Harnessing the Wind

O'Fallon Illinois powersports dealer Harley-Davidson U.S. Green Building Council outdoor sports niche marketing green certification alternative energy wind power green dealership windmills

Jenny Frieze didn't intend to build a monument to green retailing. The idea found her, and now there she is, in O'Fallon, Ill., with a Harley-Davidson dealership powered partially by a wind turbine.

You see, Frieze is a smart cookie, and an environmentally conscious one at that. So when her architect first proposed building an eco dealership, the longtime dealer principal immediately saw both the cost benefit and marketing potential of going green. Now she presides over Frieze Harley-Davidson, the first such dealership to get a gold rating under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification program operated by the U.S. Green Building Council.

In fancy-speak, this means the store has received independent, third-party verification that it is an environmentally responsible, profitable and healthy place to work. In more practical terms, it means Frieze is enjoying lower operating costs for running a dealership that is its own marketing tool while making a commitment to the environment and social responsibility.

"A lot of the dealers are putting up designer stores that are unique to their areas. I wanted to be set apart from any other dealer in the United States," says Frieze, whose family has owned the franchise for 44 years. "I wanted my building to be different. Just the whole concept of it, of being a green building, it all made sense. The uniqueness of the sustainable building — I thought not only is it good for us energywise, but it's a great marketing tool."


While Frieze is a longtime recycler, she wasn't familiar with the green building movement when architect Gary Karasek first pitched the idea. After he brought in a contractor who specialized in sustainable buildings to show her the various options and benefits, Frieze latched on. It was the energy efficiency and cost savings of the proposal that really piqued her interest.

"I don't see the cost of energy ever really decreasing substantially. I was going from a 20,000 sq. ft. building to a 33,000 sq. ft. building, so I was anticipating that I was going to have a huge increase in energy costs," says Frieze.

Having only been in the building for a little more than a year, Frieze says she doesn't have any hard numbers yet on her operational costs, but knows that the monetary savings from incorporating green technology throughout the dealership are a tangible benefit. Marketingwise, her building has been a source of curiosity since it was under construction, with interest coming from within and out of the motorcycle industry.

Because they were constructing a new building, Frieze and Karasek were able to use green tech in all aspects of the building. Starting with the outside, they built the walls using insulated concrete forms that carry an R-value (a measure of the effectiveness of insulation. The higher the number, the better the insulation) of R-40 — this compares to a standard R-19 of a normal wall. Up top is a white thermal plastic roof that reflects the sun's rays.

Natural light via northwest windows and 40 Solatubes illuminates the showroom and the back shop. Efficient electrical lights are operated by a computer-controlled system that adjusts the lighting throughout the day to maximize natural lighting. Motion sensors control the lighting in all the smaller rooms.

Used motor oil gathered during oil changes fuels a radiant heat system that runs through the whole floor of the dealership. The store also serves as a used-oil depository for the community, allowing it to stockpile that much more fuel while providing a responsible method for getting rid of old oil. The system is expected to pay for itself in five years.

Installed inside the dealership is flooring made from rapidly renewable bamboo, while all adhesives, sealants and paints emit low amounts of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Frieze also reused old furniture where practical.

Native plant landscaping requires less water and fertilizer and fewer chemicals. The toilets she installed can flush two ways — up on the handle for a short flush and down for a long flush. "That is a monetary savings as well as we're not wasting as much water as we would have," says Frieze.

And then there's the windmill, or wind turbine to be more precise. The 60-ft.-tall pole with a 10-ft. blade turned out to be one of sticking points with O'Fallon officials during the permitting and planning process.

"We didn't have it on the drawings initially ... but I know that Jenny saw the marketability of a wind turbine sitting in front of the store because it attracts attention," says Karasek, a member of the American Institute of Architects and an accredited LEED provider. "I spent four months going through the city ... because they had to understand what this wind turbine was going to be and how it was going to affect the neighbors. In the end the city was really pleased to have the first [LEED building] in our area."

The wind turbine turns regularly in just 10 mph winds, and provides about 10 percent of the dealership's energy. "We use the design of the windmill on our billboards to market the concept of energy conservation as well as the building," Frieze says. "We're the only building with a windmill in the front yard."


Overall, none of the green initiatives affected the aesthetics of the building's original design. It's still a handsome, modern-looking dealership.

Because green design-build is an integrated process, it's helpful that all parties be on the same page from the beginning. Karasek says he was fortunate that Frieze understood the value of the project right away because it made everything run smoother.

"The people who want this type of product, they're usually already pretty educated on the concepts," he says. "They understand the value. I think that's the difference." Karasek says he only had to adjust his design, drawings and engineering to get them in line with the LEED certification they were going after.

(The certification itself is based on five categories around which an architect can design a building. They are Sustainable Site development, Water Efficiency, Energy Efficiency, Materials Selection, and Indoor Environmental Quality. Each criteria comes with a certain number of points, with a possibility of 69 points in total. The overall certification is based on how many points are given for each category. In Frieze's case, she received 40 points, earning her a gold rating.)

One of the main issues with green construction is cost. The conventional wisdom is that such work comes with a hefty price tag. Karasek says this isn't so. In Frieze's case, the architect says the total cost of construction was about 3 percent over what it would have cost using standard techniques.

When you factor in the return on investment of using techniques and products that will consume less energy, it's an even better way to spend capital dollars. In fact, Karasek predicts that after the recession is over, people are going to be paying much more attention to their energy usage and utility bills, and green building will be more the norm than the exception.

"To me, it's very, very little [extra] cost," he says. "Because in the case of Jenny Frieze, she has a generational operation. Her kids are running the place right now and she's got grandkids there every day learning the ropes. This building is going to run for them for 50 years. She will gain so much back by doing what she's done here energywise."

To this, Frieze agrees. "I'm aware that there's a payback over a period of time and I have family that's coming along in the business," she explains. "They will probably continue to run it after I have fully retired one of these days."

By building her green dealership, Frieze has entered into a world that's new to the powersports industry. The automobile industry has already embraced the trend (to a degree) with its dealerships, and Toyota is one of the companies leading the way. There are several LEED-certified Toyota stores throughout the country.

Her decision has certainly been noticed by her peers. "I belong to a Performance Group with Harley-Davidson with about 10 other dealers," she notes. "We held one of our meetings here in June and all of my dealer cronies were very interested in the building."

Customers, too, are taking note. Frieze says many of her longtime customers are fascinated by what she's done with the new dealership, and even the nonmotorcycling types continue to stop by to check things out.

Building a sustainable building right when energy prices are shooting to the moon has been very timely — not that she planned it that way.

"They [the customers] love it. They think it's great that someone stepped up to the plate to do something different and take a chance," Frieze says. "It makes you very proud to have built something like this."