A lot has been written about “going green” — using “environmentally friendly” processes and strategies such as alternative solvents, recycling hangers or offering biodegradable poly.
Drycleaners can debate the importance of issuing a “green” message to the consumer, and whether sales are affected by communicating “environmentally friendly” positioning to customers and prospective customers. Regardless, more consumers are aware of environmental issues than ever before. It’s only a matter of time before their purchasing follows their preferences — if it hasn’t already.
Other businesses are paying more attention to “green” business strategies, but there’s almost no focus on them from those involved in the drycleaning industry. In fact, it impacts almost every new commercial building in the country, and many remodeling projects as well.
Commercial, residential, industrial and infrastructural construction uses large amounts of natural resources. In the U.S., buildings account for 72% of electrical consumption, 39% of all energy use, 38% of all carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, 40% of raw materials, 30% of waste output and 14% of potable-water consumption.
A well-planned design can reduce a building’s environmental impact significantly. Green buildings benefit the environment by enhancing and protecting ecosystems and biodiversity; improving air and water quality; reducing solid wastes; and conserving resources.
They also benefit owners, tenants and communities by reducing operating costs; enhancing asset value and profits; improving employee productivity and satisfaction; improving air, thermal and acoustic environments; enhancing comfort and health; minimizing the strain on infrastructure; and contributing to communities’ overall quality of life.
A green building addresses the entire lifecycle of a habitable structure. On the construction side, it addresses site planning, material consumption, indoor environmental quality, and water and energy usage. Green buildings also address operations and management.
Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) is a set of standards designed to help develop “green” buildings. LEED certification isn’t a fad, but a trend. Every business day, $464 million worth of construction is registered as LEED-certified. There are LEED projects underway worldwide and in all 50 states; California has the most, followed by Pennsylvania, Texas and Florida.
LEED-certified buildings are making remarkable accomplishments in conservation. Some 39% of the materials used to build and furnish them include recycled content. They use 43% less water by capturing rainwater. They produce less than half the construction waste of a conventional building. And they cut lighting requirements 26% by incorporating skylights. They even have lower maintenance costs.
OUT OF THE (BIG) BOX
Everyone wants a competitive edge, but it’s hard to change the basic cost structure of a drycleaning operation. Labor often adds up to 35% or more; rents are up, too. Times have changed, and if your cost structure can change for the better, it’s a competitive advantage.
Even Wal-Mart is embracing “green” strategies. Three years ago, it unveiled a environmental plan to boost energy efficiency, cut waste and reduce the greenhouse gases produced by its stores.
The chain experimented with biodiesel heat before settling on high-efficiency units. While the standard energy-efficiency ratio for such units is 9.0, Wal-Mart’s boast ratios of 10.1 to 11.0. Thermostats are controlled at Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., leaving nothing to chance.
The chain also uses “daylighting” strategies to cut electrical costs. Every Wal-Mart built today includes a skylight/dimming system — as daylight increases, the lights dim or turn off, reducing electrical demand during peak hours.
Nationwide, the company’s nearly 600 Wal-Mart stores, Sam’s Clubs and Neighborhood Markets save about 250 million kwh per year — enough to power approximately 23,000 homes. And in January, Wal-Mart reduced interior lighting requirements in 113 California stores without skylights by turning off every third fixture.
Since the mid-1990s, all Wal-Mart stores in California have been built with white membrane roofs. Their high reflectivity results in lower cooling loads.
New Wal-Mart stores use T-8 low-mercury fluorescent lamps and electronic ballasts — the most efficient lighting system on the market — and the chain is retrofitting older stores. Unlike other fluorescent lamps, T-8s are not considered hazardous, but Wal-Mart recycles them voluntarily, instead of adding them to landfills.
Think “green” initiatives aren’t for you? Think again. Drycleaners are using heat exchangers to lower energy costs. Drycleaners are using skylights and new ventilation systems to cut the costs of lighting and cooling. Drycleaners are installing T-8 bulbs. And there’s much more that can be done.
Energy costs will continue to fluctuate in the future, but it’s worth wondering what they might be and how you may be able to cut them. The “green” perspective is no longer about hugging trees or getting good press, it’s about costs too.
The front-end investment for “green” technologies is often more than you might want to pay, but the return on that investment can be substantial going forward. Perhaps the time has not yet come for this industry. But the time has come to learn about the options that will give proactive operators the edge in the future.