How your dealership can be a green LEEDer

Toyota of Rockwall in Rockwall, Texas, became the first dealership to earn LEED gold certification.
They're not headed to Beijing for the Olympics, but some auto dealers expect to bring home gold this summer.

With manufacturers pushing green initiatives and energy costs rising, a number of dealers have chosen to construct environmentally sound buildings that follow Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards.

The LEED program is the brainchild of the U.S. Green Building Council. It awards buildings — whether residential, commercial, industrial or, in this case, retail — that meet LEED criteria with regular, silver, gold or platinum certification.

Last year, Pat Lobb Toyota of Mc-Kinney in McKinney, Texas, became the first dealership to obtain LEED certification, earning silver. In April, Toyota of Rockwall in Rockwall, Texas, opened the first gold-certified dealership. More dealers plan to open LEED-certified stores by year end. Many are going for gold.

Green checklist
Some dealers have started making their buildings more environmentally friendly under standards set by the U.S. Green Building Councilís LEED certification program. The buildings are rated from regular to platinum based on points awarded in 6 categories.

1. Sustainable site

2. Water efficiency

3. Energy and atmosphere

4. Materials and resources

5. Indoor environmental quality

6. Innovation and design process

Source: U.S. Green Building Council

Design and construction

"With the energy climate the way it is, we thought it was smart business," says Jay Caldwell, general manager of Caldwell Toyota in Conway, Ark. Caldwell Toyota expects to earn gold certification for its new dealership in June.

Under LEED certification, dealerships earn points for their design elements and construction practices. For instance, dealerships could score a point for adding bike racks and changing rooms or by using carpets and paints that emit low amounts of volatile organic compounds. In other words, they get rewarded for saying goodbye to new-store smell.

Dealers also have earned points for reducing water and energy consumption by using flushless urinals and geothermal systems. Other categories encourage contractors to buy locally, thereby reducing emissions from transporting materials long distances, and to recycle more of their construction material.

Regular certification requires 26 points, silver 33, gold 39 and platinum 52, out of 69 total possible points. Builders typically plan to achieve more points than the certification they want requires, in case the Green Building Council denies credit on a few points.

Because LEED was designed for office buildings, some standards may require dealers to get creative. For instance, LEED awards credit to a building within a certain range of public transportation; a dealer might argue his courtesy van qualifies.

The competition for points is leading dealerships to improve aspects of their stores that were notorious for high levels of energy or water consumption. Some dealers have added automatically adjusting lighting systems to maximize energy efficiency in their showrooms. Innovative carwash systems can recycle 85 to 90 percent of the water they use.

"Dealerships are a very unique type of building. They combine the most difficult parts of retail, industry and office buildings" says Rick Ferrara Jr., a senior associate at the Gensler architectural firm. Gensler has worked on LEED dealerships for Toyota.

Ferrara says LEED protocols weren't really written with automotive dealers in mind.

Toyota of Rockwall uses a cistern to reduce water consumption.

Paperwork plus

LEED certification requires extensive documentation. In the early days of LEED, those looking for certification had to file massive amounts of paperwork. But today, candidates submit documents electronically.

The paperwork involved can be simple: showing a dealership is close enough to bus stops for the public transportation point. Or it can be tedious: collecting and recording the receipts for all the trash hauled from the site to prove contractors are recycling properly.

Dealers can expect documentation costs of about $1,000 multiplied by the amount of points they plan to earn, Ferrara said. Dealers also must conduct an energy study ($6,000 to $10,000) and hire a third-party commissioning agent to certify the project ($25,000 to $30,000).

Some dealers have balked at the cost to receive full certification, preferring just to carry out green initiatives without the burden of documentation. But proponents argue that documentation totals a small portion of total building costs and that much of the work benefits the dealer.

The energy model helps optimize energy efficiency and save utility costs. Documenting each point ensures that contractors — who may never have worked on a green building — have carried out plans properly. And many cities have policies, official and unofficial, that will support businesses undergoing the LEED process.

"Certain camps don't want to be bothered with documentation," Ferrara says, because they dismiss it as just paperwork. But, he adds, "Done properly, all this is for the benefit of the client."

Other options

For dealerships that don't want to go through with LEED certification, some other options are available.

The National Automobile Dealers Association has worked with the EPA to develop an Energy Star program geared toward dealers. The program expects to start awarding recognition this fall to dealerships that have cut their energy use at least 10 percent. More than 1,000 dealers have enrolled.

In addition, most automakers offer support and materials to dealers looking to green up their building.

Doug Greenhaus, NADA's director of environment, health and safety, says most dealers are "more focused on the strategies and various ideas for improvement rather than certification." 

You can reach Jack Herman at

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