Laundry and Environmental Sustainability Operations need to be sustainable for cost, customers, employees
CHICAGO — Long gone are the days when industry moved forward without much thought to environmental impact, and for good reason.
First, clean air, water and soil are important for humans to survive. Second, poor, inefficient usage of resources and equipment costs a lot of money. Third, the government and the public are keeping watch on how businesses treat the environment.
For these reasons and more, laundry and linen services need to be vigilant about knowing what environmental issues the industry faces—and being proactive about them.
“I consider environmental issues critical to operational decisions after regulatory operations,” says Richard Engler, manager of textile processing for JPS Health Network in Fort Worth.
“In order to be prepared for the future of our industry, it will be key to have a strong engagement with the environmental impact our programs have, and what we do today will assist in being compliant in the coming days.”
“Since industrial laundry operations create a substantial impact on the environment, they need to work hand-in-hand with regulators to decide on balanced solutions that protect all the participants,” adds Jerry Martin, vice president of sales and marketing for Prudential Overall Supply in Irvine, California.
He goes on to say that laundry organizations such as the American Reusable Textile Association (ARTA) and TRSA, the association for linen, uniform and facility services, play an important role in the regulation process by providing a unified voice for the industry contributors.
“There are many commercial benefits to reducing environmental impact including customer appreciation, cost savings (e.g. reusing plastic bags, saving on utilities), lower fees and surcharges,” Martin adds.
The main ecological issues that laundries face are water, chemicals, energy (electricity and natural gas), transportation and fuel, air emissions, and wastewater discharge, he shares.
“These are all necessary to be able to process laundry effectively and efficiently; however, there are steps that a company can take to reduce the per weight impact of these factors,” says Martin.
For Engler, it is becoming more and more apparent that water is going to be the industry’s biggest concern in the future—not only the efficient and effective use of water, but also the expectations on what operations are discharging and how the effluent can be properly treated by water companies.
He recommends continuing to pursue and review any water reuse options that are both cost effective and of suitable performance to be used in a laundry operation.
Proper wastewater disposal is a challenging issue that often goes unnoticed, adds Martin. Soil from dirty garments is mixed into fresh water during the wash cycle and this wastewater can contain too many contaminants to directly send down the drain.
“Pre-treatment is often required where soils are coagulated together and skimmed off the top and bottom of a settling tank,” he says. “The sludge is then dried and sent to a landfill while the rest of the wastewater is sent on to a publicly owned treatment works (POTW) for further treatment.
“Regular maintenance and operation of treatment equipment with capable operators ensures minimal discharge of contaminants to the sewer.”
One solution to laundry/linen service environmental issues Martin points out is industry consolidation.
“Generally speaking, the more poundage a single operation handles, the more efficiency and automation opportunities arise,” he says.
“However, with more consolidation comes more transportation as you need to service customers that are further away. Also, building laundry operations closer to customers and business opportunities reduces the need to transport product over long distances, although it may increase construction and operation costs.”
Purchasing more energy-efficient equipment (air compressors, washers and dryers, lighting) greatly reduces energy use per pound washed and rebates can go a long way in encouraging companies to invest additional capital in aging equipment, adds Martin.
“The efficient use of equipment is so important in the reduction of energy consumption and often not made a consideration when addressing environmental concerns,” Engler points out.
“Using equipment at its stated capacities is so often overlooked or discounted when other operational issues seem to dictate running under load or leaving equipment running when not in use.”
He says there are substantial opportunities with efficient use of equipment with zero cash outlay.
“It is easy to forget that this savings and benefit are available to the operation on the floor right now and that a small change in the culture could be hugely impactful and it can start today,” Engler says.
“From an operator’s perspective, water and energy are costly inputs, and we work to reduce the use of both while maintaining our product quality standards,” says Kristin Dempsey, vice president of Dempsey Uniform & Linen Supply in Jessup, Pennsylvania.
“Since water and energy are natural resources, our continuous improvement efforts are aligned with sustainability goals.”
Martin shares that Prudential is continually working to reduce the amount of water and energy that it takes to launder.
“Every year we invest in more energy-efficient equipment and add VFDs (variable frequency drives) to major pieces of equipment to reduce electricity usage,” he says.
“We frequently replace older lighting with LEDs and make sure to add and keep skylights to take advantage of natural lighting. We are also replacing inefficient vehicles in our fleet each year to keep fuel costs and carbon emissions to a minimum.
“Over the last 20 years, Prudential has been able to decrease (per pound) its water use by 32%, its energy use by 26% and its carbon footprint by 38%.”
Something else Engler considers important, environmentally, for laundry/linen services, especially in healthcare, is offering reusable products rather than just allowing single-use disposables to take the place of various product lines.
“With the arrival of COVID-19, a number of products are going to be in short supply, which will allow for reusable products to make a return to desirability,” he says. “If we are ready to address, we can capture these items again and keep them in the future.”
Environmental sustainability can also have an impact on another front where operations are struggling: hiring and retaining employees.
“Although we have seen some interest in our sustainability efforts on the customer side, we find that employees and applicants have even greater interest in what we are doing,” shares Dempsey.
“Applicants are often surprised to learn how ‘green’ textile rental service are for the environment and they have been particularly interested in our company efforts to be an industry leader in sustainability.
“They often comment about Dempsey becoming the first Clean Green certified laundry in the U.S.”
From limiting negative natural impact to cost savings to customer and employee perception, it makes sense for laundry and linen services to work to be as sustainable as possible.