One year ago Preston Hood Chevrolet saw a way to make a positive difference in a new manner. No one questions that 2008 and 2009 have been challenging years for automobile dealers, but by focusing on an energy-saving program, this dealership managed to generate significant savings to improve the bottom line. Equally important, they were able to capture the attention of their staff and community with a success that increased morale and let them maintain a leadership role.
Preston Hood Chevrolet has been a community leader since it was founded in 1969 at a time when Florida's "Emerald Coast" was a beach lover's secret. The fourth generation is now involved with son Taylor Hood serving as general manager and working with his father, Preston. Together they steer a 13-member management team, which has an average employment tenure of 18 years.
"Changing the way a 40-year-old company does business is a challenge in and of itself," says Taylor Hood. "But, with our ENERGY STAR-guided program we have been able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, build employee relations, significantly cut utility costs and give back to our community."
Preston Hood Chevrolet began their energy-saving program by naming a Green Team of proactive employees who welcomed an opportunity to make changes that would improve the work environment, the community, and the company's bottom line. This team met with an energy auditor hired by the company to evaluate the business and recommend initial steps for maximizing energy efficiency.
Lighting was a first order of priority as it often is with new energy-saving programs. In the showroom, one light bulb was removed from multi-bulb fixtures, eliminating 48 bulbs and lights were turned off when not in use. In the parts department one-fourth of the bulbs were removed and lights over the counter were turned off. In the shop area artificial light was removed where daylighting was possible and light fixtures in the body shop were rewired to reduce usage by 50%. The next step was resetting the thermostat to 75 degrees for summer and 66 degrees for winter.
Some of the motivation for the energy-saving program came from working with the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) which had issued the Energy Stewardship Initiative (90KB) in 2008 in cooperation with ENERGY STAR. The NADA/ENERGY STAR "Sure Savers Checklist" became a starting point for the Green Team. Recommendations from this list that were initiated include:
"These first steps were small," says Taylor Hood, "but the savings were big. Plus, we'd reduced our greenhouse gas emissions and provided a unifying experience for employees that was invaluable given the economic climate. We were so encouraged that in the fall we replaced nine gas heaters in the collision and service centers. That gave us a 34% gas savings this winter which meant almost $7,000 saved in five months."
Taylor goes on to explain that ENERGY STAR is an integral part of Preston Hood's on-going energy-saving efforts. "Being a true energy-efficient business means not just adapting a few new practices, but creating a new method of operations," Taylor states. "ENERGY STAR gives you the resources to help create a viable, permanent program." He cites "Putting Energy Into Profits: ENERGY STAR Guide for Small Business" or the special Auto Dealers Edition of that publication as a critical tool for the Green Team.
"With the program in motion, Green Team members consulted the ENERGY STAR Web site often and used the available technical support. We also attended ENERGY STAR training webinars," Taylor adds. "It's all free and it's really great information."
Preston Hood Chevrolet has also been replacing energy-wasting office equipment and appliances with new products that have earned the ENERGY STAR. The group has used the ENERGY STAR product pages as a guide for this endeavor. "Now more that 50% of the equipment and appliances at Preston Hood Chevrolet are ENERGY STAR qualified which I think is quite an accomplishment for a first-year program," adds Taylor. "Our goal is to purchase only ENERGY STAR qualified products in the future."
The Green Team is also taking the ENERGY STAR Challenge as part of their on-going program. They have not remained silent on their accomplishments either. Reporting results and sharing energy-saving ideas is part of a monthly meeting while the employee newsletter, "Hoodwinks," informs the entire staff of Green Team changes, results, and benefits.
A recent contest among all staff members offered a cash reward for energy-saving ideas. One suggestion was to close a satellite building and integrate previously owned vehicles with new car sales in the main showroom building. The first month this idea was implemented saw a 10% drop in utility costs. Another employee recommendation called for shutting off exterior lighting on the sides of the dealership after midnight. The full complement of lighting uses 75,000 watts which is now reduced to 8,000 watts after midnight.
Taylor Hood says the dealership has worked with external media to get articles in local and regional media as well as national trade publications.
The Green Team is moving beyond just energy efficiency. They have begun supply chain efforts giving preference to vendors who are environmentally friendly and recycling efforts are apparent throughout the dealership for plastic, aluminum, and ink cartridges. White paper and cardboard recycling is one of the largest efforts.
What are the results of this ambitious one year plan? "Part of the story you can't measure on a spreadsheet," Taylor says. "The employees embraced our energy-saving philosophy and came together at a time when many small businesses are fraying at the seams. It's helped us focus outside our showroom walls and into the community by doing the right thing."
Of course, eyes must also stay focused on the bottom line and balance sheet. Those results are impressive. Preston Hood Chevrolet estimates that they are saving nearly $60,000 annually in energy costs for the operation of their automobile dealership. The savings of over 347,500 kWh per year and nearly 2,600 therms represents a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (CO2), the equivalent of the CO2 emissions from the electricity use of over 37 homes.