Is this Body Shop Truly and “Ultimately Green?”

Is this Body Shop Truly and “Ultimately Green?”

Every body shop owner in the country wants to be green. Just ask them. But, are they willing to commit to a total green approach in every aspect of their business? Changing some light bulbs and installing low-flow toilets are positive things, but how many shops will really invest significant time, money and effort to be as green as they possibly can?

One San Francisco shop owner has committed himself to being 100% green and the end result is Selecta Auto Body, the only collision business in the country today that has achieved B-Corp certification, by meeting rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Today, there is a growing community of more than 850 Certified B Corp companies from 28 countries and 60 industries working together to redefine what success means in the world of business.

Last year, JR Hubbard moved Selecta Auto Body from San Francisco’s Noe Valley to the Mission District. The move provided Hubbard the opportunity to fulfill his dream of building one of the country’s first 100% environmentally friendly collision center. It was an enormous investment in time and money and various obstacles made it an arduous process, but today, the new Selecta Auto Body is being described as “ultimate green."

Hubbard’s former location was only 4,000 square feet in size and due to development constraints, he wasn’t able to add space or remodel. “We had a whole slew of problems and limitations with our old shop,” he said. “We were fixing 30-40 cars out of that facility every month, but we had power issues and we spent way too much time moving vehicles around. The DRPs weren’t coming our way, but it wasn’t due to the quality of our work. We couldn’t upgrade and the building wasn’t for sale, so we started to look around for a new situation. And that’s why I started doing the research and shortly began considering a completely new shop that I could design from scratch and make it everything I wanted it to be.”

It took two years of construction and planning and jumping through the city’s hoops to turn an old building into Selecta’s new 10,000-square-foot facility. “Real estate in San Francisco is very expensive, but the time was right, because the market was dipping during that time,” Hubbard said. “It was hard finding an ideal location with ample parking and building a new facility means you’re going to encounter a ton of red tape. The first step was acquiring an SBA loan and then we sat down with Joel Smith of Precision for Collision (PFC) to layout the shop and outfit the facility.”

The big question Hubbard kept asking himself was what are the benefits of being eco-friendly? “Why did we strive to become as green as we possibly could?” Hubbard asked. “Sure, it does give us a distinct marketing advantage and maybe it gets us in the door with more DRPs, but that wasn’t the only reason. You can make money in the collision business, but I think you also need to do it right for all your customers and partners, including the insurance companies, employees, and maybe most importantly—ourselves. I have two children and I want to be able to face my kids and providing a healthy atmosphere for our employees is a big part of it.”

Acquiring the B-Corp designation was not a slam dunk for Selecta and that’s why only one body shop in the country has the certification. “The B-Corp certification was difficult, but we were willing to do whatever it took,” Hubbard said.  “The B-Corp people inspect everything and more companies get rejected than accepted. It’s not just all about the facility or even about being green, but it’s also about being socially responsible and a positive member to our community. Everything we’ve done is an investment in our future and the B-Corp certification is an integral part of it.”

Hubbard graduated from San Diego State with a degree in business before entering the collision game. Pretty soon, he successfully completed three levels of I-CAR Platinum training and was managing Selecta, a 40-year-old shop on the famous Lombard Street in the City by the Bay by the late 1990s. Because he learned the business by performing every role--from estimator to body tech--Hubbard knows more than your average shop owner.

“It’s all about knowledge and how to implement it,” he said. “I’m a sponge and I’m always looking for better methods and systems to do the best job we can. I learned a lot from my father who managed Selecta in the 1990s and also from the original owner, Dieter, who was an amazing painter. We will never stop learning and trying to improve ourselves.”

Hubbard has stepped up in every area to be greener, by selecting leading equipment, tools and systems wherever he could. ABN asked him about every aspect of his construction and design, broken down by system and/or work area.

Lighting:  “All of our lights are LED, because they’re more efficient land use less energy. We replaced all the glass in our skylights to let in as much natural light as possible. We painted the floor to get as much reflective light as we can. We have reflective dual ballast light fixtures that use T-5 bulbs and all of the lights in work areas are on motion sensors with AB mode, which means we can turn off half of the lights when appropriate. Our lights automatically adjust to natural lighting, so they’re not working if they don’t need to.”

Construction: “Using recycled materials to do the renovation was also a priority, Hubbard said.  “We have de-constructed all the support frames for the roof and have re-used existing materials and retro-fitted structure with steel. The mezzanine was renovated with existing wood as well as donated wood.”

Electrical System: “All electrical work in the building was completely upgraded to accommodate all equipment and tools and to avoid overloading circuits while keeping all environmental standards in mind.”

Air system: “It was a goal for us to make sure that air circulation was adequately planned so that employees, customers and neighbors are protected. The air turnover system that we have installed is double the requirements set forth by the City of San Francisco. The air is cleaner here, because our advanced filtration systems are eliminating all the aerosols, carbon monoxide and dust particles, so our techs aren’t breathing it in all day long. I have two children and I want to be able to face my kids and providing a healthy atmosphere for our employees is a big part of it.”

Plants: “It is our belief that plants are beneficial to the aesthetics and physical environment; therefore we have installed plants to boost the oxygen levels in our workplace and help off-set carbon dioxide and chemical air pollutants that a typical repair shop produces. We currently have 350 plants here in the shop, but have plans to add another 150 eventually.”

Detail Shop: “Our detail department specifically uses environment-friendly products that have low to no V.O.C. compounds, in order to adhere to our mission of becoming an ‘ultimate green’ shop. Special consideration and testing products went into our choice of products. We have installed special drains that separate oil and sediment as an extra preventative measure to avoid groundwater contaminants. The installation and use of low volume high pressure washers contributes in our aim to reduce water consumption. We use the HEPA filter in our vacuums for interior detailing which is the best filtration system for these types of equipment because it controls particles from re-circulating in the air.”

Repair Shop: “Another step we’ve taken as a shop is to be the first shop in San Francisco to use FESTOOL products, a revolutionary, technologically advanced dust extraction system which is new to the market. It extracts and reduces bi-products of sanding. Whenever possible, we use equipment that is powered by high-efficient air compressor instead of batteries. Our goal in the future is to be more efficient by installing solar panels to re-charge battery operated equipment.”

Office: “Much thought went into being green with respect to the office area. We are in the process eliminating paper whenever possible and going digital. We use portable and rechargeable estimating carts to take advantage of charging during off-peak hours giving ability to use all equipment during the day. All desks and benches in the office are made from recycled wood and steel.”

Water: “We installed a low flow toilet tank and a filter system that takes full advantage of the great drinking tap water we have here in San Francisco. It’s one of best drinking water in the nation and we encourage our employees to stop buying bottled water by giving them their own refillable bottles. Lastly, our tankless hot-water heater is beneficial because it only provides hot water when needed instead of constantly heating a tank.

Hazardous Material: “We use a specialized local company experienced in handling hazardous materials. The shop is equipped with leak-proof containers to ensure proper storage and removal. Our employees are trained in the most effective techniques to work with pollutants, chemical solvents and other materials that can be harmful.”

Ed Attanasio

Ed Attanasio is an automotive journalist and Autobody News columnist based in San Francisco.

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