Within the first few minutes of their first visit to British American Auto Care, most people realize that this is not a typical auto repair shop and that the proprietor, Brian England, is not a typical mechanic.
Although England and his staff are better versed than most when it comes to fixing cars, what makes them atypical is their passion for running a sustainable business.
“You can be successful and do right by people and the environment,” said England during a recent interview in his Columbia, MD shop.
A tour around his building revealed several examples where his beliefs were put into practice.
In a parts room, a home-made oil bottle draining system recovers an extra 4 percent of the total volume of new motor oil that would have been thrown away at other shops. In the repair bays, 18 solar tube lights provide full-spectrum light for technicians working on at least a dozen cars. Lighting in the same space is automatically phased down as the sun gets brighter to economize on electricity. England said that his payback on the cost of installing the solar tubes was two years, so most of his lighting is now free.
The conversation with England soon gravitated toward a discussion about storm water management. In fact, he was one of the more knowledgeable business people Ned and I have met when it came to the topic. How was it, I wondered, that an auto mechanic entrepreneur became so passionate about storm water?
England, who emigrated from England in 1972, attributed his desire to run his business in a sustainable manner to the way he was raised. “I was a scout coming up and my parents instilled a deep respect of nature.”
When the tour moved to the shop’s exterior, England explained that grass was replaced with native plants in many areas to anchor soil, allow rain water to soak in and eliminate mowing and other costly maintenance.
It was clear, however, that a storm water management system to the rear of the property was a source of pride and joy for England. “This wasn’t cheap but it was essential to acting responsibly with respect to the bay.”
England discusses his green efforts on his website and credits his success to hundreds of loyal customers who share his concern for environmental stewardship. “Columbia is the kind of place where people take a look at what effect things have on other things. If they’re going to spend their hard-earn money they like to know who they’re spending it with.”
What about the future of cars?
“I don’t think all-electric is the way to go yet. It isn’t practical. Hybrids – diesel hybrids – show more promise. But Americans don’t like diesels. I’m not sure why. Europe has embraced diesel but America hasn’t,” said England.
What’s next at British American?
“Solar, I think,” answered England. “We’ve got a big roof and I’d love to take this whole operation off the grid.”