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Management: Playing the ‘Green’ Card

Recently, a local radio station did a story on a shop that was turning away SUV drivers who could not justify owning the large vehicles. I could not believe my ears, a shop owner turning away work? Maybe your shop cannot afford to have these convictions, but it started me thinking about the whole "green issue" ….

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By Andrew Markel
Editor
BRAKE & FRONT END Magazine

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Recently, a local radio station did a story on a shop that was turning away SUV drivers who could not justify owning the large vehicles. I could not believe my ears, a shop owner turning away work? Maybe your shop cannot afford to have these convictions, but it started me thinking about the whole “green issue.”

I have been encountering the green issue in our industry a lot more. It is coming mainly from the parts supplier community trying to differentiate their products from the competition. Some of it represents a real effort to make the world a better place. Some of it is little more than recycled paper in the office copier machines. Good or bad, most of these efforts forget shops have to live green to stay in business, it is not a lifestyle.

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Parts manufacturers must understand a shop’s perspective and level of understanding towards environmental issues.

These issues keep owners up at night, they do not have warm fuzzy dreams about saving the polar bears or eating free-range organic foods. They have nightmares about the EPA busting in and looking around at waste oil tanks, parts washers and the soil in the parking lot. They fear that the contractor they use to take away their scrap tires will dump them in a vacant lot in the inner city.

Most shop owners know more about waste streams than your average green enthusiast. Next to dry cleaners, automotive repair shops are the most regulated small businesses by local, state and federal environmental agencies. Green is part of the daily business mentality.

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Parts manufacturers should not try to play the green card unless they really, really mean it. Also, anything green must make business sense for everyone in the food chain — from the worker who assembles the part to the person who has it installed on their cars.

In my opinion, “green” in our industry is about two sound business principles and not marketing mumbo-jumbo. First, the principle “doing more with less” is critical to the profitability of any business. Second, is the belief that everyone has a responsibility to their customers and community. These two tenants have been around long before the Madison Avenue green revolution and are more American than apple pie and Chevrolet.

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Doing more with less is a struggle for every business and consumer. For shops it means lowing utility bills, using few consumables and reducing how many times the dumpster needs to be emptied. These are green acts, but they are also acts of a healthy business.

Most shops realize that in order to be successful, the community they are located in must be economically and environmentally healthy. A shop that pollutes is only polluting its customers and potential business. So, it is a shop’s responsibility to take care of the local environment.

There are looming green issues for the brake industry that will affect shops and manufacturers. Brake dust is starting to draw the attention of some environmental agencies. The groups are concerned that some of the metals in the friction materials, like copper, are making there way into lakes, rivers and streams.

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One report estimates that 10-35% of the copper load in the San Francisco Bay is from brake pads. The concern is that copper can be toxic to microscopic organisms that are the foundation of the marine food chain.

While a lot of the science is still being tested, some brake pad manufacturers are being proactive by participating in the scientific process and looking at their formulation before the heavy hand of government regulation takes hold. Expect to hear a lot about it in the coming months.

The parts industry uses a patronizing term for shops and technicians when they are not calling us “installers.” Some marketing executives call us “the person who throws away the box.” Maybe, they can start calling us “the person who recycles the box.”

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