Going green as a business strategy comes in many different forms. Some of the more obvious examples are recycling and using energy-efficient light bulbs or solar panels.
Jerry’s Body Shop, which has been a Mankato, MN, mainstay to a loyal network of customers since 1971, has built a reputation for its innovative approaches to being environmentally friendly.
The big change the body repair shop made was incorporating the use of water-based paints instead of solvents whenever possible. Solvents have been shown to be a key contributor to ground level ozone, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), exacerbating damage to the lungs and throat.
“With the waterborne paint, we’re about 75 percent less hazardous waste disposal on the paint,” said Geri Kottschade, who co-owns Jerry’s Body Shop with her husband, Jerry Kottschade. “We’ve been waterborne for about seven years now and have definitely seen a decrease in the byproducts and the gun washer as well. You don’t have that harsh chemical going through the gun.”
There has been an uptick in demand for waterborne paint in the automotive industry as states have lined up to curb the uses of industrial solvents. Eleven states currently regulate the amount of volatile organic compounds that solvents emit into the air, although Minnesota is not included.
Cathy Rusnak, segment communications manager for PPG Industries, the company that supplies waterborne paint to Jerry’s Body Shop, said many companies are making the switch without any regulations requiring them to do so.
“What’s amazing to us is it began as a way to meet regulations, but we have a lot of shops that don’t have to meet regulations that have adopted the waterborne technology,” said Rusnak. “It’s a way to become more sustainable but also it’s a great product for color-matching capability, and it’s easy to use.”
Jerry’s Body Shop originally opened a shop on Rock Street at what used to be an old carriage repair shop. Fifteen years later, they realized they had outgrown the downtown space and decided to relocate in 1987 to their current location at 1671 E. Madison Ave. in Mankato. At the time, that part of upper Mankato was composed of soybean fields. It was an unusual business move to relocate there at the time and build from the ground up, said Jerry Kottschade.
“When we moved up here, the word on the street was we wouldn’t make it six months,” Jerry Kottschade said. “They thought we’d go broke, too much money spent.”
More than three decades later, they continue to enjoy a reputation for being one of the most popular auto body shops in the area. A walk into the main office feels like a greenhouse, with tropical plants and palm trees that the couple says have thrived there for years.
Another change they made around the same time as switching to waterborne paints was adding solar panels to their roof. Other businesses in town that added solar panels for electricity have said the move made financial sense, but Jerry Kottschade said that was not their initial reason for installing them.
“It was the right thing to do,” he said.
Some environmentally minded changes they’ve made have actually cost them more. The clear coat paint they use is still the thicker, solvent-based application. Those filters are changed quarterly, and even though the EPA doesn’t deem them as hazardous waste because the paint is dry, the Kottschades opt to incinerate them rather than put them in a landfill.
“[Getting] rid of the filters is probably about $2,800 to dispose of them that way versus just putting them into the garbage can,” Geri Kottschade said.
Geri Kottschade said when they installed the solar panels, got rid of Styrofoam cups and began reusing and recycling office supplies, they advertised those changes, but their longevity gives them an advantage. A sizable portion of their customers return after having their car body repaired at the shop.
“30--40 percent are repeat customers, and word-of-mouth is just about as big,” she said.
The recycling spreads to the vehicles themselves as well. About one-third of their customers who come in to have parts replaced following an accident will get a door, fender or roof from another donated vehicle dropped off at a salvage yard. Geri Kottschade said that a lot of people get nervous about putting a recycled part on their car, but if it’s a good quality part---clean of rust and damage---it’s a good, viable option.
“I remember years ago, I had a gal that came in that had a car that was beyond repair; we couldn’t fix it for her,” Geri Kottschade said. “It was emotional for her to get rid of the car, very difficult. She goes, ‘What’s going to happen to it?’ I said, ‘It will probably become a donor car. The parts will be used on another car going down the road.’ It made her feel so much better; it’s almost like organ donating.”