BP creates a greener place to pump gas

A filling station from the future lands in Los Angeles.

John Kehe
"Green" canopy: Helios House in Los Angeles is BP’s attempt to pump some ecosensibilities into the gas station experience.

It’s a cool oasis on a hot summer’s day – from recycled-glass floors to a living cacti roof. The nation’s first gas station to be certified by the green gurus at the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a place to linger and, BP executives say, for customers to become “a little better” at protecting the environment.

Low-energy lamps surrounding BP’s “Helios House” in Los Angeles are fitted with motion detectors to help reduce electrical use by 16 percent compared with standard gasoline stations. Attendants are armed with gas pumps in one hand and green-living brochures in the other. And, while filling-station bathrooms are usually to be avoided, these sport walls lined with bamboo, stalls cooled by the cacti roof, and a collection of tunes customers can enjoy while sitting on recycled-aluminum seats.

The irony is obvious. Helios House is not only a sweet-smelling gas station, but also an environmentally friendly overture from an oil conglomerate. But BP (formerly British Petroleum) says the station’s motto, “a little better,” applies to everyone. The company wants to green the pump as much as possible while helping customers discover “a range of small steps, such as innovative green design, education, ecofriendly materials, and recycling opportunities,” according to a press release.

While pumping gas may never be “green,” BP has attempted the sustainable gas station of the future. It’s most prominent feature, the canopy, is topped with 90 steel-cut solar panels. The metal finish reflects light, further reducing electrical needs, and the structure collects more rainwater than standards dictate. It irrigates the station’s landscape, which includes a living wall of plants to absorb carbon dioxide.

Opened in March 2007, Helios House is a vast improvement over the gas station that used to occupy the corner. But even that old station is doing its part – BP says it “upcycled” materials from the old lot to build this new project.

Manning the pumps are the station’s “green team.” Recruited from local colleges and organization for their environmental backgrounds, the attendants have completed a BP boot camp on green practices.

It’s all part of investing a little “green” to create sustainable green practices, says BP – and no doubt to attract some good PR as well.

If the experiment is successful, a second such gas station will likely come around. But for now, Helios House remains “a unique gas station, a little better for the environment than a typical station,” says BP’s website. “And yet, still not as green as might be possible with today’s technology. Not as green as we hope to make it in the future.”

– Staff writer Marjorie Kehe contributed to this report from Los Angeles.

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