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Environmental Issues

How green is your detail shop?

June 09, 2010
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Over the last few years, the carwash industry has notably embraced the environmentally-friendly business trend. The detail industry, however, has been much slower to acknowledge the operational and marketing benefits of "going green."

This difference in pace may be due to public perception; many consumers think of carwashes as water wasters, but might not feel so strongly about detail businesses. Detailers also face a much smaller level of investment, which means operators are less likely to consider the financial benefits of green technology because the return on investment is to a lesser degree.

No matter what the reason, detailers are jumping on the green bandwagon and recognizing the advantages of operating an eco-friendly business. Whether it be by using eco-friendly products, properly storing and disposing chemicals or by recycling water and materials used, the green movement certainly cannot be ignored by the detailing industry.

Trend or lasting movement?

Steve Sause, the director of technical services for vehicle care at Simoniz USA, Inc., thinks many detailers falsely believe the buzz surrounding eco-friendly business practices is merely a trend or fad. "I’m of the mindset that it is here to stay," Sause explained. "When the drought issue was front and center from the southeast to the west coast, there was no way to escape criticism of water waste if you were involved in carwashing, detailing or other service business that required the use of water."

In addition to being a powerful movement throughout the U.S., going green has many benefits to the business owner. It helps more "green" find its way to your bank and pockets and is an excellent marketing tool. Additionally, operators who have the foresight to go green today may save themselves some trouble in the future. Many experts are predicting these standards will eventually be forced upon businesses due to evolving legislation and government mandates.

Legislation down the pipeline

According to Jim Fitzpatrick, of the franchisee ProntoWash, a chain of waterless detail services, the greening of the detail industry started in 2007 when California legislators passed an agreement to restrict volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are often found in products such as tire cleaners, windshield water repellents and odor removers, which will have to comply with regulations which could take effect in 2010.

Makers of chemical products are likely considering the effects of the California law, as it is entirely possible the regulations could spread to other states. Already, California detailers are inspecting their chemicals to see if they meet the expectations of the legislation.

The VOC agreement isn’t the only way in which California is leading the industry down the green path. The state’s Water Control Board is also reviewing the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit that prohibits discharge into storm drains.

Fitzpatrick said that once the permit is issued, the cities and municipalities will have one year to introduce best management practices to achieve standards set in the NPDES permit. Standards will be set to best available technology, which Fitzpatrick believes could include waterless carwash and detail products.

The biggest anti-green sins

While it might be difficult for some detailers to go entirely or even partially green, they should at least step back for a minute and see if there are just a few small steps they could take without disturbing the entire operation.

According to Rogács László of EZ Wash Ltd., which builds and indirectly runs an environmentally-friendly carwash franchise, it’s about considering green options for your normal detail practices. For example, cleaning wheels can require the use of acid-based products that are harmful to the environment, yet there are environmentally-friendly alternatives.

"You just have to change the way of thinking about that," he stated. He also suggested looked at steam jets for cleaning, which don’t produce any waste water.

Sause said owners who don’t educate themselves and their employees on proper techniques are making a big mistake, he said.

"Proper use and storage of chemicals can be hazardous to the environment, but even more harmful to the person using the chemicals or doing the service," said Sause. "In my opinion, reading and understanding an M.S.D.S. (Material Safety Data Sheets) can give you the right information on how to use and store a chemical and the right supplier will give you the real world use of any chemical they sell."

In addition to understanding proper use and storage, Sause recommended that detailers use micro fiber towels over paper towels and look for and research any new tools and trends that are eco-friendly.

Attracting green business

It might cost a little more, but being green can attract more customers. According to the 2008 Green Gap Survey, conducted by Cone, LLC and The Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship, 70 percent of those surveyed said the actual environmental impact of a product or service is influential in their purchasing decisions.

Sause said most detailers do not do enough to tell customers how green they really are. "As the consumer is becoming more aware of waste in packaging and products, the use of fossil fuels and resources to make those products, the ‘green’ movement will only get stronger and become a way of doing business," Sause explained. Educating your customers through signage and pamphlets is a marketing tool that continues to build awareness for your business long after the customer has driven out of the bay.

Sause added, "The best part of this whole ‘eco-friendly’ process is that it will allow the operator to better serve the public and the customer to know they’ve done the right thing by ‘letting a professional do it.’

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