BP Opens Helios House'

Green station has eco-friendly design, solar panels, more; oil company will encourage its other brands to follow suit

LOS ANGELES -- BP is opening a green gas station today in Los Angeles. Dubbed Helios House, the eco-friendly station replaces a Thrifty station that served customers from Los Angeles and nearby Beverly Hills, said The Los Angeles Times.

Helios House could win certification as the nation's 735th building to be certified as green by the U.S. Green Building Council, the group said.BP will also encourage operators of its ARCO and Thrifty branded stations to adopt some of the green practices showcased at Helios House, said the report.

The new BP station has an earth-friendly design, using such materials as farmed wood and less-polluting paint, and its customers will be encouraged to save energy. The canopy is covered in shiny triangles of uncoated, recyclable stainless steel. The rooftop holds 90 solar panels and a collection system that gathers rainfall to irrigate drought-tolerant plants nearby. The underside is outfitted with low-energy lighting. Cars will roll across concrete mixed with bits of recycled glass.

"The whole site is really a lab," Ann Hand, senior vice president for global marketing and innovation at BP, told the newspaper. "Everything we have on this site is about reuse. My hope is that people will see that they can do little thingsto move up to a greener lifestyle."

Members of the station's "green team" will check the tire pressure on customers' cars and advise that properly inflated tires boost gasoline mileage, said the report, and they will give out energy-saving tips, printed on recycled paper embedded with flower seeds that sprout when the card is planted in the ground.

While its customers pump gasoline, BP will show eco-vignettes and green videos on screens built into the fuel dispensers. The oil company is considering adding biodiesel and alternative fuels to the site, as well as selling carbon offsets to customers who want to make up for their fuel use, Hand added.

"This is just the starting point," she said. "Day 1 is not the final product."

BP declined to disclose how much it cost to build Helios House, the report said, although Hand said the price was in line with conventional construction. "We will not be charging consumers more than what's normal for this market," she said.

Construction on Helios House has been hidden behind huge nylon shades covered with pictures of giant grass blades, the report said. But word spread online after BP started advertising on Craigslist, seeking "smart, ethical, conscientious team members to educate consumers about taking small steps in the right direction to help reduce their impact on the environment."

Hand acknowledged to the Times that critics were likely to dismiss Helios House as an effort to generate positive publicity for BP, whose reputation has been battered in recent years by a refinery accident, air pollution settlements, pipeline problems and more. "It's not a PR stunt," she said. "Even though we've had a series of unfortunate events, you've got to keep looking forward and innovate. We know it's a bit of a paradox, but we don't think that's an excuse to do nothing."

Charles Lockwood, an environmental and real estate consultant in L.A., told the paper that BP's move was part of a "tsunami" of green projects sweeping the country. "A green gas station is not as far-fetched as it initially might seem," he said. "This goes beyond adding a solar panel to the roof and putting in a low-flow toilet. If they're willing to take this first step, then I think we should be cautiously optimistic."