SOUTH PARIS — The brake cleaner used to really get to Adam Baril and Tony Giambro. In the service departments of the Auburn car dealerships where they worked as mechanics, it was a mainstay; their colleagues freely sprayed the aerosol cleaner around while working on brake jobs.

“You breathe it in and it hurts your lungs,” Baril said. Giambro raised his shoulders and shuddered. “It would get all over me,” he said.

There’s no traditional brake cleaner in sight at the Paris Autobarn, the duo’s year-old automotive repair business. What you do see are young apple and pear trees, flowering just outside the door, the beginnings of grape vines and a vegetable garden adjacent to the driveway. A heat pump is mounted on the back wall, to cool the shop in summer and heat it in the winter. The south-facing wall of the roof awaits the 45 solar panels due to be installed this month, funded in part by a USDA loan.

The place does look like a barn – peaked roof, stained red – but no, this isn’t some farm-to-car trend. It’s what Baril, 27, and Giambro, 31, hope will be the wave of the future, a local auto repair shop with a fervent interest in all things green. They even asked the distributor of the bio-based oils they buy, primarily extracted from soybean crops, if the manufacturers used GMO crops. (They’d rather be GMO-free.) The distributor thought not but couldn’t guarantee it. People who care deeply about sustainability tend to have at least a slightly conflicted relationship with their cars. Especially when stuck in traffic listening to the kinds of radio news stories about carbon emissions, dwindling resources and climate change that make it seem like wishing for grandchildren might be a very bad thing.

But how many drivers give any thought to the environmental impacts of taking their car to the shop? What solvents might be toxic, what might be released when that fixed dent gets spray-painted, whether their used oil gets recycled or if the antifreeze ends up oozing into the ground out back?

In 2004, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began an outreach program directed at small auto repair and auto body shops to improve compliance on areas that present environmental and health risks. That included emissions from solvents used in parts cleaning, metal particulates from sanding and emissions from that fresh coat of paint on a car that just had the dings taken out of it, all of which can add up.


“The idea is that 10 small sources equal one major source,” said Julie Churchill, the assistant director of Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Innovation and Assistance. “So it is important for them to be in compliance.” She oversaw an EPA funded-program for Maine in 2005 to address those issues. (Maine was one of about a half-dozen states that received the innovation grants that year.) The $400,000 grant was used in 2005 to educate small shop owners in ways to prevent pollution.

There are 966 auto repair and maintenance shops in Maine, employing about 3,900 employees, according to Maine Department of Labor statistics from 2014. That’s a lot of potential for non-compliance with EPA rules – unintentional or not – although Peter Carney, who tracks violations for Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), said he couldn’t recall complaints specific to auto shops in recent years. The department doesn’t regulate these businesses; it only responds to complaints about them. (In the last year, an auto scrapping business was fined for improper disposal of fluids from the crushed vehicles.)

“In pretty much every sector there are going to be some people who don’t get it,” Churchill said. “The majority want to be in compliance and want to do the right thing.”


The Paris Autobarn team of Giambro and Baril are savvy marketers, and so they reached out to Maine DEP, hoping for a certification or some other stamp of approval that would let potential customers know about the work they’re doing. They were disappointed; the department does provide various levels of green certification to Maine hotels, but offers nothing for businesses like the Autobarn. “Basically the outcome of our conversation is that they are severely underfunded and understaffed and that they don’t forsee the ability to add a category for automotive shops,” Giambro said.

Churchill said funding is limited at a national level as well; EPA is no longer giving innovation grants like the 2004 award. “That was cut,” she said. “And with the pollution prevention grants, it is cost-prohibitive for us to even try to get them.”


That’s not to say that there aren’t auto shops making efforts in Maine. Churchill said the response rate to the 2005 outreach and education effort was strong, with small businesses filling out the self-surveys and making adjustments. “We saw an increase in compliance rates,” she said. Dealers like Pape Subaru in Portland have made efforts across the board, from recycling oil in their service center to landscaping with plants that require no watering.

One of the early adapters to eco-friendly practices was Shawn Moody of Moody’s Collision Centers. He has nine auto body shops, primarily in the greater Portland area. When the EPA came to Maine to train business owners on its new Area Source rules (for smaller emitters) in 2008, Moody’s was already in compliance. Moody’s uses energy efficient lighting and air compressors and switched over to waterborne paint processing, which lowers the amount of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) released by 40 percent. “He is a very innovative thinker,” Churchill said. “He tries to always be beyond compliance and he is always thinking, ‘How can I do better, how can I reduce my environmental footprint?’ ”

Moody’s interest in environmentally friendly businesses began, in all places, with a junkyard. In 1988 he purchased Gorham Auto Parts, 35 acres of old tires, junk scraps and DEP violations. “It lived up to the stereotype,” Moody said. Most would have thought it a Superfund site, but it put Moody in the trash-to-cash mindset and soon he was recycling everything from antifreeze to the precious metals in catalytic converters and even winning a national award for environmental excellence from the Auto Recyclers Association. He sold that business to a national consolidator in 1999 and began building up his auto body business, applying the same model of frugality coupled with resourcefulness. Zero waste was a means to business success, and at the same time, helping the environment. “It’s that inner impulse to identify savings in everything you touch,” Moody said. “It becomes part of the company’s philosophy.”


Because no specific certification program exists for auto shops, Churchill said it’s a challenge to know exactly who is doing what.

“Some businesses promote it more but I find in Maine we are kind of humble,” she said. “Even some of the bigger companies, with the bigger innovations they do, you don’t hear about it. They don’t even have it on their website but they do it because it makes good sense. Many times it is not regulatory based, it is, but more about, ‘How can I be a successful business in my community?’


“There is a lot of innovation out there,” Churchill added. “And I think we are going to see more of it.”

That’s what Giambro and Baril hope, although at this point, they feel like outliers. To outfit their shop in a way they could feel good about, they researched far and wide but couldn’t find any shops to model themselves on in Maine. They had support from Scott Vlaun, executive director of the Center for an Ecology-Based Economy (CEBE) in neighboring Norway (and Zizi Vlaun, Scott’s wife, designed their logo).

Some of their innovations include using bio-based fluids and lubricants. They’ve become a distributor for products like the MicroGreen extended service oil filters, which have to be changed only every 10,000 miles (and carry the promise that the oil itself needs changing only every 30,000 miles). The price is higher, about $45, including a few dollars more for the filter and if the customer opts for bio-based fuel as well, the change can run up to $90, up to three times a cheap chain store oil change. On the other hand, you don’t need to do it nearly as often so the price probably evens out. They offer the oil filters to customers, but don’t try to force anyone into them; people tend to be nervous about voiding their warranty by not following the usual 3,000-mile oil change policy.

“Most customers haven’t heard of them,” Giambro said. “A lot of shops don’t want to use them. Because you are essentially promoting a service that means the customer doesn’t come in that often.”

Drip pans sit under every engine or part they’re working on, so that the fluids can be recycled, and on the rare occasion when there is a spill, Giambro and Baril soak it up with a coconut husk product called Eco-Absorb. There are no drains anywhere, but the floor looks so clean the three-second rule could easily be extended to 30 seconds.

Skipping the floor drains is a major component of being truly green, said Charlie Ayers, president and CEO of the Coordinating Committee for Automotive Repair, a national group that helps promote environmental best practices. “The reason being, all sorts of icky stuff ends up falling off the cars,” he said. “The most environmentally conscious are building facilities without floor drains on purpose.”


When the solar installation on the roof is complete, the Paris Autobarn will be able to run its entire electric system, including that heat pump, for about $10 a month, and be truly carbon neutral. Giambro and Baril are hoping that the sight of that solar system will be an enticement for green-minded customers. And maybe to other auto shops and businesses. “It would be great if other people saw what we were doing and followed along,” Giambro said.

Baril walked over to a black and green machine about the size of a patio grill sitting against the back wall of the Paris Autobarn and gave it a proud pat. The biomediation washer uses non-toxic cleaning solutions. Baril gave a demonstration, showing off a part that looked as bright and shiny as the new Subaru engine sitting nearby. No brake cleaner necessary. The price tag was $3,500, about twice what they would have paid for a traditional parts washer.

“In the long term, it pays off in the health benefits,” Giambro said. And not just for him and Baril. Their goal is bigger: “I don’t want to destroy everything and everyone around me.”


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