The Oil King -- an ambitious name for what's essentially a 25-gallon wheeled container with a funnel -- collects used oil all day from cars being served at the Kenny Ross Toyota dealership in Moon. Then the messy liquid is transferred to a 250-gallon tank for use as fuel to heat the service department.
That's not only a way to recycle, but it sure beats the dealership's old system of hiring a company to haul the used oil away.
"It was an expense," said James L. Ross, chairman of Kenny Ross Automotive, which sells between 10,000 and 12,000 vehicles annually out of 10 locations around the Pittsburgh region.
The automotive industry has in recent years been cranking out more hybrids, more electric vehicles and more cars that just make better use of fuel as the government sets tougher mileage standards and consumers gravitate toward ways to cut their bills.
Now the buildings where those vehicles are sold are starting to get the environmental awareness treatment, with a growing number of dealerships around the country starting to go for LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, certification from the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Green Building Council.
The 47,000-square-foot Kenny Ross Toyota dealership on University Boulevard opened about a year ago, and just earned its LEED certification this year. The process takes awhile, since the applicant must prove to the council that it's hit a set of very detailed standards.
"There really isn't anything in here that you don't touch, that we didn't have to think about," said Anthony J. Ross, president and CEO of East Liberty-based Ross Development Co. and James' brother. He handled the real estate development of the site, which was the first LEED project that his company had worked on -- and therefore a learning experience.
Kenny Ross also operates Buick, Chevrolet, Ford, Nissan, Subaru and Mazda dealerships, but the Toyota project worked for the LEED effort in part because that automaker has made such projects a priority. Toyota claims a dealership built in 2006 in McKinney, Texas, was the first LEED-certified auto dealership in the country, although other brands have since had dealerships receive certification.
Toyota has set up a program to push the environmental efficiency effort, and the company now counts 32 Toyota/Lexus dealerships as being certified, with 11 more hoping for certification by year end.
It helped that the Moon dealership was built from the ground up because the former Toyota site not far away had run out of space. Starting from scratch made meeting the LEED requirements easier.
For example, a motel on the site needed to be cleared before construction could begin. That debris was ground and used as a cover at alternative landfills. If it hadn't, that demolition would have counted against the project.
"We would have lost so many points, it would be very challenging to get certified," said Anthony Ross.
They weren't sure how much it would cost to meet the LEED requirements, although they estimated documenting the process alone would run between $35,000 and $50,000.
In the end, they estimated it added about 1 percent to achieve standards such as sourcing 40 percent of materials from within 500 miles and installing things like high-efficiency heating and ventilation systems, a highly reflective roof and lighting motion sensors.
The dealership has acres of paved parking that can hold between 500 and 600 cars, but that's balanced in part by a rain garden to slow and filter some of the runoff. Massive windows cut the need for indoor lights in the showrooms and service area.
The building council's rules even look at the way that construction is handled. Anthony Ross said ceiling tiles weren't allowed to be present during painting because they might absorb certain chemicals.
As the auto industry nationally sees a pickup in sales, more new dealerships may be built in the coming years and LEED standards used to reduce their environmental impact.
Acceptance of sustainability practices in the commercial building industry is strong, according to a 2012 survey by the New York-based Turner Construction Co., but not everyone is committed to earning the challenging LEED certification. The survey found 48 percent of executives thought it extremely or very likely that their company would seek the Green Building Council's stamp of approval on future projects, down from 53 percent in 2010 and 61 percent in 2008.
In his Toyota dealership, James Ross thinks his investment in the process gives him a point of differentiation that might appeal to customers drawn to hybrid vehicles like the Prius and the Avalon.
A spokesman for the Green Building Council said it's hard to identify how many dealerships have been certified because the group doesn't classify projects by type of retail use.
The Ross brothers are pleased with other statistics produced by their effort, such as 80 percent less water use and utility costs 40 percent less per square foot than the older dealership. They project savings from the energy efficiency improvements will pay for the investment within two years. "It's a profit center," said Anthony Ross.
But for other Kenny Ross dealerships -- existing buildings that have been remodeled over the years -- the company chose to use checklists created by Class-G, a program created by some Pittsburgh businessmen that sets benchmarks for sustainability that companies can use on a self-directed basis.
James Ross said the 100 or so employees at the Toyota dealership have embraced the changes meant to make the business greener, as have the customers. In addition to installing electric vehicle charging stations, the car dealership set up bike racks for those who want to use them.
"Our first day in business," he said, "one of our customers pulled in on a bike."
Teresa F. Lindeman: email@example.com or at 412-263-2018. First Published October 7, 2013 8:00 PM