Going green as a business strategy comes in many different forms. Some of the more obvious examples are recycling and using energy efficient light bulbs or solar panels. Jerry’s Auto Body, which has been a Mankato mainstay to a loyal network of customers since 1971, has built a reputation for its innovative approaches to being environmentally friendly.

The big change the body repair shop made was incorporating the use of water-based paints in their shop instead of solvents whenever possible. Solvents have been shown to be a key contributor to ground level ozone, according the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), exacerbating damage to the lungs and throat.

“With the waterborne paint we’re about 75 percent less hazardous waste disposal on the paint,” said Geri Kottschade, who co-owns Jerry’s Body Shop with her husband Jerry Kottschade. “We’ve been waterborne for about seven years now and definitely seen a decrease in the bi-products and the gun washer as well. You don’t have that harsh chemical going through the gun.”

There has been an uptick in demand for waterborne paint in the automotive industry as states have lined up to curb the uses of industrial solvents. 11 states currently regulate the amount of volatile organic compounds that solvents emit into the air, although Minnesota is not included.

Cathy Rusnak, segment communications manager for PPG Industries, the company that supplies waterborne paint to Jerry’s Body Shop, said that many companies are making the switch without any regulations requiring them to do so.

“What’s amazing to us is it began as a way to meet regulations, but we have a lot of shops that don’t have to meet regulations that have adopted the waterborne technology,” said Rusnak. “It’s a way to become more sustainable but also it’s a great product for color matching capability and it’s easy to use.”

Jerry’s Body Shop originally opened a shop on Rock Street at what used to be an old carriage repair shop. Fifteen years later, they realized they had outgrown the downtown space and decided to relocate in 1987 to their current location at 1671 E. Madison Ave. in Mankato. At the time, that part of upper Mankato was comprised of soybean fields. It was an unusual business move to relocate there at the time and build from the ground up, said Jerry Kottschade.

“When we moved up here the word on the street was we wouldn’t make it six months,” Jerry Kottschade said. “They thought we’d go broke, too much money spent.”

Over three decades later, they continue to enjoy a reputation for being one of the most popular auto body shops in the area. A walk into the main office feels like a greenhouse, with tropical plants and palm trees that the couple say have thrived there for years.

Another change they made around the same time as switching to waterborne paints was to add solar panels to their roof. Other businesses in town who added solar panels for electricity have said the move made financial sense, but Jerry Kottschade said that was not their initial reason for installing them.

“It was the right thing to do,” he said.

Some environmentally minded changes they’ve made have actually costed them more. The clear coat paint they use is still the thicker, solvent based application. Those filters are changed quarterly, and even though the EPA doesn’t deem them as hazardous waste because the paint is dry, the Kottschades opt to incinerate them rather than putting them in a landfill.

“To get rid of the filters is probably about $2,800 to dispose of them that way versus just putting them into the garbage can,” Geri Kottschade said.

Geri Kottschade said when they installed the solar panels, got rid of Styrofoam cups and began reusing and recycling office supplies, they advertised those changes, but their longevity gives them an advantage. A sizable portion of their customers return after having their car body repaired at the shop.

“Thirty-40 percent are repeat customers, and word of mouth is just about as big,” she said.

The recycling spreads to the vehicles themselves as well. About a third of their customers who come in to have parts replaced following an accident will get a door, fender, roof from another donated vehicle dropped off at a salvage yard. Geri Kottschade said that a lot of people get nervous about putting a recycled part on their car, but if it’s a good quality part — clean of rust and damage — it’s a good viable option.

“I remember years ago I had a gal that came in that had a car that was beyond repair; we couldn’t fix it for her,” Geri Kottschade said. “It was emotional for her to get rid of the car, very difficult. She goes, ‘What’s going to happen to it?’ I said, ‘It will probably become a donor car. The parts will be used on another car going down the road.’ It made her feel so much better, it’s almost like organ donating.”

Jerry’s AbraAuto Body & Glass

1670 Madison Ave., Mankato

507-388-4895

Facebook: Jerry’s Abra Auto Body & Glass

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