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Sustainability Saves

Reducing a plant’s environmental impact often leads to reduced operational costs—and customer goodwill.

By Ian P. Murphy

Since the beginning of the Internet age, consumers have been doing more research on the products and services they buy. No longer is it enough for a product to work well or taste great; today, it often must be ecofriendly, ethical, organic and fair-trade, too, in order to satisfy individuals’ need to feel good about the things they buy.

Drycleaning is not immune to this aspect of consumer behavior, and since perc first attracted enhanced regulatory scrutiny almost 30 years ago, more sustainable, ecofriendly practices have become a key selling point for many operations. Fortunately, many strategies for going “green” can actually save operators money and add to the bottom line.


Efficiency Is Ecofriendly

For many plants, the first step in operating more sustainably is to ensure that no solvent goes to waste. Solvent is a necessity and substantial line item for every drycleaner, and no matter whether it’s perc, hydrocarbon or “other,” solvent costs have been going up for years. “We were once a transfer plant, so reclaiming solvent was our first big step,” said Matthew Porche, CED®, operator of Uneeda Cleaners in Houma, Louisiana. “It saved seven to eight gallons per day. Back then, it was only $7.00 a gallon, but it adds up.”

Many perc operations that have been around for more than a decade have had to upgrade equipment to stay in compliance with environmental regulations, but every upgrade and scheduled maintenance check is an opportunity to enhance efficiency. “Try to be as sensible as you can be when installing equipment,” said Mike Cooper, CED®, operator of Mercury Valet Services in Memphis, Tennessee. “A new coil makes perc go a lot further, and that’s the trick. Get as much life out of it as you can—solvent is expensive.”

Timely, ongoing maintenance is crucial; clogged filters and small leaks can add up to big bucks. “I keep my machines in good shape and check for leaks every week,” said Donald E. Carwile, CED®, operator of Carwile’s Custom Cleaners, a petroleum plant in Memphis, Tennessee. “You have to be certified to buy solvent in Tennessee, and [you] don’t want to spill stuff.”


Alternative and Sustainable

Depending on a plant’s location, switching to alternative processes may assist in the effort to get greener while containing costs. Prestige Cleaners in Scottsdale, Arizona, for example, switched to DF-2000 high-flashpoint hydrocarbon when perc prices started to go up in the 1990s. “Does it save money? I think the answer is yes,” says operator Donn C. Frye, CED®.

Prestige also operates a Xeros machine, which employs polymer beads to extract soils and contaminants from clothing, eliminating up to 80% of water use and the energy needed to heat it. “We use a lot less water in the desert Southwest,” Frye said. “We also have wetcleaning machines to give us flexibility, but water is water, and it goes down the drain.”

Steamer Cleaners in Sherman Oaks, California, uses iPura machinery to purify solvent without distillation, leading to faster, more energy-efficient cycles. “The elimination of distillation cuts our energy bill substantially,” said owner Nicole Basseri, CED®. “The iPura machines use one-tenth the amount of cooling water as traditional drycleaning machines. Our new pressing machines are also more energy-efficient.

“Steamer Cleaners strives to implement the most advanced systems to reduce its environmental impact,” Basseri said. “We are committed to being an environmental cleaner for the sake of the neighborhood, and wish to minimize our environmental footprint. From using GreenEarth to our involvement in DLI’s hanger recycling program, we aim to be at the forefront of a green drycleaning evolution.”


Small Moves Add Up

Proper solvent handling and waste disposal is only a baseline for today’s operator; indeed, it may only represent the minimum needed to operate within the law. Many operations have embraced ecofriendly strategies in processes throughout their plants, however, with recycling and energy-efficient lighting two common sources of sustainability and savings.

Star Brite Cleaners in Austin, Texas, recycles hangers and poly bags, and has replaced traditional fluorescent fixtures with energy-efficient bulbs. “That definitely saved money, and they put out a lot less heat, as well,” said operator Keith A. Kocher, CED®. “I think environmental awareness is probably more common here in Austin than any other city in Texas. A lot of people are concerned; we have several customers who take the plastic off the clothes before they leave.”

Located in Alexandria, Virginia, Presto Valet has recycled hangers since paper bags went out of vogue in the 1960s, and now reuses and/or recycles more than 250,000 per year. Presto also sanitizes and reuses safety pins, recycles poly, and offers free caddies to promote hanger recycling. “It takes labor to sort them out, but we can reuse 60 percent of them,” said operator Richard “Buddy” Gritz, CED®.

In addition to recycling two to three cases of hangers per month and installing outdoor LED fixtures that use less than one-quarter the energy of their incandescent predecessors, Uneeda spearheads litter pickup in the surrounding community and bayous, and helps area households dispose of hazardous wastes such as unused paint. Inside the plant, Porche promotes “basic conservation behavior, like making sure you turn the lights off when you leave the leave the room,” he said. “We always change things up to save a little money. Drycleaning sales and margins are down, so any time you can save a few dollars, you can also help the environment.”

Switching to energy-saving light bulbs is an obvious choice, but there are dozens of ways to save. Right-sized boilers, fuel-efficient or alternative-fuel vehicles, paperless invoicing, and reusable or biodegradable breakroom supplies can slash an operation’s environmental impact while cutting costs. Anywhere you look in a plant, there’s likely an opportunity to conserve resources and save money.

For instance, reusable bags—now the rule for groceries in many major metropolitan areas—are eliminating tons of single-use plastic in plants nationwide. By offering convertible bags such as the Green Garmento, drycleaners can not only save up to 40 percent over poly, but also gain access to a handy vehicle for their logos and advertising messages.

Operators can offer reusable bags to ecoconscious consumers for a small fee to offset the initial cost, or give them away for free. “It gives you an opportunity to be ‘green’ and to save ‘green,’” said Jennie Nigrosh, CEO of Chatsworth, California-based Green Garmento. “A drycleaner can be ecofriendly, while also being friendly to his bottom line.”


Meeting Customer Expectations

Sometimes, the payoff on a plant’s sustainability efforts is hard to quantify. “I can’t say for certain how much we save,” Mercury Valet’s Cooper said. “But in the eyes of my customers, it pays off. From that standpoint alone, [sustainability] pays a dividend. It’s kind of abstract, but if they pay you disposable dollars for drycleaning, I think that shows a certain confidence in your operation.”

“People go to the drycleaners for different reasons,” Gritz said. “If they can’t afford it and don’t understand the process, they will go to the one-price cleaner. If they understand the process, they will go to an environmentally friendly cleaner. We strive for one thing: that the customer feels better when they leave.”

While Presto already serves prominent Washington, D.C., customers such as climate change crusader Al Gore, Gritz said that outreach is an important aspect of getting customers to share in the cost of being ecofriendly. “We have a lot of people who come in here because we are ‘green,’” he said. “We are one of the few—if not the only—drycleaners that will take customers on a tour, and we can do that because we are safe. We’re a little more expensive than the average cleaner, but 99 percent of the time, after the tour, they leave their clothes regardless of the prices.”

“I think the public cares,” Prestige’s Frye said. “They will they pay more or travel further. “We think our processes make garments smell better and last longer, and our environmental footprint is negligible. I think that’s a big deal. We’re glad we picked DF-2000, and recycling makes you feel warm and fuzzy. And you save a little bit of money.”


Certification Pays

Drycleaners and staffers who have earned DLI’s Certified Environmental Drycleaner designation—one of three certifications that make up its Certified Garment Care Professional (CGCP) designation—say that it has helped them clean more sustainably. “Early on, it gave me an understanding of the things we should be doing,” Frye said. “I’ve learned a lot more since then, but if I didn’t already have it, I would get it.”

Displaying the award can help break the ice on a topic that’s often a source of concern in potential customers’ minds, too. “I put the certification up in the call office, and when people comment on it, I explain it to them,” Star Brite’s Kocher said. “They are happy to hear I took the extra step to know more about the environmental aspect of drycleaning. There were things that I didn’t know until I took the test, and it has been really helpful.”

“Having CED certification helps tremendously on multiple levels,” Uneeda’s Porche said. “It lets the customer and the community know that you know what you’re talking about. And on another level, having that education is almost an awakening—you come out of school knowing the chemistry and how to do things a little smarter with the tools at hand.”

Learn more about DLI's Certification program here: DLIonline.org/certification

Ian P. Murphy is a freelance writer and editor based in Chicago. He served as the editor of American Drycleaner magazine from 1999-2011.

Posted By Harry Kimmel | 12/8/2016 4:01:18 PM