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Charley Wilson attended Warren Wilson and graduated with a degree in biology. While he was at Wilson, he worked on a lot of faculty and student cars. After graduating, Charley decided to use what he had learned at Warren Wilson to create an innovative business: the Organic Mechanic.
"In terms of the environment, you can’t fight all battles. You gotta pick something you want to improve. That’s how I formulated the idea for the Organic Mechanic. When people think of my industry, they don’t think of it as a clean business. And that’s because that’s just the way it’s been. At least historically, there’s been less environmental stewardship in auto repair than other businesses," Wilson says. Just how is his shop "organic"? Most repair shops use absorbents to clean up spills of substances like oil. This is kitty-litter like material that, despite being full of hazardous waste like oil, usually ends up in landfills undetected. Charley's shop uses laundered shop rags and wet-dry vacuums to clean spills, though they try not to spill in the first place. Anything that can be recycled is, even including oil filters. For more details on how Charley has greened his business, click here.
"Before college, I was pretty cynical about environmental issues. I had taken some time off and had been doing a lot of traveling in the Developing World. I thought, so much of the world is like this, so what’s me recycling this aluminum really going to do? I’m not even going to make a dent in it. Then I got around like-minded folks again at Warren Wilson and I had that support and I began to change my thinking for the better. You have to think of the impact locally. It’s a process. We’re never going to get there, but if you make small changes over time as a nation, lots of small changes… well, it’s all about where we’re going."
While green shops remain the minority, many mechanics are realizing the benefit of greening their businesses. Some organizations have begun certifying local shops that are environmentally friendly for the benefit of customers with little knowledge of auto repair. While there is still a long way to go in humanity's quest to make transportation as low-impact on the environment as possible, Charley Wilson knows that every little bit helps.
"You have to be practical. I think my shop is a good example of that.”