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Becoming water $mart and eco-friendly

February 10, 2010
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There are several compelling events necessitating change in mobile detailing and the state of California is leading the charge. Nearly all of these changes relate to the environment and how detail businesses affect our planet.

Let’s start with the obvious. California, along with several East coast states, is in a drought. The situation is likely to become more serious through 2009 and continue to be a concern in 2010. Water conservation throughout the United States is a reality and priority for the foreseeable future.

On top of an environment encouraging and necessitating the use of less water is the other reality that the Clean Water Act of 1972 has evolved into the State Water Control Boards (SWCB) of California. The SWCB is comprised of nine regional boards. Each board issues an NPDES Permit (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) every five years.

These permits regulate discharge into storm drains to protect water resources and all regions are scheduled to issue new permits in 2009. After the permit is issued, the counties and cities in that region have one year to write a Best Management Practices (BMP) to comply with the standards set.

Currently, the permit requires the user to ensure waste water does not leave the private property or steps are taken to prevent direct discharge into the storm drain. However, the SWCB has been testing water sources (streams, lakes, etc.) and finding the Total Daily Maximum Load (TDML) has exceeded their limits. If the TDML exceeds the limits set forth in the permit, it issues fines of $10,000 per day, per occurrence.

If the standard is set at controlling the contamination, then the capture of waste water is satisfied. The SWCB will utilize best available technology to achieve these standards.

Water $mart defined

The opportunity to be an eco-friendly detailer lies at the intersection of what we’ve come to call “Water $mart” principles. Fundamentally, the idea is if you use less water, then you will have to capture less of it.

Water $mart is general term used to indicate that a professional detailer is making wise choices when it comes to conserving water and controlling discharge.

Much like being Water $mart, eco detailing means making business choices in consideration of the environment. All products are the best options of efficacy and environmental friendliness. In all aspects of being a professional detailer, green and environmentally friendly decisions are the priority.

The methods of how you wash a car, the products you use, and your method of capturing and discharging water are all with consideration of the environment.

Here’s the best example: For an engine detail, a mobile detailer typically sprays degreaser, brushes a little, hoses down and applies dressing. It’s a great hourly rate and up-sell opportunity, but very bad for the environment.

In California, the SWCB standards dictate there is no problem as long as the waste water does not leave the property and enter the conveyance system to the storm drain, nor directly enter the storm drain. But there are still issues surrounding storm water and urban run-off. For instance, if it rains the next day and the storm water picks up all those horrible contaminants left by the detailer from the engine and carries them to the storm drain, it could potentially lead to fines for the city/county. That is the reason for the shift in focus from water containment to contamination control.

Other changes

The SWCB standards being renewed in 2009 is not the only concern for mobile detailers. In an example of things to come, the city of Calabasas, CA, has started to regulate the mobile carwash and detail industries.

The city had seen drafts of the upcoming NPDES Permit and knew they could face a $10,000 fine if mobile detailing services affected the TDMLs in their waterways.

The city decided to regulate the industry preemptively. Under the new ordinance, mobile carwash owners must obtain a permit and prove they properly discharge runoff water.

It is assumed that other California cities will not be far behind in following Calabasas footsteps. Indeed, at least one other Texas city has already started legislation in order to control mobile detail businesses.

The message to detailers:

  • Start investigating alternative wash methods (such as waterless carwash technology and eco-friendly cleaning chemicals).
  • Reduce the amount of water you carry and use.
  • Decrease the pressure and gallons of water used per minute.
  • Roll out the wash capture mat and set up a reclamation system.

The “waterless” alternative

There are many new waterless/eco-friendly carwash products hitting the market. Most of these solutions claim to clean a vehicle with only one pint of water; meaning five gallons of the solution, plus a bit of water, and you can clean 20-25 vehicles a day. You could put the solution in an inflatable bladder and hide it in -- or even under -- your vehicle.

By reducing the amount of water you carry, you open up many new options in vehicles. These new solutions also reduce the amount of equipment. Gone are the 100-galon waste water tank, the pressure washer, the reclamation equipment, etc. The mobile detailer no longer needs to drive a large van or trailer. Since you are carrying significantly less weight, you have better gas mileage, fewer brake and transmission repairs and problems.

Based on the services you intend to perform, you might be able to eliminate the generator and utilize a marine battery for energy to deliver the initial expense benefit and then ongoing gas costs.

Other “ecovations”

Innovations for eco-friendly detailers don’t end with these green cleaning solutions. The Total Pros in San Diego, CA, have developed a product to collect waste water in a unique fashion. The foam “C” shaped pad fits around the wheel to capture any drips created in achieving speed in a wheel clean. They also have a small wash capture mat to fit under the engine for engine details. Any drips are captured in the mat; a wipe with a microfiber towel collects all waste, according to Total Pros.

Another “ecovation” comes from Attention to Detail, a detail business run by Renny Doyle in Boise, ID. A decade ago, the company started to utilize steam within their detailing services. This step was taken as a way to not only drastically improve quality and reduce the overall time taken to properly detail, but also as a way to reduce the amount of chemicals needed to clean and detail the interior of vehicles.

Steam has not only proven to be an effective cleaner; it is safer and easier on interior finishes than the common methods used by most detailers and does so without exposing the detailing customer to the smell and possible negative exposure that chemicals can offer.

Marketing & PR

This is the perfect time to establish yourself as the local eco detail expert. The future will bring opportunities to get your business recognized in free PR efforts as the media is always looking for a local green story.

Team up with other green companies and host charity carwashes for community groups. Contact your city government for opportunities to help them “green” up their government fleets.

Anthony Flammia is owner/operator of GIA’s Mobile Detailing on Long Island, NY.

Jim Fitzpatrick is a master franchisee of Pronto Wash, USA, in California.

Yvan Lacroix is a franchisor of Repare-Brise, Inc. in Quebec, Canada.