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November 1, 2010

Lot appeal | A Saco car dealer wins accolades from the EPA

Photo/Tim Greenway Adam Arens, owner of Patriot Subaru in Saco, says the dealership's nationally recognized green practices are "ingrained" in its corporate culture

Adam Arens, owner of Patriot Subaru in Saco, wouldn’t fit anyone’s stereotype of a car dealer. You’d also have a hard time stereotyping him as an environmentalist.

But to a large degree, he’s both.

In September, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency honored Patriot Subaru with its Energy Star Small Business Award, it was the culmination of years of commitment to the environment on the part of both Arens and Patriot Subaru. Patriot is the first Maine business and fourth car dealership in the United States to win this award since its inception in 1999.

Arens says the dealership has been environmentally aware since it opened in November 2003. Patriot has a green team that meets every week and includes a representative from each department. The team looks at new ways to make the dealership even greener.

Among Patriot’s many green initiatives are encouraging carpooling and bicycling (it offers two loaner bikes for customers to use); decorating with live plants instead of balloons; using biodegradable soap to wash cars; and installing radiant heat in outside sidewalks. Patriot also eschews outdoor speakers to cut down on noise pollution, which Arens says is already prevalent along nearby Route 1.

Arens decided to apply for the Energy Star recognition to publicize how conventional businesses can integrate environmental awareness into their business models. He says the three Rs — reduce, reuse and recycle — have become a way of life at the dealership. “We’re deeply ingrained in this; it becomes part of who you are,” he says.

Recycling bins are in nearly every area of the dealership, but no trash cans, with few exceptions. In addition to recycling the “usual suspects” — paper, plastic, aluminum and cardboard — the dealership separates and recycles warranty parts rather than scrapping them. Old coolant is collected in 55-gallon drums so contaminants can be removed, and then is reused. Food waste, including coffee grounds and filters, is used as compost for the dealership’s organic vegetable garden. “We want people to look at everything before it goes someplace and ask, ‘What’s the trash life of this?’” Arens says.

One of the initiatives Arens is most proud of is ensuring that all packing materials are returned to the shipper, at the shipper’s expense. “We won’t accept a shipment if they won’t take the materials back,” he says. “Because of that, a lot of them have learned that they can reuse everything that comes back.”

One area that’s been a major challenge not only for Patriot, but for Subaru in general, is hybrid battery disposal. Like other car manufacturers, Subaru is still trying to master that side of the greener car movement. Arens says he’s confident they’ll get it right soon.

Patriot’s green initiatives go hand-in-hand with its overall healthy, holistic approach to life, Arens says. There’s a gym on the premises, along with shower facilities, and the dealership pays 100% of employees’ health, dental and vision insurance. When the organic vegetable garden made its debut this summer, Patriot dispensed with its traditional Saturday barbecue for employees and customers and replaced it with healthier fare, most of which came from that garden. Arens says the entire approach has changed people’s lives and made them healthier, like sales associate Tom Darhower, who lost more than 90 pounds in the last year.

So while Arens is proud of what Patriot has accomplished on the environmental front, he’s clear that the incentive has never been financial gain. “Do customers like it? Sure. Do more people buy cars because of our lower carbon footprint? I’m not sure,” he says.


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