Ask Pat Lobb of Pat Lobb Toyota, what's one of his proudest possession at the year-old dealership in McKinney, TX, and he'll say a 8,660-gallon (32,781-L) cistern.
On hot summer days, it collects 500 gallons (1,892 L) of water from drip pans below the air conditioning ducts. Micro switches and servos send water underground to irrigate the native Texas plants that deposit moisture into the parched air.
His dealership facility boasts low-water faucets, waterless urinals and recycled water in the car wash that cleans upwards of 3,000 cars a month. Best bonus? The water bill dropped from $3,000-$4,000 a month down to $500-$700.
“Some people take us to task for not doing more to promote the fact that we were the first certified green dealership in the country,” Lobb said. “We promote our Toyota affiliation first.”
Green vehicles, green showroom displays, green gifts for showroom customers and green construction have become the pot of gold at the end of today's rainbow.
Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., General Motors Corp. and the National Automobile Dealers Assn. have issued guidelines to retailers for improving energy efficiency.
Green dealerships are popping up everywhere.
Among those in the works are LaFontaine Automotive Group's Buick Pontiac GMC Cadillac dealership in Highland Township, MI, outside Detroit; and Mercedes-Benz of Arrowhead in Peoria, a suburb of Phoenix.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council helps dealers and other retailers build or retrofit earth-friendly facilities.
“This is more than being known as a tree hugger, it is also about gaining a return on investment by doing business differently,” Lobb says.
Energy costs can plummet with the simple addition of a white-covered roof to reflect heat off the building, he says.
And appearances aren't compromised by the selection of conference tables and display cabinets made of a thin wood veneer over compressed wheat stalk board.
Visitors from colleges around North America and community groups around the Fort Worth/Dallas area have visited Lobb's dealership to see all the green features installed there. Lobb's sales team hopes to turn many of those lookers into car buyers.
NADA has its own environment, health and safety director, Douglas Greenhaus. Under NADA's Energy Stewardship Initiatives, dealers can sign up for a portfolio management system with data, tools and strategies to reduce energy and conserve precious resources.
A Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification under the Green Building Rating System means that a building meets the highest sustainability standards in the nation with immediate and measurable impact on precious resources.
LaFontaine Auto Group's Ryan LaFontaine, general manager of the first green dealership in Michigan, installed a geothermal system that heats and cools the facility by capturing energy stored in the earth of its 63,000-square-ft. (19,202-m) building.
The system transfers heat to and from a storage compartment by means of “closed loops” of fluid-filled tubes. The contractors used low-emitting adhesives, sealants, paints, carpet, composite wood and agricultural fibers in construction. Recycled aluminum siding forms a portion of the exterior.
“Going green isn't just the best way to go — it's the only way to go,” LaFontaine says.
He adds: “The energy savings are compelling, but there are so many other motivating factors, including creating a more pleasant experience for our customers, a more productive workplace for our employees and a healthier environment for all.”
LaFontaine plans a science center on the dealer site to disseminate local and global environmental news and information. He hopes it becomes a host site for school and community outing.
Construction is nearly complete on the Mercedes-Benz of Arrowhead in Peoria, AZ, an emerging suburb on the outskirts of Phoenix, one of the fastest growing cities in America.
The owner and general manager expect to gain LEED certification as the first green luxury dealership in America.
“A lot of consumers out there care what you do with your building,” says Jim Astuno, the dealership's general manager.
“We've already sold two cars to people who don't live in our market area, but respect the investment we've made in going green,” he says. “Consumers want to support businesses that share their values.”
The Peoria point is a second location for Mercedes-Benz of Arrowhead. Owner Chuck Theisen spent $13 million on construction, up from $11 million with standard building practices.
The green-inspired store has an exterior face of recycled foam insulation and solar panels. The panels provide 35% of the electrical power during off peak hours. Any extra will be sold back to the utility.
Like Taliesen West, the historic Frank Lloyd Wright home and studio (and now a museum) in Scottsdale that was designed in harmony with the desert climate, the nearby Mercedes-Benz dealershp features an underground storm-water system to minimize soil erosion and large, sweeping roof extensions and canopy screens that contribute to interior shading and reduce air-conditioning use.
Astuno sees the highly unusual green design as a traffic builder. The city of Peoria contributed $1.8 million in tax incentives.
“People like shopping in a store that is very open, clean and bright with no chemical odor,” he added.
The all-new, all-green construction project is friendly to the 100 employees who will work there.
The new facility has showers and lockers for people who want to bike to work, close-in parking for those with electric or zero-emission vehicles and a shuttle service to public transportation.
For dealers that can't afford to build a new point, NADA suggests energy-friendly fluorescent lamp fixtures, nonabrasive machinery cleaners, waste oil burning kits, solar electric panels and rainwater irrigation.
Climate controlled zoning in work areas keeps workers happy and power use to a minimum. NADA recommends swapping out old HVAC units for new, more efficient units.
One of the greenest states in the country is Oregon. That is where Lithia Motors Inc., the nation's eighth-largest dealershp chain is based.
It also is where Lithia built anew “green” dealership. It is significantly bigger than the store it replaced, yet requires half the energy costs, says Lithia CEO Sid DeBoer.
“Green stores are not only more economical, they are also more socially responsible,” he says.
Another dealer, Thomas McLarty III, vice chairman of a privately owned dealership chain, RLJ-McLarty-Landers Automotive Group, says dealers should be environmentally conscious because it is the right thing to do and because so many of their customers are.
“Eighty-five percent of Americans consider themselves as environmentalists,” McLarty says. “That's a big change.”