DAVID JASSNY: Industry can teach some ‘green’ cleaning

The call for personal action to save the Earth seems to be falling on more deaf ears. Sales pitches for eco-friendly products and warnings of planetary demise are backfiring. People are tired of hearing them: “green fatigue” is spreading. Suddenly, contentment is growing in our country about the quality of the environment. According to a recent Gallup poll, 46 percent of Americans now rate our ecosystems as excellent or good. That is up from 39 percent a year earlier.

Market research just released by the Shelton Group, Knoxville, Tenn., concluded that 14 percent of consumers now feel very personally responsible for preventing pollution. Only this small minority say they are compelled to change daily habits and purchase practices accordingly. Last year, the figure was 18 percent.

Scary, isn’t it? Granted, Gallup found that a majority (53 percent) still rate the environment as fair or poor. But that doesn’t mean most people buy the notion that every household needs to help preserve our natural resources.

We need a much harder sell. Not just an appeal on moral grounds—a promise of an immediate, personal payoff. Green behaviors will become more popular, I believe, if these are promoted to Americans as ultimately saving their time and money as well as the planet.

Businesses can provide this guidance. Executives have long recognized that the less water and energy their operations use, the greater their profits. Corporations can trumpet the message that conservation improves the environment and the economy. In some cases, professional green work practices can become positive examples for consumers to apply to their personal lives.

My industry, uniform and linen supply, provides one such example. Improvements made in our commercial laundry operations can be applied to clothes washing in homes. Everyone can make better use of time, reduce their water and energy bills, and improve the environment — while getting their laundry done.

We wash millions of pounds of laundry each year and steadily experiment with new practices. Similarly, it might require diligence up-front for consumers to find new techniques to use at home. Once learned, though, these will pay off in lower bills and less time spent monitoring laundry.

A few simple plays can be taken right away from our book. First, we wash the largest loads possible, filling our machines to capacity. Consumers generally do not. If they do, a family of four can save more than 3,400 gallons of water each year, the federal Environmental Protection Agency says. Also, we save energy by running our dryers as little as possible. At home, consumers can do the same, as well as air-dry.

We trust the directions that detergent manufacturers give us. They know the right ways to take out tough stains and produce the best overall cleanliness possible. Consumers can similarly maintain wash quality by closely following the directions on their detergent and stain-removal products.

These practices don’t dig into consumers’ wallets. This contrasts sharply with the product-manufacturer-driven notion that paying more provides better environmental protection. Americans have had enough of that. Shelton found that most people are only swayed by green promotion if the advertised goods also offer savings. About 70 percent of survey respondents now say they buy energy-efficient products primarily to save money. In 2006 and 2007, “to protect the environment” was the most popular answer.

Soon, “to save time” might be the most common reply. The federal Labor Department says Americans with full-time jobs can only devote about an hour of every weekday to household activities. These include housework, cooking, lawn care, and financial and other management tasks for the home. Products and practices that enable them to squeeze more productivity from that hour probably have a bright future.

We have seen this in our industry. Our detergent suppliers continuously improve our formulas so we need less time to wash effectively. This curbs resource use and enables us to do more work with the same machines. Green? You bet. In more ways than one. Conservation is good business, professionally and personally, morally and practically.

David Jassny is co-president of Service Linen Supply in Renton. His company provides work uniforms and other textile products with laundry pickup and delivery service to local hospitality and health-care businesses.

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