A handful of Boulder County auto repair shops are exceeding bare minimum recycling requirements and looking to be as green as possible, helping to change the narrative surrounding the environmental footprints of car businesses.
By bolstering efforts to keep materials out of landfills over the past several years, five auto repair shops — four in Boulder and one in Longmont — have been certified for their waste diversion by the Boulder County Partners for a Clean Environment, or PACE, program.
Those businesses are Tim's Toy Shop in Longmont, which diverts 71 percent of its waste from the landfill, according to Boulder County Public Health Community and Marketing Manager Chana Goussetis; and in Boulder, Pellman's Automotive at a 91 percent diversion rate; Alpha and Omega Independent Car Repair at a 95 percent rate; Independent Motors at an 87 percent rate and AutoHaus of Boulder at a 74 percent rate.
Independent Motors also has achieved PACE milestones for energy and water usage by, since last year, using 18 percent less water than predicted for its location near 55th Street and Arapahoe Road, and hitting a 95.5 Energy Star score out of a possible 100.
Owner Bill Bender said he plans to keep improving on all fronts, with scheduled additions of LED lights to the sections of his shop that still lack them after LEDs were installed last year.
"Most people think of cars in that way, that they have a large carbon footprint and they're not the most environmentally friendly thing compared to buses or bikes," Bender said. "But the amount we recycle when you bring your car to us is phenomenal. All the oil is recycled. If we do a transmission service, all of that is recycled. If we flush your coolant, all that is recycled. With very few exceptions, almost all the parts on a car are recycled."
Because most customers don't get to see behind garage doors of auto repair shops, the industry isn't at the top of the list when people think of green sectors.
"The reason it goes unnoticed is because you drop your car off, you might go to work, you might sit in the waiting room, but you're not thinking about where all that material goes. In other industries like food or when you're at home, you're recycling, you're composting — you see it. But you don't see that here, you don't think about 'What are they doing with my tires? What are they doing with the scrap metal?'" PACE Business Sustainability Advisor Kaela Martins said.
From pleading with parts providers to use less individual packaging when shipping supplies, to further insulating the shop's garages and even installing a 194-panel solar array at the business in 2012, Pellman's leaders have worked to change the paradigm and make auto repair greener industry-wide.
PACE provided $10,000 in rebates on the shop's solar array project, which co-owner Brad Pellman said generates enough power to keep his shop's electricity bill at zero.
"The easiest thing that any auto repair shop can do is recycle their cardboard. So many of the parts and everything we get comes in cardboard boxes. Sometimes it's silly. We get parts that are in this small box and they easily could have been in something else," Pellman said.
While sitting on a board that had some influence over major parts supplier Advanced Auto Parts, Pellman encouraged the use of more environmentally conscious packaging options.
Using a special water-based parts washer that combines heat and water instead of solvent cleaners with harsh chemicals has been another point of pride for Pellman's.
Documenting the steps taken by individuals and small businesses to spare the environment stress and pollution, as PACE does, is crucial for monitoring the progress of entire communities, states and nations toward a sustainable human impact on the planet, Martins said.
"A lot of people don't think of repair as green, but a lot of things are recycled. All the oil, all the antifreeze, the batteries get sent back in and made into new batteries. We try to get that word out," Pellman's wife and fellow co-owner Lisa Pellman said. "Businesses need to step up and set an example. Hopefully some of that carries over in (employees') personal lives, too."
Sam Lounsberry: 303-473-1322, email@example.com and twitter.com/samlounz.