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British American Auto Care

When Brian and Jennifer England opened their auto shop in the planned community of Columbia, Maryland in 1978, they didn’t have to worry much about a lot of competition. British American Auto Care was one of a few places in town to get your car repaired.

Nearly four decades later, there are many shops around but the business continues to grow, all while taking care of its employees and the natural resources around them. In fact, cutting costs through sustainable improvements helped British American Auto Care survive the 2008 financial crisis.

Seventeen years ago, Brian and Jennifer moved the business to its current location and began making ambitious sustainable improvements. “As new technologies came along, we added them,” Brian recalls.

The Englands were early adopters of smart practices common in the auto repair industry today. They started by recycling metal scraps and other materials that didn’t have to be thrown away. Solar panels were installed to cover electricity needs and solar light tubes were added to cut costs by reducing dependence on electric lighting.  The company reduced its average monthly usage from about 12,000 down to zero kilowatt hours. Says Brian, “If you have a big warehouse building and you don’t have solar light tubes and solar panels, you’re crazy!”

Improvements go beyond the facilities. “Our most recent project is to convert the landscape around the building into a nice environment that attracts pollinators and encourages native plants and wildlife.”

The Englands involved local students in adding landscape features that conserve storm water. The landscape will soon be almost maintenance-free. “You never know where innovation is going to come from,” Brian observes.

British American Auto Care completed its last assessment of energy needs about a decade ago, but costs for new technologies have decreased dramatically and the hunt is on again. The company is always on the lookout for the next cost-saving sustainable investment.

“Techniques are becoming more advanced and it’s bringing the prices down,” Brian says. “We used to measure returns on investment for solar panels in decades, but now we’re talking five to 10 years.”

Currently, Brian says, “all the technicians have iPads, take pictures, and transmit information electronically. Down the road, there will be further ways for us to eliminate paper and waste.” A new generation of technicians has also embraced a paperless workflow, and the company aims to one day replace its courtesy shuttle with an electric vehicle.

Brian discovered American Sustainable Business Council shortly after its genesis during the Obama Administration. British American Auto Care was energized to have a seat at the table, surrounded by other sustainable business owners from around the country who understood that sustainable practices and successful business could go hand-in-hand.

“Getting innovators together is really important and that’s what this council does,” Brian said. “One of the most important things it has been able to do is provide access to the government.”

Brian sees sustainability at the local level as a model for larger levels of government. Every sustainability decision he has made has had to stand on its own as a good business decision, and each one has passed the triple-bottom-line test.

“If it works for us, it has to work for them!”