At the recent Santa Clara County Green Business conference, I heard Larry Moore of Larry's Autoworks in Mountain View share his thoughts about being a green business. They have been in business for 30 years and became green certified by Santa Clara county in November 2006, the first certified green business in Mountain View, the town famous for being Google's headquarters. Their environmental motto is, "Keeping our environment safe and healthy is an important part of Larry's AutoWorks. This applies to both our daily work environment and the world environment." What a great example of how a small business can take on big issues and play a role in being a leader in protecting the environment.
Well, obviously as an emergency room for cars, they are most concerned with quality service and customer care. In fact, they have been voted as the best-of in the city in their service area for three years in a row. A customer once said that Larry's is the cleanest and most pleasant auto shop to wait in while your car is being serviced. So green could go hand-in-hand with profit and service. Still, what does a green business certification mean? Well, in Santa Clara County, it covers the following areas:
- Compliance with environmental regulations
- Energy Conservation
- Water Conservation
- Waste reduction and recycling
- Pollution Prevention
There is a checklist that you have to complete and proof, but the process itself is free. An auditor will visit your shop and ensure that you do what you claim (e.g. installing low flow faucets, recycling paper and cans) after which you get all the benefits of the program including a green business logo.
For Larry's Autoworks, it is focusing on: (a) pollution prevention, and (b) recycling. According to Larry, they first go for the biggest financial savings, although that sometimes means doing the hard part first. They are rather small and hence do not have a specific department to run the program and track all the savings, but Larry knows that through recycling, they have recouped $14,000 in fees. In his opinion, the financial case IS the biggest reason to go green -- "It would be crazy not to go green, given these numbers!" They were able to save water, reduce electricity cost, reduce chemical usage which reduces workers' comp claims, and recoup money by tracking materials from recycling. Hey, in today's competitive autoworks world, any little bit helps!
One of their biggest lessons in going green successfully has been how important it is to involve the employees in redesigning the work flow. For example, getting recycling to work effectively on the shop floor required an iterative approach. Initially, even though bins were available for separating trash during auto works, the position of bins were inconvenient. By strategically re-positioning them so that workers productivity are not impacted, they were able to change behavior on the floor. "Place recycle barrel before trash barrel -- simple as that!" In addition, Larry also informally audits his supply chain. The purchasing decision is one of the most effective levers for affecting overall change. When doing research and deciding which vendor to obtain supplies from for day-to-day business operations, he takes into account whether the materials are recyclable, whether the vendor/manufacturer provides easy take-back arrangements. In addition, he favors water-based solvent, which is less toxic.
Sure, when it comes to automotive repair, customers care most about a job well-done, about convenience, and about cost, and less about the environment. Still, Larry has found that his shop is able to distinguish itself by creating an environment that is more pleasant for the customer, and appeal to those who care about being environmentally correct. He feels that in general, his customers are concerned about his company being environmentally responsible. As a woman, I would definitely go to a greener car shop, because greener probably equates to a more pleasant environment and a cleaner car repair experience. I am concerned that the myriad of chemicals used do not cause further harm to my health, to society when it is supplied and when it is disposed of. I do not want to pollute the environment with unnecessary waste each oil change. Plus, I personally would feel better if my mechanic cares about the environment. Because, if he can do that, I assume that he is capable of caring well for my car too! Auto body shops are not that attractive a place for me to hang out in. Knowing that they are cleaner makes it a lot more palatable place to visit. Knowing that they are greener just creates a much more pleasant image of the shop in my head that makes me want to spend money there. Well, that's me.
Today, green business certification programs everywhere are running into a bottleneck with more demands from businesses. In fact, all the programs around the San Francisco Bay Area have backlogs and needs more staff to approve the many new businesses wanting to be certified green. With consumers demanding more accountability on businesses, and the increasing PR value of going green, it is not wonder this kind of program is worth considering. If you are interested to find out more, please check with your local Chamber of Commerce, your city government, or your county government for specific details on a program nearby. Here is the Santa Clara County green business certification program with some information on why being green helps the business.