Between the plant-covered roof, solar panels and electric car plug-in stations, Steve Leffler dares anyone to show him a greener auto repair shop than the one he just opened in Hanover Park. In a tire industry that’s been criticized as a blight on the environment, the owner of Suburban Tire Auto Care Centers, opted to demolish the dated eyesore at 2064 Lake Street and build an eco-friendly facility, complete with solar-powered faucets and workshops heated by customers’ waste oil.
On Wednesday, the 39th annual Earth Day, about a dozen people helped install a green roof that will stay about half the temperature of a regular one in the summer, reducing water runoff and cutting air-conditioning use by 25 percent. It takes a lot of green to go green – about 10 percent added to the project cost, the West Chicago resident estimates. He admits he’s been called crazy by his brothers Gordon and Jon, who co-own the chain. Their other locations include Hoffman Estates, Rolling Meadows, Glendale Heights and St. Charles.
“It was a good business decision,” Leffler said. “This is paying for itself in the long run.” But potential savings were only partly behind the decision, said the self-described “liberal nature freak,” who drives a Toyota Prius and a VW Bus. “It’s the right thing to do,” he said. “My kids and one day my grandkids need our planet to be around.”
Leffler hasn’t gone for LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) from the U.S. Green Building Council because he said the process could cost up to $50,000. But he’s convinced Suburban Tire would get at least a silver rating. He’s only found two auto-related facilities to achieve that mark, and they’re car dealerships. Today, Suburban Tire and most shops like it have tire recycling programs. The Environmental Protection Agency reported that the number of scrap tires being recycled for fuel or some other application increased from 11 million in 1990 to 223 million in 2003.
Of those, about 45 percent are used as fuel, 19 percent are used in civil engineering projects, 8 percent are converted into ground rubber and recycled into products and 4 percent are used in rubber-modified asphalt. Tire stockpiles pose a health risk because they attract rodents and pool water for mosquitoes. They’re also prone to hard-to-extinguish fires that release thick smoke and contaminate the soil with an oily residue.