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What's Your Shade of Green?

Diana Vollmer |

It's great to be "green." It sounds good; it looks good; it feels good. But is it really good? What does it really mean? Well — like anything else — it might depend on your audience.
For any drycleaner out to make a profit, being "green" means showing the customer you care about the environment. There are inexpensive ways to do this, such as establishing a process for recycling hangers. Recycling hangers saves drycleaners money, reduces clutter for the consumer, and is environmentally friendly by anyone's standard. But it is no longer enough.
For the customer who wants or expects more (and most do), "greenness" is a hot potato. Consumers are confused about what habits are "green" in their lives. As a result, it's not easy for businesses to be "green" and be perceived as "green" by consumers.
Consumers interested in eliminating plastic use reusable bags at stores. Consumers want to save fuel, but still drive big cars when they can afford to do so. They like the idea of wind energy, but know that it can cost twice as much as coal or natural gas because of the high cost of windmills.
Some businesses do a good job of making customers understand and appreciate their "green" strategies. The hospitality industry, for instance, offers the option not to change one's sheets daily to save water, making clients partners in a conservation strategy.
Additional efforts include printing on recycled paper with soy inks, installing low-flow toilets and sinks; using recycled toilet paper, and offering organic food in restaurants to reduce chemical use. Then, hotels communicate these activities to prospective customers and hope that the information adds to occupancy rates.
"Green" sources also tout a wealth of ideas for personal residences, such as buying organic cotton bath linens to reduce pesticide use, using non-vinyl shower curtains that decompose in landfills, using power strips that turn off when not in use, starting a compost bin for garbage disposal, installing rooftop solar panels, and replacing leaf blowers with rakes. Not all of these suggestions are cost-effective.
You can make different levels of commitment in this area. There's the "look-good/feel-good" approach, reflected in green-colored signage and announcements about hanger recycling. As consumers become more committed to a "green" philosophy, they expect far more from companies, though.
The complete commitment includes solar water heaters, water reuse and recycling, energy-efficient lighting, and the replacement of poly bags with reusable bags. This kind of commitment requires a significant amount of capital; many of these projects won't even have a five-year payback.
There is a cost-effective middle ground for most drycleaners. This is the area where being "green" is more than just a talking point, and there is real evidence of it to employees and customers alike. Management consciously picks "green" strategies and projects and communicates them.
When you try to do the right thing, the right thing is not always clear. Can you say that every cleaning solution on the market today is truly environmentally friendly? Many can contaminate the soil and groundwater. Others may produce more carbon in cleaning clothes than they save. Water may not be the best choice, either; it's a finite resource in many parts of the world.
No matter what commitment you make, being "green" is a moving target. The bar will continue to rise as historic practices become less acceptable. Operators who become front-runners in this area will draw the biggest attention from the community and customers. Those who follow may save time and money, but won't win the same loyalty. Establish projects to make your operation "green," know their risks, communicate these efforts to the community, and calculate the financial return.

About the author

Diana Vollmer

Methods for Management (MFM) Inc.

Managing Director

Diana Vollmer is managing director of Methods for Management (MFM) Inc., a consultancy specializing in drycleaning businesses. You may contact her at dvollmer@mfmi.com, 415-577-6544.

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