Environmental issues transposed against business interests are always a bit of a quagmire. Though business seldom embraces environmental causes eagerly, over the long haul, most of the changes we have seen over the last several decades have worked out well both for business as well as clean air, clean water and generally healthier lifestyles.
And, though the aftermarket has often been seen as reluctant in accepting legislative and regulatory mandates, we have adapted well for the most part — and, in many cases, have prospered while meeting the demands of regulations and laws that have measurably improved the quality of our environment. This industry has led the way — well before it became somewhat fashionable — with rebuilding and remanufacturing, and we continue to make necessary parts and products with renewable resources and the like. As many have said before me, we were green before green was in fashion.
We are all cognizant of the harmful effects of lead in our environment, and there seems to be no one questioning the negative implications. Lead paint has been unavailable for decades, and lead paint remediation has become standard practice for many years in renovation projects involving older buildings. Leaded gasoline was phased out beginning in 1973, and, by 1995, leaded fuel accounted for only 0.6 percent of total gasoline in the United States. From the beginning of 1996, the U.S. Clean Air Act banned the sale of leaded fuel for use in on-road vehicles.
Over the last several years, our industry has been supporting efforts to reduce the use of lead in wheel weights. As pointed out by the folks at the Motorist Assurance Program (MAP) in a recent release, a 2006 U.S. Geological Survey study found approximately 130 million pounds of lead wheel (balance) weights to be on U.S. vehicles. An estimated 3 percent of wheel weights fall off vehicles each year, and, when lost along roadways, lead can contaminate sources of drinking water and cause human developmental harm. The U.S. EPA, Canada and Europe are all considering a ban on the manufacture and distribution of these lead wheel weights. MAP reports that seven states have passed non-lead legislation, and four states have legislation in process.
Yet, regardless of legislative directives or regulatory mandates, MAP said: “The automotive repair industry, parts suppliers and even new car manufactures have taken actions to support the move away from lead wheel weights. Major auto repair retailers and independent shops alike have already stopped ordering lead weights and are phasing in replacements.” And that is something of which the auto care industry should be proud.
There are associated costs with any changes like this and, at times, unintended consequences. And, as an industry, we need to weigh in heavily when environmental concerns are tied to how we keep America on the road. But, when we can see the benefit and we support it in a way that keep our businesses profitable, that’s leadership. And that’s the bottom line that matters.
Gary A. Molinaro