As soon as you walk into Ecotech Autoworks, it's easy to tell this is no ordinary auto repair shop.
Just look at the magazines: Garbage; Sierra; Buzzworm; E Magazine. The back issues are stacked in a box with a note that says "Please help yourself to a spare environmental publication"
And then there are the signs hanging everywhere: "What happens to discarded tires?? You are standing on them!! Flooring tiles made from scrap tires!! A unique solution to a disposal dilemma."
Or this: "Recycling is only efficient at end-product demand. We offer quality rebuilt replacement parts that are substantially less costly than new!!"
Other signs tell of such things as energy efficient lights and disposal practices for anti-freeze.
Even in the bathroom there's a sign that points to the toilet tank. It says: "Inside: Simple water dam that saves over 2.5 gallons of water per flush (No performance loss!) Only seconds to install."
Ecotech, located in the Washington D.C. suburb of McLean, Va., is Jeff Shumway's vision of how to build a green future by helping clean up what some believe is one of mankind's most environmentally destructive inventions — the automobile.
Shumway, a 32-year-old Northern Virginia native, insists this is no marketing ploy. His concern about the environment is real, stemming chiefly from having lived for a while in Los Angeles with its permanent smoggy haze.
"On a personal level, I was living two lives," says Shumway, who has been a mechanic for 15 years but sometimes rides a bicycle to work. "I was living very ecology-minded at home: Recycling, buying in bulk, eating low on the food chain, being very conscious about everything I was doing. Then I'd go to work and totally wipe all that stuff aside. It was the dirty old toxics, same business as usual type stuff.
"On a companywide level there wasn't anything I could do because I didn't own the place. I tried to talk to the owner about making some changes — small things at first, maybe purchase some equipment that was starting to come out that was addressing some of the things like anti-freeze and freon recycling — and it just wasn't going to happen."
So in 1989 he bought an existing business and operated under its old name for six months to prove "we could fix cars correctly."
"For six months, that's all I did," he says. "Just fix cars and keep quiet."
Slowly, he incorporated new things. Barrels for recycling. New equipment to recycle freon and anti-freeze.
Then in January 1990, he unveiled the new name, Ecotech, with a new slogan, "Quality Repair/Environmental Care." He began actively selling the idea that well maintained cars reduce pollution, and that using high quality parts can minimize waste.
And, he says, the business took off, doubling in the past year. Customers come from as far as 40 miles away for automotive service.
He has been on the Cable News Network (a relative of one employee reported seeing Ecotech on CNN in Denmark) and has been written about in a host of publications, including National Geographic, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.
Last fall, he was honored with a Chesapeake Bay Conservation Award by the Izaak Walton League for the 'Business and Industry' category.
The office and the shop are filled with hanging plants. (A sign on the wall talks about how they reduce air pollution). But in many ways it is like other mechanic shops. As Shumway talks, the din of power tools is almost constantly heard in the background.
"Despite the environmental stuff, if I can't fix cars, I'm not worth anything," he explains. "If we can't do a good job here, nothing else matters."
But the standard operating procedures are different in the Ecotech shop.
Shumway has purchased equipment that recharges anti-freeze and recycles freon from air conditioning systems.
A burner was recently installed in the back of the shop that will burn waste motor oil and generate heat.
He is offering a lifetime tuneup, which uses such things as long-lasting platinum spark plugs, to minimize waste by eliminating the need to throw away parts from periodic tune ups.
He stocks air filters that can be cleaned rather than replaced.
He stocks synthetic oils that out-last regular motor oils. And recently, he has started offering new oil filtering systems on cars that he says will eliminate the need for oil changes, though the filtering device will have to be replaced every 3,000 miles.
New customers get a conservation action guide he has put together, which talks about everything from recycling tips to vegetarianism, as well as including "An Environmentalist's Guide to Responsible Car Care." One tip: "Avoid excessive car washing. By using a supreme paint sealant/wax, your car can still look good/be protected with fewer washings. (Please use no-phosphate/biodegradable detergents)."
Running an environmentally sensitive auto shop has its drawbacks. For one, Shumway says, the overhead is higher. Things like the energy-efficient lights, the recycled-tire floor, and the recycling equipment all have price tags. Sales may have doubled, but profits have not.
"I can't raise my prices too much because this is a very competitive area, so right now I've got to say I bite the bullet," he says. "And during the recession months here, it's been really rough."
Not long ago, Shumway had plans to begin opening other Ecotech locations. But now, he says, "I still want to do that but it's going to take a few more years than I first thought."
He is exploring new ways to spur change. One of them is by dressing as the 'Planet Mechanic' in a blue and green jumpsuit, and speaking to interested groups about environmental issues — even talking about alternatives to cars, which he regards as a necessary evil.
He recently started an organization called STARS — Sustainable Transportation And Repair Society — to get Ecotech information and environmental technology into the hands of other vehicle repair shop owners.
Among other projects, he is putting together a catalog of environmentally friendly auto products.
To a degree, at least, Shumway has been riding the crest of an environmental wave. The challenge, he admits, will be to keep ahead of it.
Soon, laws will likely mandate that others start doing many of the practices he started using more than a year ago. In fact, it's already happening: The Clean Air Act requires freon recycling beginning next year.
"I intend to keep the innovations coming," he says. "I'm working on other things now just to keep this whole fresh approach happening."
For more information about Ecotech or the STARS program, contact Jeff Shumway at (703) 893-3045