Running on Green

Deliver Magazine | 09/07/2009

Automotive manufacturers have faced substantial pressure recently to “green up” their vehicle lines by adding more high-MPG, carbon-friendly vehicles. But, it turns out, they’re doing more than just adding eco-friendly products.

Auto dealerships are increasingly incorporating eco-friendly efforts in service bays and offices on a daily basis, recycling oil, for instance, and reducing their cardboard consumption and the use of hazardous chemicals.

No surprise, then, that these environmentally friendly efforts now extend to their marketing.

Many Toyota service departments are sending consumers eco-friendly messages as part of the “We Auto Go Green” program, which uses “green” direct mail to send service reminders and valuable specials to customers.

“Customers definitely are buzzing about the program,” says Jim Hawk, a service manager for program participant Classic Auto Group, which includes 26 franchises at 15 locations throughout northeast Ohio. Hawk estimates he sends about 7,500 mailers each month through the program, and has seen about a 33-percent response rate. “Customers are coming into the service department with the postcards in hand,” he says.

“Our research shows consumers are more likely to be loyal to dealerships that have a vested interest in their communities,” says Chuck Patton, chief executive officer and owner of Traffic Builders, the Louisville, Kentucky–based direct marketing agency that developed the initiative. “Now dealers can demonstrate to customers that they’re making efforts to change the community’s future.”

Traffic Builders’ turnkey creative solution includes use of paper stock containing a minimum of 10 percent recycled fibers. To offset the additional expense of this paper—typically 10 to 15 percent more—the company negotiates with paper mills and asks dealers to sign on for a yearlong commitment and a minimum number of mailings.

“By using recycled fibers in 2009, we will have saved many of the trees that unrecycled material would have killed,” Patton says. “We are working to further our green efforts to include working with vendors who are credentialed with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).”

Obtaining the FSC credential ensures that the paper used comes from a forest certified against the FSC Forest Management standards to ensure responsible forestry practices.

Dealers involved with the We Auto Go Green program represent virtually every major auto manufacturer in the United States. About 130 dealers nationwide—ranging from single, small-town franchises to multi-franchise, multi-location enterprises—participate, with numbers continuing to grow despite the down market.

Patton attributes the program’s growth to companies sticking to their green marketing ideals during the economic recession. “Consumers have seen a lot of negative reports on the auto industry,” he adds. “This is a way for dealers to spread the word that they’re still here, viable and continuing to give back to their communities.”

As seen at Toyota, the greening of the auto industry is arising from deep personal commitment and values that remain unchanged in a tough market and an era in which budgets are being cut to the bone. “Demonstrating respect for the environment is the right thing to do,” says Jerry Janes, regional service and parts marketing and retention manager for Toyota Corp. in Chicago. “We’re green corporate wide, and those values haven’t diminished despite a down economy.”

Driving Sustainability
More than 500 vehicle retailers are reducing their energy consumption—and saving money—through the National Automobile Dealers Association’s (NADA) partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program.

The initiative challenges NADA members to reduce their energy use by at least 10 percent. Some have saved up to $30‚000 in energy costs because of it.

Dealers also are promoting the NADA’s Green Campaign, which encourages service departments to perform free Green Check-ups to assess the fuel economy of their customers’ vehicles.

“These efforts are helping auto dealers reduce their carbon footprint and energy use, and are reducing greenhouse emissions through proper vehicle maintenance,” says John McEleney, NADA chairman and a General Motors, Toyota and Hyundai dealer in Iowa.

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