Cox Automotive President Stephen Rowley, left, with Grubbs President and owner George Grubbs at the awards ceremony. - IMAGE: Cox Automotive

Cox Automotive President Stephen Rowley, left, with Grubbs President and owner George Grubbs at the awards ceremony.

IMAGE: Cox Automotive

While other automotive dealerships are adopting green practices to save money, Grubbs Family of Dealerships considers sustainability a fundamental part of doing business.

CEO George Grubbs III says that as the fourth generation in the family business, he understands the importance of environmental stewardship. The efforts, he says, uphold the 76-year-old business' legacy for its 415 employees, loyal customers and surrounding communities.

“To leave a lasting legacy, we have to protect what impacts us all—our planet and its resources,” he says.

Transitioning to sustainable practices may seem like an enormous investment, but the Grubbs Family of Dealerships has seen its long-term benefits. The auto group, which represents Acura, Infiniti, Polestar and Volvo brands, has integrated sustainability into its core operations across six locations in Grapevine, Houston and San Antonio, Texas, and Tulsa, Okla.

Grubbs constructs all dealership facilities to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, standards, ensuring energy efficiency and environmental responsibility from the ground up.

“We have been fortunate to remodel every one of our buildings,” Grubbs says. "Throughout our remodeling process, we have embraced green innovations and prioritized sustainability."

He says the company has added energy-efficient LED lighting, recycling programs, electric-vehicle chargers, and water reuse systems to reduce its environmental impact and save on utility costs.

While it says recognition wasn’t its motive for adopting eco-friendly practices, the automotive group was recently commended for them. Cox Automotive honored it with its Leader in Sustainability Award in February. The award recognizes a dealership for outstanding in-dealership sustainability programs related to waste reduction, energy or water conservation, and focused on innovation, creativity and engagement with employees and the community.

Get Rooted in Sustainability

The auto group started its sustainability journey over a decade ago with the renovation of its Infinity Store in Grapevine.

Project designer VLK Architects encouraged Grubbs to pursue LEED certification at the 80,000-square-foot dealership, which encompasses sales, service and parts.

“When we built that building, we were very aware of LEED standards, but we really just built it to be more sustainable from a cost standpoint,” Grubbs says. “Transitioning an existing building into a LEED-certified building is harder than starting from scratch, but it was what we were able to do.”

Grubbs worked with VLK to incorporate sustainability into the project. “Our initial initiatives were LED lighting, automatic light sensors in all offices in the front and back of the house so that lights turn off when there is no movement during the day,” he says. “Though Texas laws require us to keep the lot illuminated at night, we still dim those lights.”

Since then, the group has built new Acura and Volvo stores and updated its Infinity store in San Antonio, incorporating the latest in sustainability into each, Grubbs says, who added that Volvo is requiring its dealerships to achieve net-zero status by 2035. To comply, Grubbs Volvo must report its electric and water usage and establish recycling capabilities.

The company is also remodeling its Tulsa dealership, which hasn’t been updated since the 1990s, with the goal of recycling extracted materials and reconstructing the building using the latest sustainability methods.

“Every project focused on installing the right kinds of windows, heating and cooling systems,” Grubbs says.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

“We also made it a point to recycle all batteries, tires, cardboard and paper products brought to our shops,” he said. “It’s something we did to become more sustainable as a business.”

The auto group collects tires regularly from its dealerships. “We added tire storage containers to store tires safely until they are picked up,” Grubbs says. “Recyclers take them off-site to separate the wiring from the tires and recycle the rubber. We do the same thing with batteries. They are picked up by battery vendors and recycled.”

Like all dealerships, Grubbs dealerships get daily deliveries of engines, motors and car parts on wood pallets. “We recycle our wood products with the shippers we work with,” Grubbs says. “We also recycle all cardboard and other shipping materials. We reuse them in our shipping processes when we send parts back out. Plus, we have paper and plastic recycling picked up weekly.”

Each service center collects and stores engine oil in large containers that are picked up weekly.

Educating employees and customers about the group’s recycling initiatives was the easy part, Grubbs says. “Most employees are already recycling at home. That made it pretty easy to get employees onboard. And employees come to us all the time with new recycling ideas.”

Separating products bound for recycling was the challenge because it costs more and takes up a lot of space, he says.

“A lot of companies just put everything into one container and have the recycling company separate it. But separating it here is better for the environment and not that hard to do. We simply put recycling cans throughout the dealership and encourage employees and customers to recycle. That simplifies separating everything.

“We had to make space for the Dumpsters and find a vendor to pick up each material. Not every vendor wants to recycle all materials.”

Drought-Tolerant Landscaping

The company has also added drought-tolerant landscaping, which Grubbs says is “more cost-effective because it reduces how much is spent on irrigation water.”

The difficulty in incorporating such plantings lies in navigating local regulations, which often prioritize aesthetically pleasing but environmentally unfriendly landscaping. The auto group uses a combination of native and drought-tolerant plants to meet local aesthetic standards while being environmentally conscious.

The company is also replacing grass with artificial turf to reduce water use, especially in Texas’ hot summers.

Add In Customer Amenities

The changes didn’t stop there. The dealer group invested $2,500 to replace plastic water bottles with water bottle fill stations in all stores.

“Though our plastic bottles were made from 98% recycled material, this was easier and more cost-effective,” Grubbs says. “We were paying more than that every month for water bottles. In the first month, we saw a return on our investment.

In a clever marketing move that also benefits the environment, the company replaced paper coffee cups at coffee stations with branded coffee mugs for customers to keep. “That is a huge saving for us. We were going through almost 500 paper cups a day across all six stores,” Grubbs says.

Get Involved

The auto group owner spreads his environmental focus outside his business. He serves as a member of the Texas EV Battery Reuse and Recycling Advisory Group, playing an active role in shaping the future of EV technology. In addition, he’s involved in various nonprofit boards, local chambers of commerce, and community sustainability initiatives.

Over the past three years, the Grubbs Family of Dealerships has formed an exclusive partnership with EarthX as the nonprofit’s only automotive sponsor. EarthX is an international group dedicated to educating and inspiring people and organizations to act toward a more sustainable future.

The dealership group also sponsors Dallas-Fort Worth Clean Cities and is an automotive sponsor of Dallas Drive EV, showcasing Polestar vehicles for test drives and customer education.

“We are very focused on electric vehicles,” Grubbs says. “We have multiple charging stations at every dealership. We have 15 customer-facing fast chargers at our Grapevine location. They are the only non-Tesla fast chargers within a five-mile radius of the dealership.”

It even leveraged the Cox Automotive recognition to extend its sustainability efforts beyond its properties. The honor came with a $10,000 award to support a sustainability project, and instead of using the money for more sustainable initiatives within the company, Grubbs paid it forward.

“We are announcing the Grubbs Sustainability Grant at EarthX in late April,” he says. “We are going to ask local companies, school districts and other organizations to apply for it. We hope that a school district or local company that lacks the funds to drive more sustainability will explain to us what they want to do with the money and why. We really want the grant to push sustainability forward in the local community to continue the conversation about how we can all become more sustainable.”

Get Started

Every company is focused on its bottom line and profitability, and those goals are often what drives companies to be more sustainable, Grubbs says.

He explains that companies can enhance sustainability by pursuing initiatives that benefit both the environment and their financial performance.

“That’s what drove our sustainability conversations,” he says. “We considered how to continue being profitable as a company. What is the payoff of sustainability initiatives? Will our electricity costs and water costs be lower? How can we lower those costs?”

His second recommendation is to tackle the simplest tasks first, such as adding LED lights or motion-detecting lighting systems. “It’s fairly easy to do and cost-effective and saves on electricity.”

George also recommends adding drought-resistant plants to landscaping. “That’s an easy way to reduce water use. We also have a carwash system at all of our dealerships, and we recycle that water.”

Finally, he recommends partnering with the community. Sustainability should expand beyond the company itself and spread outside its walls. “If we all do our part, we can be more sustainable,” he says.

Finally, he says to remember the why behind sustainability. In addition to being environmentally friendly, operating sustainably is now an expectation of modern customers.

“Our customers are aware of the environment and the need to take care of the planet,” he says. “It’s important for customers to see that dealerships are taking care of our local communities and doing their part to be as green as possible. It drives better engagement with customers and shows we value taking care of the community.”

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Ronnie Wendt is an editor at F&I and Showroom.