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What Does it Take to Be Green In the Auto Industry? Ask the LaFontaine family.

Published Oct 9th 2009, 11:15pm by Jody DeVere in Featured Articles

LaFontaine DealershipLaFontaine Automotive Group recently received a Gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Certification for its brand-new Buick-GMC-Cadillac dealership, becoming the only "Green" dealership in Michigan, one of only two Gold-certified sites in the country, and the premiere auto dealership facility in the United States.

The LaFontaine collection of dealerships are a family business, owned and operated for more than 25 years by Mike and Maureen, as well as their children Mike Jr., Ryan, Kelly, and Khristie.

LaFontaine FamilyWhen they began planning their new campus, the LaFontaine family's original decision to use a geothermal heating and cooling system soon led them to learn about other eco-friendly opportunities. Once they began researching, they decided to go all the way for a Gold LEED certification by employing such features as the use of recycled building materials, a car wash that recycles 85 percent of the water conventional car washes would waste, PPG waterborne basecoat paints with zero volatile organic compounds in the body shop, 85 skylights to create natural light and lower energy costs, and computer-controlled lights that automatically shut off when enough daylight fills the facility. LEED certification by the US Green Building Council  provided independent third-party guidance and verification to ensure the building meets the highest sustainability standards.

LaFontaine SkylightsUtilizing "green" construction methods represented $3 million of the total $18 million cost of building this amazing state-of-the-art facility. As part of their green construction plan, they utilized local materials and furnishings because using recycled content supplied by firms within a 500-mile radius of the facility promotes local economies and cuts down on transportation-related energy use. Exterior masonry is 100 percent recycled, and 60 percent recycled aluminum is used on the building's exterior decking and framing. Around the structure, pavement aggregate is 60 percent recycled crushed concrete, while inside the building, "agrifiber" doors are made of compressed corn cobs and wheat.

LaFontaine Geothermal systemThe facility's centerpiece - and most costly single expenditure at $750,000 - is a 64-well geothermal system that heats and cools the building by capturing energy stored in the earth 350 feet below the facility. The system transfers energy to and from the facility with closed loops of fluid-filled tubes.

"Originally, we had anticipated an eight-year payback, but now we project it will be more like five years," said General Manager Ryan LaFontaine of the new, 63,000-square-foot facility, located on 24 acres in Highland, Michigan. LaFontaine estimates annual energy savings alone to be as much as 54 percent compared to a conventional facility.

LaFontaine Service CenterOther environmentally friendly elements include service bay lifts that use vegetable oil instead of caustic and difficult-to-dispose-of lubricants, a white roof and generous use of green belts to reduce the "heat island" effect of such a large facility, a rainwater collection system for irrigating the landscaping, and indigenous plants that require less water. They've stopped using lead wheel weights, and out back, they've even got their own windmill to generate the energy required to pump retention pond water for irrigation.

LaFontaine PromenadeBeyond these eco-friendly construction methods,  the dealership also strives to be incredibly customer friendly. "LaFontaine is the only place where you can get a $9.95 oil change while getting a manicure and pedicure, drink a cup of coffee, and shop - all at the same place," says co-owner Maureen LaFontaine. A promenade at the center of the facility offers a full-service beauty shop, gourmet bistro and coffee shop, specialty gift boutique, children's play area, and 450-gallon saltwater aquarium, as well as free WiFi, plasma screen televisions, an ATM machine, and a complete inventory of automotive aftermarket parts and accessories. Observation cameras feed video of the children's play area directly into the business rooms where purchasers negotiate their vehicle sale, to ensure families can buy a vehicle without worrying about their children's safety and comfort.

LaFontaine WindmillThe dealership's eco-friendly attitude extends to its employees as well. Preferred parking is offered to employees who carpool or who drive low-emissions or alternative-fuel vehicles, and bicycle storage areas and changing rooms are provided to employees who use their own horsepower to get to work.

To the LaFontaine family, their decision to go green was extremely important. They put their heart and soul into developing a campus that would not only bring people and business to the community, but would showcase environmentally sound practices. "No one required us to do this," said Ryan LaFontaine. "We thought it was the right thing to do for our employees, for the environment, and for the community. We want to set a good example, and believe in giving back to the community."

As a result, many visitors come to the dealership for more than just a deal on a Buick, GMC or a Cadillac vehicle: Some come simply to marvel at the dealership and others stop by their informational science center looking for answers to their own energy-efficiency questions. Everyone is welcome to use the dealership's conference room for business meetings, or to participate in ongoing tours to educate schools, churches, and civic groups.

"The family is so proud of this, said Kelley LaFontaine, "This community is our heart and soul. We believe passionately in giving back."

Jody DeVere, AskPatty CEO and PresidentJody DeVere
President and CEO

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