealers say they’ve begun to see a return on their investment in less than two years. Jerry Lawson, national manager for Energy Star’s Small Business Network, says implementing even a few “sure energy savers” — such as placing occupancy sensors on interior lights or using compact fluorescent light bulbs — can bring huge savings over time.”
Dealer Dave Kring, Dave Kring Chevrolet/Cadillac, Petoskey, Mich., targeted his heating/cooling and lighting systems. He added a quick-oil-change service that provides enough waste oil to heat the shop all winter. “We save all our oil during the summer, and in the fall we kick on the boiler,” says Kring. The store also slashed its wattage by joining the International Dark Sky Association, which promotes better outdoor lighting that cuts nighttime light pollution.
Dealer Jay Caldwell, Caldwell Toyota-Scion, Conway, Ark., knew he needed more space; the challenge was deciding how best to use it. In the showroom, he had five skylights called Solar Tubes installed to collect natural light. Caldwell says he now wishes he’d bought more. “They outshine any of our other fixtures,” he says. When the sun goes down, Caldwell turns on the store’s T5 compact fluorescent fixtures to light the 34,000-square-foot store.
Though the facility is nearly three times the size of his previous one, Caldwell says his total energy expenses will rise by only about 30 percent. Caldwell Toyota is also looking to launch a major recycling program.
COURTING GREEN-MINDED SHOPPERS
With gas prices at record highs and still rising, everyone wants to be green these days — especially customers. Trading in SUVs for hybrids and smaller cars is part of it. But for now, what’s hot in places like California may not have caught on in Kentucky. And though customers in Oregon may soon expect their dealers to be green, that might not be so in Pennsylvania. “It has to do with how the people around them see the environmental movement,” says Sebastian Blanco, editor of AutoblogGreen. With dealers investing so much money in energy-saving upgrades, the move toward green dealerships has all the markings of an industry-changing trend.
Dealer Caldwell agrees: “I think that within 10 years this will be the standard way to build a car dealership. And I think the public’s going to push this to the point where this is the expectation. Not only is it the right thing to do. It’s also the smart thing to do.”
- original article from the National Association of Auto Dealers