Striking oil usually is a good thing, but it wasn’t for Doenges Family of Autos, which ran into black gold when digging 300-foot-deep wells for a geothermal system. “We had to re-do the wells to ensure that we didn’t get oil in them,” says Brad Doenges, a third-generation owner of the family business.

The story began in October 2012, when Doenges Family of Autos—which operates new-vehicle dealerships for Toyota, Ford, and Lincoln in Bartlesville, Oklahoma—broke ground on a new Toyota dealership at 1911 SE Washington Boulevard.

The idea of a sustainable business is in keeping with the Doenges brand, which is the oldest surviving Toyota dealer in Oklahoma. “My grandfather founded our Ford dealership in 1929, we’ve been in Bartlesville since 1940, we’ve been a Toyota dealer since 1968,” Doenges says. “So we’re the epitome of a sustainable business.”

Doenges also has a personal interest in sustainability, having worked for the Oklahoma chapter of the Nature Conservancy on the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve near Bartlesville, which includes the largest protected remnant of tallgrass prairie left on Earth.

Sustainability is one thing; LEED is another. But Doenges decided to take the extra step. “In our part of the world, there’s not a lot of awareness about sustainability,” he says, “and I wanted to build into our community a knowledge of LEED.”

LED lights help Doenges reduce energy use in its dealership. Low-flow fixtures do the same for water.

LED lights help Doenges reduce energy use in its dealership. Low-flow fixtures do the same for water.

The first step was finding the right partners in a community with little awareness of LEED. Ambler Architects had been working with Doenges for years, so that choice was easy, but the company also needed to find a construction manager. Doenges spoke to several candidates and ultimately chose Gorman Construction Company, which, like Doenges Family of Autos, is a third-generation Bartlesville company.

The project wasn’t without challenges despite committed partners. A majority of the subcontractors had never been involved in a LEED project, so Doenges Family of Autos had to educate them about why it was pursuing LEED and what it involved. Plus, the company had to fulfill LEED criteria while meeting Toyota’s own requirements, two things that didn’t always square. “There are 30 other LEED-certified Toyota dealerships in the country, but it’s not the most common way to building a building,” Doenges says. “We had to go outside the box to get certain things set up, like LED lights. But it was important because in our business changing light bulbs is a never-ending process, and LED lights last longer.”

In addition to geothermal heating and cooling and LED lighting, the 27,400-square-foot dealership, which opened in the spring of 2014, has waterless urinals, low-flow fixtures, sustainably harvested lumber, and an automated building management system. The company also recycled much of the former building on the site—about 75 percent, Doenges estimates.

Ultimately, the dealership is expected to be 40 percent more energy efficient than a traditional dealership of the same size, with the majority of it attributed to the geothermal system. “We looked at solar and wind, and they didn’t work out economically,” Doenges says. “Between tax credits and energy savings, the geo- thermal system will pay for itself virtually on day one. It was a no brainer.”