by Lesley Lammers
The automotive care industry may not strike most as the likeliest of places to find environmental innovations happening, but the Chapel Hill Tire Car Care Center is proving otherwise. While owner Marc Pons calls the company’s entryway to sustainability “dumb luck,” now the business takes a 360-degree approach to sustainability. With almost 60 years of service behind it, Pons sees sustainability as a way to help keep the family business healthy and viable for the future.
STEPPING OUT ON A LIMB
Participating in the Green Plus beta test in 2009 jumpstarted the company’s sustainability motor, no pun intended. Since the green business certifier was partnering with Chambers of Commerce, Pons felt an obligation to set a good example as a board member of the local Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce. “We did it with trepidation. I thought, oh boy we are a car care business. We are going to get slaughtered!” While we had a strong history of giving back to the community, the environment had not been a part of how the business defined success for itself.”
LOW-HANGING FRUIT FIRST
Pons recognized there was always something new to learn and more than could be done, but that they had to start with the low hanging fruit. “Just keep moving. That’s important. It’s about constant improvement.” Sustainability also revealed itself to be smart business, demonstrated in the thousands of dollars CHTCCC has saved since 2009, when each location was tasked with reducing their utility bill by 10 percent per year. This benchmark ensured thermostats were properly adjusted, computers and lights were not left on, and old furnaces were replaced with more efficient models.
When renovating an older facility for the Carrboro location, environmentally sound practices were intentionally incorporated into the design. Building materials were reused, dual flush toilets installed, paper towel dispensers replaced with air dryers, and even a customer sitting garden with a rain water catchment system was built. The location also just happened to have the ideal sun orientation for solar panels. So they went from low hanging fruit to a major solar installation through local Strata Solar.
Their newest Durham location showcases a green roof over the customer waiting area which provides insulating qualities, native and drought resistant plants as well as control of runoff water. High efficiency toilets were introduced and skylights built into each car bay, allowing enough natural light in to operate the bays with no artificial lights for most of the day.
HELPING CUSTOMERS DRIVE GREENER
CHTCCC’s aims to provide greener product alternatives that help customers’ cars run more efficiently, emit less GHGs and keep toxic chemicals out of the environment. The Environmentally Friendly Oil (EFO) offered is recycled motor oil which has been reprocessed into a semi-synthetic product using no raw crude oil. EFO requires roughly 85 percent less energy to produce than raw crude oil. Since this service costs the company and customers more money, they add a donation of $2 per oil change to NC Green Power to purchase carbon offsets, making the service that much more appealing to conscious consumers. After a year and a half of offering EFO, the number of donations made have offset 732,750 pounds of CO2, the equivalent of 1,764,129 miles not driven and 56,353 trees planted. Soon they will offer a fully synthetic bio-based oil made entirely of animal and plant fats.
The business found yet another green niche by being the first Certified Hybrid Repair Center in the Triangle, after undergoing a rigorous certification process and technician training from the Automotive Career Development Center. “Our employees, everybody can rally around sustainability in terms of energy security for the U.S. and job creation. Our technicians like the position we are trying to create in the market and were excited about the new hybrid training. We are at the pinnacle of the latest technology.” They even found vendors that sell remanufactured hybrid batteries at a fraction of the cost.
STAYING AHEAD OF REGULATIONS
Lead free tire weights are a service offered that Pons says most customers don’t know much about. Lead tire weights can sling off cars and onto the road, causing lead to end up in the environment. Lead wheel weights have already been banned in Washington and California. Pons figured, “Why wait for North Carolina to mandate it as well? Why not get ahead of the curve?”
Like a kid in a sustainability candy store, once Pons found out about Nitrofill tire inflation, he had to get that on the menu as well. Nitrofill helps cars get better fuel efficiency and emit less GHGs as a result. A low tire pressure engine has to work harder because the tires create a drag on the car. Not only does nitrogen hold tire pressure more consistently for a longer period of time, but nitrogen leaks less because it is a larger molecule.
“We have to keep innovating and making sustainability a strategic direction for the company. It’s everyone’s job.”