“Going green” was a strange concept, at least to me, just a short time ago. It conjured up images of tree huggers and hippies.

I’m neither. So what did it mean to me, a car dealer in Saco, ME?

At the time, I had enough to work on without worrying about being green: everyday pressures from the factory to sell more; a weak economy; inventory-supply problems; advertising; and employee turnover.

So why did we pursue the path of sustainability? Why in the world would we devote precious attention at our dealership to creating an environmentally friendly place of business?

Is it to serve as a good role model for our kids? Make our associates feel good about where they work? Get customers to appreciate buying from a business that is a good steward of the limited supply of natural resources? The answer is “yes” to all of the above.

However, one of the main reasons we adopted a green strategy is that it is cost-effective. 

At Patriot Subaru, we recognize that expenses ultimately get passed on to the customer. To pursue initiatives that do not add to the customer’s experience and our bottom line would put us at a competitive disadvantage.

With that in mind, in 2009 I made a conscious decision to look into the matter of how we could cut costs and help the environment at the same time. I brought it up at the next managers’ meeting. I was shocked by the level of enthusiasm.

We formed a special committee to get the ball rolling. The energy at committee meetings was and remains high. Teamwork among departments is great and the results are awesome.

We look at everything we do and use, from coffee cups to oil filters. Ideas range from composting to installing energy-generating windmills. Some suggestions we adopt immediately, some we study more and some we reject.

We took a field trip to the trash containers and tracked the waste to the separator and incinerator. What we saw resulted in improvements to our trash processing and recycling.

We improved our lighting and we looked for greener and more cost-effective solutions to washing cars and cleaning floors. We planted an organic-vegetable garden, installed a gym and started a loaner-bicycle program.

Within months, we lowered our electrical use, trash-disposal expense, associate turnover, carbon footprint, heating and lighting bills, paper usage and loaner-car costs. And collectively, we lost a couple of hundred pounds. 

At the same time, we increased sales and profit, grew our service and parts business, got lots of free publicity and found new revenue streams.

We also earned various honors, including an Energy Star Small Business Award from the U.S. Dept. of Energy.

It didn’t happen overnight. We’ve done a lot of little things and a couple of big things. But we’re not done.

Do customers appreciate what we’ve done? Yes. Does that directly result in more sales and higher margins? I can’t say for sure, but I do know people recognize our efforts.

Some of them get conservation ideas from us and try them at home. Others give us their ideas about what more we can do at the dealership.

A week doesn’t go by without someone telling me how they’ve heard about us and how impressed they are that we have integrated a sustainability strategy.

More and more consumers tie their buying habits to their lifestyles and beliefs. They want to buy a car from a dealer that feels the same way they do about the environment.

We have no windmills, solar panels or geothermal energy systems. But we have done a lot. Other dealerships can, too. Feel free to contact me at adam.arens@patriotsubaru.com