Down to Earth

EPA honors N.J. dealer for going green early

INSIGHT: How 7 pioneers are finding ways to stay in front
Jim Botsacos Company: James Toyota Outlet Where: Flemington, N.J. Age: 58 Title: Owner and president Annual revenues: More than $200 million Stores: James Toyota Outlet, Flemington, N.J.; James Hummer Outlet, Flemington, N.J. Franchises: Toyota, Hummer How I come up with my best ideas: "I have always been a little bit ahead of my time. I ask myself: 'What would it take to make this thing work?' Being innovative is exercising common sense."

Car dealers typically aren't tree-huggers. The vehicles they sell cause air pollution, and their service garages handle hazardous chemicals.

But Jim Botsacos, 58, president of James Toyota Outlet in Flemington, N.J., this year became the first car dealer to receive an Environmental Quality Award from the EPA for helping improve the environment.

James Toyota Outlet, which sells close to 2,400 new and used vehicles annually, was designed and constructed with "a deliberate respect for the local environment," according to the EPA's April announcement.

Botsacos, who also has a Hummer franchise, notes that other dealerships have made strides to improve environmental quality, and some of the features he installed at his store when he built it almost 10 years ago have become more common at dealerships constructed today.

But Botsacos was an early adopter of environmentally friendly practices.

Like a restaurant

The floor in the service bays is more typical of a restaurant than a garage. It is tile, not concrete, and has no floor drains. The building's wastewater system allows the dealership to recycle water until it is trucked away for treatment. The dealership is a zero-discharge shop, and the service area is an extension of the showroom.

The dealership's expansive use of exterior glass and its huge skylight allow maximum natural light so that there is no need for interior lights during the day. Extra insulation in the ceiling and overhanging roof help make the building cheaper to cool and heat. The building has nine heating and air conditioning zones, and it has been smoke-free since it opened nine years ago.

"The 25-foot (roof) overhang is nice for the display of our product, but what it really deals with is sunrise and sunset," Botsacos said. "It allows us to use clear glass to get the maximum amount of natural light."

An emphasis on recycling contributes to the clean, open appearance. "We try to recycle anything we can - refrigerant, antifreeze, oil, oil filters, cans, paper," said Botsacos, who recycles even when it is not mandated by law.

In New Jersey, for example, it is legal to throw an oil filter in the trash - and many dealerships in the state do just that, Botsacos said. But James Toyota drains the filters and recycles them.

Reusing water

The most noteworthy recycling effort is for wastewater. The dealership has just one floor drain, where it washes cars. The water is collected there, filtered with a reverse osmosis process and reused.

"That water is disposed of about three times a year - after it has washed thousands of cars - (and) taken away by a certified hauler 1,500 gallons at a time," he said. "I am saving tens of thousands of gallons of water a year."

Botsacos received no government incentives to build the facility, which was completed in 1992. He said the cost was about 10 percent higher than the cost of building a more conventional dealership, but he declined to be specific.

He was motivated by more than profit. Knowing you are doing the right thing makes you feel good every day, Botsacos said. "The other thing is that it has a wonderful effect on your personnel. When you have an environmentally friendly environment, and the working environment is clean, everybody likes it."

Ground zero

Botsacos had worked with the Potamkin family dealership chain in Manhattan for 20 years, when opportunity came knocking. Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. asked him to take over an open point in Flemington.

"This was an opportunity to develop something from ground zero," Botsacos said.

But the opportunity didn't come on a silver platter. He bought a piece of property that had been filled in with old tires and chunks of concrete.

Botsacos jokingly tells people the property's previous owners must have been in the tire and concrete business. "We took out thousands and thousands of tires that were buried and recycled them," he said.

But the task of cleaning up the site had a gold lining. The environmental problem inspired Botsacos to make the facility environmentally friendly and energy-efficient.

"You never really know what tips the scale in your favor," said Botsacos, who believes his environmental practices have won favor with customers. "There are a lot of other places to buy a Toyota. You need to ask yourself, 'What am I offering, besides a good price, that somebody else is not offering?'"

One of Botsacos' customers works for the EPA and was so impressed with the dealership's cleanliness that he nominated the dealership for the award.

Walter Andrews, EPA's chief of water programs for the region, bought a Camry at the dealership in 1998. He says he was impressed not only by the physical design of the building and the recycling efforts but also by the exterior.

"The landscape beyond the general footprint of the building

received minimal disturbance, leaving a small stream, ridges and depressions that was part of the original topography, including native grasses, shrubbery, and rocks," he wrote in his award nomination. "It really is sort of an oasis in the area."

The ultra-clean dealership particularly appeals to women. About 53 percent of the cars James Toyota sells are to women as the sole decision-maker, and women are involved to some degree in 80 percent of all vehicle purchase decisions. "Traditionally, women don't feel all that comfortable in an automotive environment," said Botsacos.

James Toyota Outlet was visited by Toyota executives when it opened, and Botsacos also has given tours to several dealers. Botsacos said he would urge other dealers to make their facilities environmentally friendly.

"Our business (auto retailing) does not enjoy the best reputation in the world," he said. "If we could all go out there and do something really positive, it could help clean up the environment and maybe our image."

Karen Passino is a free-lance writer in northern Michigan

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