Clean & green maintenance

March 1, 2012

Once upon a time, when green was a color and not a global movement, the idea of an environmentally sustainable maintenance and repair shop would have been astonishing, especially to the technicians working in those service bays. Today, there are dozens of resources available on the subject of how to make vehicle maintenance cleaner, greener and more efficient in the bargain.

In California, for example, the San Francisco Dept. of the Environment and the Sustainable Earth Initiative, with funding support from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, produced a 45-page “Clean Fleets Toolkit” in 2009 with specific steps maintenance facilities can take to reduce waste and help prevent pollution, along with notes about real-world successes.

The toolkit outlines a three-step process:

  1. Identify products and equipment that have the potential to be recycled or replaced with a cleaner alternative.

  2. Develop a green maintenance shop policy to get employees onboard.

  3. Start with the products or equipment that will be the easiest or most economical to recycle or replace.


Arizona's Green Business Automotive Program also offers specific guidelines for making shop operations greener. It divides work into two major areas: preventing pollution and conserving resources. Suggested steps include using low-hazard, low-pollution solvents or water-based cleaning; recycling and reusing fluids whenever possible; practicing spill prevention, sealing shop floors and recycling oil; saving energy with more efficient lighting and air-conditioning; properly maintaining plumbing and installing low-water use fixtures; and reducing waste and using recycled alternatives where possible.

An increasing number of companies are working to implement these practices and more. With nearly 5,000 technicians spread across 760 facilities nationwide, for instance, Ryder knows a thing or two about what it takes to run a good maintenance shop.

In 2008, the company decided to take all its maintenance facilities to a new level in terms of sustainability, efficiency and customer service. According to Roger Cicchini, senior vice president of quality assurance and customer support for Ryder's Fleet Management Solutions, it was a big undertaking, but the results have been well worth the effort.

“It took us six months just to get ready to start,” Cicchini recalls. “We began by visiting six or eight of our customers who had quality assurance programs in place to see how they measured themselves and how they measured us. Then we recruited 30 of our top maintenance professionals and gave them ‘green belt’ training and training on [creating lean operations]. They were tasked with looking at all our locations from the perspective of the customer.”

Today, Ryder is dedicated to proactive waste management practices with onsite and offsite recycling and reuse technologies. That includes recycling virtually all automotive waste streams, such as used oil, oily water, used oil filters, and used solvents.

In 2010, for example, Ryder began distributing re-refined motor oil to 200 of its Fleet Management Solutions locations in the U.S. The oil is collected from oil change locations including Ryder shops, then processed at refineries and redistributed. According to the company, the new oil meets all API standards and is supported by all engine manufacturers. It also requires less energy to manufacture.


Reuse is the rule for tires, too. Ryder uses more than 600,000 tires annually, nearly 50% of which are retreads. “People are very interested in being green,” Cicchini says. “Our customers care and the government cares. Some customers won't even work with companies that aren't green anymore.”

Ryder recycles all parts cleaning solvents, automotive fluids, and refrigerants as well — enough to total 4.1 million tons in 2010. More than 50,000 automotive batteries are also recycled annually as are almost 10,000 drums of used oil filters, which are crushed prior to recycling to reduce the number of collections required at each location.

The streamlining of preventive maintenance bays and processes was also a major part of the shop improvement initiative, according to Cicchini. “We moved all the equipment closer to the bays to reduce time and waste,” he notes. “The first bay is now set up for fast-moving items. We call it the ‘Doctor's Office.’ Customers stop there first to meet with a supervisor [to define the work to be done and schedule it in]. It is especially important that this area be clean, organized and professional looking. All our facilities are set up just the same, regardless of size.”

More improvements are on the way, too. “Eventually, our shops will all be virtually paperless,” Cicchini says. “The changeover will be done in segments, about 25 to 30 maintenance facilities at a time.

“I've seen more changes in the shop in the last 10 years than in the 30 years prior,” Cicchini observes. “We need to continue cultivating new people [as technicians] — people interested in learning new things.”

“We also make sure that our technicians have the best tools available,” he adds. “We want them to have the latest, safest, best technology out there — anything we can find to help them. Even though the work they do is not always the cleanest, I think our technicians respect how hard we work to help them keep the shop clean, organized and safe.”

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