Green Drop Garage: A little garage with plans for the planet

On his route from pre-med to dental school, Farhad Ghafazade took a sharp turn. Instead of a dentist's office, he finds himself in an auto repair shop in Southeast Portland. He leads a staff of mechanics dedicated to reducing the impact of vehicles on the environment.

After completing his molecular biology degree at University of California-Santa Cruz, Farhad spent some time converting his and a friend's diesel cars to run on vegetable oil.

Two auto conversions led to others – which led to plans for a new business.

With a small personal loan, his own credit card and a passion for his purpose, Farhad opened Green Drop Garage. To save on expenses, he lived in the office of the garage for a year. And he reached out to diesel owners.

And then he faced reality.

Only a tiny fraction of vehicles are diesel, and only a small percentage of their owners are interested in – or even have thought about – the possibility of running their cars on vegetable oil. That's not a big potential market, even for a niche business.

So Green Drop expanded into a full-service auto repair and maintenance shop that continuously finds ways to reduce material, waste, hazardous materials and energy.

For example:  

      • Using re-refined motor oil eliminates the need for disposal while reducing demand for a petroleum product;
      • Finding products with lower Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) content protects air quality; and
      • Complying with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requirements for an environmentally sound garage affects all aspects of the business.

One Green Drop employee is certified to work on electric and natural gas vehicles. Emissions from natural gas vehicles – including particulates, VOCs and carbon dioxide – are significantly lower than from engines running on gasoline or diesel.

Green Drop applies sustainable practices in its facilities as well as in its operations. For example, they recently replaced all their inside lights with LED bulbs – saving energy and dramatically reducing their power bills. Green Drop pays for wind power from its local electric utility, and the business collects storm water from the building roof for use in the shop's toilets.

So Farhad didn't have to think twice about offsetting carbon emissions associated with the shop's natural gas use through the Smart Energy Program. "It just fell in line with our values."

A community orientation is a big part of the Green Drop ethic. For example, Green Drop:

      • Offers classes in eco-friendly auto maintenance and how to convert diesel vehicles to run on vegetable oil;
      • Supports a bicycle race team;
      • Offers customers gifts of locally grown produce and products from local breweries;
      • Created a partnership with Bike and Hike, providing bikes to customers who need temporary transportation while their cars are in the shop.

"You can't sacrifice quality to be environmentally friendly," Farhad said. He is committed to making sure customers get the same level of products and services they would get at a conventional garage while offering ways to reduce environmental impact.

"You have to meet people where they are," in terms of their needs and their comfort levels, Farhad said. He doesn't expect everyone to stop driving cars powered by fossil fuels. But Green Drop offers realistic options that fit customers' life styles. "We're being pragmatic without being dogmatic."

Watch this little business as it expands its pool of dedicated customers and leads other companies to think more sustainably.