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November 2007

A Closer Look E-mail the author

Fitzgerald Auto Mall

You don’t have to be in the recycling business to be enthused about recycling statistics. John Lehman, director of environment and safety for Fitzgerald Auto Mall in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Florida rattled off a list of things that the dealerships recycle: tires, batteries, oil, metal components, antifreeze, paper, oil, oil filters, and fluorescent lights.

Lehman said that the recycling efforts got started when Montgomery County in Maryland decreed that businesses had to recycle a minimum of 50 percent of the waste generated. At first it was a struggle to hit the 50 percent mark, but once the company got rolling, a mere 50 percent wasn’t enough. “When we hit 80 percent, the EPA came out and did a press conference and gave us an award,” Lehman said.

Even though recycling wasn’t mandated at other locations, the company decided to make recycling part of the company’s regular procedures. “It was a change of habit,” Lehman said of the new policies. “It was rewarding.”

Now, containers for recycling are color coded and employees know which ones are for different types of recyclables. Lehman said that at first, there were some sorting problems, but now it all runs smoothly. “It becomes habit,” he said. “They don’t even think about it now.”

“The only place I can see problems are in the customer wait area,” Lehman said. But even if customers don’t always get the hang of where to toss pop cans, they often compliment the company on its environmental achievements.”

Because recycling was mandated in Montgomery County, it was a little easier to find recycling companies for that facility. In other areas, Lehman sometimes had to look a little harder to find recyclers for all the materials. “Florida was a challenge on a lot of stuff,” he said. In the end though, all of the locations are recycling as much as they can. “It’s out there,” he said of the recycling options. “It’s not that hard to find.”

“We have an environmental policy and procedures,” Lehman said. “We look into our vendors.” Lehman makes sure that the material destined for recycling is properly handled and is in fact recycled. “I researched the vendors,” he said. “What is the end result of my tires, my batteries, my oil?” Since the policies have been in place, Lehman has changed a few vendors to find the ones that use the best procedures.

But it’s not just about recycling waste. The company also tries to buy products that are made from recycled materials. Besides buying paper products made from a high percentage of recycled material, the company also seeks out other recycled items. Pens with the company logo are made from recycled plastic, as are staplers, chair mats and other office supplies. Rather than buying new toner and printer cartridges, they buy recycled and refilled cartridges. “Anything that is recycled, we buy,” Lehman said.

The company also tries to cut down on the need for recycling by buying in bulk and re-using containers. Lehman explained that instead of buying things like windshield washer fluid in cases of gallon bottles, they buy the fluid in bulk and keep refilling the same gallon bottles.

There are still some things that aren’t possible to recycle. Lehman said that often there is cardboard that gets saturated with oil and can’t be recycled. Rubber gloves that employees use are not recyclable. “There’s a lot of little stuff,” he said.

Energy consumption isn’t a little thing, and Fitzgerald Auto Mall’s answer to that is to use 100 percent “green power” according to EPA requirements. In Maryland, the power is bought from a wind-power company. In Florida and Pennsylvania, wind power wasn’t available, so the power comes from solar and other renewable energy sources. “It does cost more, but the increased cost isn’t that great,” Lehman said. In fact, he estimated that overall the system is paying for itself, in great part due to the revenue generated from recycled oil.

But Lehman’s not done with his environmental improvements. “I’m looking into 100 percent natural cleaning products,” he said. “We’re going to check them out and see if they work.” If they do, the natural products will replace their chemical competitors.

Lehman said that one of his biggest rewards is “Seeing the results – the turnaround from a company that didn’t recycle anything to a company that recycles everything that’s possible.” Lehman said that the next goal is ISO 14001 certification for environmental management.