LOS ANGELES — There’s a drycleaner in my neighborhood that brags that, “The only greener way to care for your clothes is to use a rock and a stream.”
That drycleaner has no solar panels, uses fluorescent lighting (which remains lit 24 hours a day, though the business is closed for 10 of those hours), has no reusable or even bio-degradable packaging, and is in fact a perc cleaner. Why does the business advertise itself as green? “Because consumers like green.”
And why don’t they don’t incorporate any green initiatives into their operations? “We’ve run our business the same way for 50 years, we see no reason to change.”
What, I asked, would they think if other industries operated that way: no computers, no fax machines, no remote-controlled televisions. “That’s different, that’s innovation. This green technology is only a different way of doing the same thing.”
What if, I asked, the government didn’t put limitations on the waste that factories used to send into our waterways, the level of emissions put into our gasoline? Wouldn’t our skies be blacker, our water browner if someone didn’t get them to find a different way to control their waste?
I grew up in Middlesex County, N.J. In the 1980s, when my mom died at 60, it had the second-highest cancer rate of any county in the U.S. without coal mining, all because of the water we drank. So I think changing the way we do things, if it’s for the better, is important.
“Sure, we need to limit pollution when it hurts people,” was the answer. “But my customers like the way we do things.”
“Really?” I said, turning the conversation more specifically about The Green Garmento. “Do you think your customers like reaching for one shirt and getting six, then spending 45 seconds fighting with a twist-tie? Do you think they like having a closet filled with poly and garment covers; all that waste? And do you think your customers that don’t have a VIP bag like worrying about what they dropped between their closet and your front door?
“I don’t think they care enough to where they’d want me spending more money and having to charge them more to clean their clothes.”
What makes you think that doing green things costs you more? If you used more eco-friendly lighting, over time the company would save thousands of dollars. Imagine how much you would save if you didn’t have to make continual purchases of single-use poly bags and garment covers.
Some distributors are like those guys around the turn of the last century trying to sell horseshoes instead of tires because they make more money on horseshoes. Their biggest revenue items are poly and garment covers. The more drycleaners save money on reusable items, the less money they spend. But as drycleaners realize that these distributors are looking out for their own welfare, they will find a new distributor.
“But we’re different than most drycleaners,” I was told, ”we make most of our money on our pickup/delivery business.” That only means, I said in reply, that you have to give everyone delivery bags. Why not pay only $1.50 or $2 per bag more than what you’re already paying and eliminating the waste—monetary as well as ecological—of your poly and garment covers. And polypropylene protects better against rain, show, hail or sun. And you can even sell them the bags or take a deposit—all the grocery chains have paved that road for you.
That, I rant, is why I’m so frustrated with the route consultants who refuse to recommend reusable bags over single-use packaging. Those consultants’ whole business concept is showing how, if you follow their plan, a delivery business can be more profitable than having a storefront. Why won’t they explain how best to economize—and ‘ecologize’—that business?
But, I’m told, “We only change things when we have to change things, when I see something’s going wrong.”
Even single-store owners are responsible for putting more than a ton of waste into the ecosystem. I’ll leave it to others to decide whether that’s wrong. But isn’t spending money in ways you no longer need to spend it on a mistake? Do you really want to wait until your town/county/state taxes or prohibits single-use plastic bags?
The truth is, when I realized reusable drycleaning garment bags eliminated some of my frustrations with drycleaning packaging, I thought of it as a solution. When I realized we could make these bags—bags that protect the clothes better, are safer, are so much better for the environment and save drycleaners thousands—I knew there was a business.
Since then, I’ve started using LED lights and turn them off when I leave the room; we’ve changed our air-conditioning and heating habits. Last year, I saved almost $3,000 in energy costs. The savings will be even greater next year after treating our windows. We bought a Prius in April and have already saved more than $550 in gasoline costs—on just 4,000 miles. My water bill has gone down more than 30% in the last two years.
It’s not expensive to be green these days. It’s expensive not to be.