Green business practices: they can save you money, make you money and stretch your money.
But what exactly does being green entail for a car care business? Well, it’s something a little different for every operator. A dramatic example is Easywash in Vancouver, Canada, where a hydrogen fuel cell provides 90 percent of the carwash’s peak energy demands, and a private well and water treatment system provides water. According to Geoff Baker, CEO of Easywash, it’s the “most eco-friendly carwash in the world.”
In California, Harv’s Car Wash incorporates some easier methods for being green. The chain provides recycling bins at its three locations, purchases recyclable supplies and uses energy-efficient fluorescent lighting. For its efforts, Harv’s carwashes are the only such businesses to receive “green certification” from the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG).
As wonderful as being green is for the environment, it’s also a trendy marketing niche. According to a March 2007 Ipsos News Center poll, nearly 60 percent of Americans have purchased “green” products in the past 12 months.
Not only is the green consumer movement growing, its members are becoming more demanding. That same Ipsos poll found that 60 percent of Americans say that companies do not pay enough attention to their social and environmental responsibilities and 77 percent said companies should work to improve their products and services’ wider impacts.
But what can green do for you? Aside from attracting more customers, being green can save you money. At Harv’s Car Wash, CEO Aaron Zeff was surprised to learn the trash containers at his carwashes had been downsized and his sewage impact fees decreased.
Julie Brandt, director of community and government affairs for Harv’s, said rebates from the local electricity utility helped pay for nearly 50 percent of the company’s retrofits and to change its lighting. On top of that, the energy and water bills were reduced.
Steve Tucker Jr., president of AutoVac Industrial Vacuum Systems, said his company is working with the state of California to help make applying and receiving state grants easier with the use of his company’s variable frequency drive technology. Tucker isn’t the only member of the carwash vendor world to be joining this environmental movement. Many carwash equipment suppliers are developing energy efficient products to help car care operators stay ahead of the curve.
In addition to appealing to utility companies, being green can also make the approval process easier. In the West, municipalities are especially eager to partner up with green businesses. The practice is catching on across the country and in Canada. Carwashes in Sheboygan, WI, and Wayne, NJ, have received state recognition and grants for their efforts to be green. Easywash has plans to expand its environmentally-focused carwash throughout Canada and the United States.
In South Whitehall, NJ, township commissioners have extended approval of plans for an environmentally-friendly carwash that were originally approved last year. The carwash plans call for wind turbines as an energy source and certification by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (L.E.E.D.) program. The township commissioners are also assisting the developer in applying for a “Growing Greener” grant from the state to help build his environmentally sensitive business.
Green tips and tricks
So how can you be green? Professional Carwashing & Detailing talked to green operators and carwash vendors to establish these 29 tips and marketing tricks for greening up your business. Pick and choose the ones that work for you to get on the green path to success.
- Use environmentally friendly chemicals. “We use Ecolab and chemicals and products that minimize the amount of toxics. We don’t use HF [hydrofluoric acid] at all,” explains Julie Brandt of Harv’s Car Wash. In general, the chain tries to minimize the amount of chemicals used and educates its staff on the ingredients and the content of those chemicals.
- Go green with your landscaping. Throw out your weed killers and pesticides and instead attract birds and pest-eating insects that can do the job for you. Leave grass clippings on the lawn for a natural fertilizer. Water in the early morning or at night to avoid evaporation.
- Use an electric drive motor. If you’re a conveyor operator with a hydraulic drive, consider going electric. With electric, the brushes simply turn on and off when a vehicle approaches. MacNeil Wash Systems performed studies this year that showed electric drive brushes and conveyors use one-third the electrical energy of hydraulic equipment. The electric drive is quieter too, making the carwash approval process easier and more appealing to customers.
- Provide recycling bins. “We’ve put up blue recycle bins at every one of our vacuum stations, and we have a complete recycling service that takes away boxes, cans, paper, you name it,” explains Brandt.
- Talk to an environmentally-themed club. Then let them do the talking for you. Explain the benefits of a commercial carwash and offer free carwash coupons that they can use at club events.
- Start a charity carwash program. Get community groups off the parking lot pavement and onto your property. You’ll be doing your carwash and the environment a favor.
- Use energy efficient equipment. This one is self-explanatory. Talk to your distributor or research manufacturers who produce carwash equipment that is easy on your electricity bill.
- Contact your local water authority. Ask them to point out the environmental risks of home and parking lot carwashes on their website and in literature they distribute to the public. A great example of this can be found on the website for Green Oak Township, MI (www.greenoaktwp.com).
- Put up signs. Educate customers at your carwash by displaying signs that detail the risks of driveway and parking lot carwashing. Remind customers of the measures your carwash takes to be environmentally friendly (water reclamation, energy efficient equipment, etc.).
- Have an audit done. Harv’s Car Wash had energy and water audits done at their carwash. “We looked at all of our machinery; the belts, the brushes, the timers, everything,” Brandt said. Brandt found the audit services through her local energy company and her water district. The auditor also offered tips for reducing usage.
- Use VFDs. Variable frequency drives are basically motor controls. Use them on your vacuums, your blowers, your pumps, your conveyors — anything with an electric motor. Steve Tucker of AutoVac said his company doesn’t strongly advertise the green aspect of the product as much as it pushes the return on investment from energy savings. “Conserving energy is awesome, but if it didn’t make the operator money or save him money, then he probably wouldn’t be buying it.”
- Apply for rebates. Tucker admits these are complicated, but for operators in western or “green” states like New York or Florida, these rebates are especially helpful. “Operators can get anywhere from 50-100 percent and more of the cost of the unit back,” Tucker explained. His company has purchased a software program that helps calculate the energy savings of VFD applications at carwashes that can be verified by the municipality or state. The calculation program was expensive, “but in order for us to have our customers receive those rebates that’s what we had to do,” Tucker explained. For more information about rebates, contact your municipality and also the carwash equipment manufacturer you intend to work with.
- Reclaim/recycle water. Look in PC&D’s upcoming April, June, September and December issues for more articles on water reclamation.
- Collect rain water. Easywash, the extremely eco-friendly carwash in Van-couver, Canada, collects rain water to use in the wash’s reclaim system. Because the carwash relies on its own well for its water supply, it is able to augment its reclaim system with free, fresh water. They save big bucks, and the municipality is happy, too.
- Collect reject water. Reject water is the leftover water from a spot-free or reverse osmosis system. Operators need a holding tank and a re-pressurization system to use this water in wash or rinse applications that don’t require spot-free water. You’ll reduce usage and save money.
- Buy recycled paper products. Use them everywhere. “We signed on with a products company where our staff can only order supplies that are either biodegradable or recyclable. So our cups, our napkins, our bottles… everything is recyclable,” said Brandt.
- Use pervious concrete. What’s pervious concrete? Bruce Culbertson, co-owner of Greenville Car Wash, offers his experience with this new technology.
- Change your light bulbs. Harv’s Car Wash replaced old lights with compact fluorescent lighting. They also had light sensors put on all of the site’s lights and made it company policy to only use the lights when it was dark outside.
- Install energy efficient toilets. They’ll use less water, save you money and no one will know the difference.
- Check nozzles. Your use of water will be more efficient if all nozzles and equipment are working properly.
- Recycle used waste oil.
- Use the “Brown Bear Study.” The environmental study commissioned by the Seattle-based Brown Bear Car Wash chain and carried out by Environmental Partners Inc. of Issaquah, WA, proves that parking lot and driveway carwashing can be damaging to wildlife. Send the study to local media and offer it for customers to read in your lobby.
- Become green certified. Even if your municipality has a process in place for certifying green businesses (and not too many do), chances are they haven’t certified a carwash yet. Harv’s Car Wash contacted the Association of Bay Area Government, which ran a green business certification program. “They had never considered greening a carwash, but they had some base criteria that any business could undertake that would improve the impact on the environment,” Brandt said.
- Partner with other green businesses. Choose businesses that are well known for their contributions and efforts and begin cross-promotions that are targeted towards eco-minded customers.
- Reduce snail mail. Focus on e-marketing and mobile telephone marketing instead.
- Use wind turbines for energy. Okay, this one is a bit extreme, but if you’re committed to the cause like developer Peter Cooper in South Whitehall, NJ, then wind turbines could be an excellent addition to your carwash.
- Use solar panels. It’s more common than you think. Tom and Karen Puchalski added eight solar panels on the roof of Pure Wash Car Wash in Sheboygan, WI. A grant covered about 17 percent of the cost and Pure Wash is also eligible for a federal energy tax credit. In Van Nuys, CA, owners of Valley Carwash received a 42 percent rebate on the installation cost for their solar rooftop system from the Southern California Gas Company. The solar system cost $677,000, and provides supplementary power to operate the carwash.
- Install an air valve. Like the PowerLock air valve for dryers by MacNeil, which reduces power consumption by 50 percent between vehicles. The PowerLock works by blocking air intake between vehicles, but allows the dryer to continue running at normal speed while using only half the power. As a result, kilowatt hour consumption and peak load average charges decrease. The PowerLock has an additional neighbor-friendly feature of reducing sound levels by 3-5 decibels when engaged.
- Consider waterless. Harv’s Car Wash is looking to add a waterless carwash service in the future, as is at least one other carwash in the nation that responded to PC&D’s Green Opinion Poll. If you don’t plan to offer a waterless service or product, at least remember to address waterless carwashing if it starts to take hold of your area. Arizona operators are already contending with one waterless carwash, and a waterless franchise has also opened in Las Vegas, where the Southern Nevada Water Authority agreed to promote the business on its website.
Kate Carr is editor in chief of Professional Carwashing & Detailing. She can be reached at email@example.com.
For more information about the carwashes mentioned in this report, visit www.easywash.com or www.harvscarwash.com.
You can also visit YouTube.com to see videos and press coverage of the hydrogen-fuel cell used at Easywash.