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Business Operations

Keen on green

October 11, 2010
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In some ways, the green trend has always been around. From the Victory gardens of the 1940s to decades-old “no littering” campaigns to the recycling obsession in the 1990s. The reasons have been varied; to save money, to save resources, to save room, to save the Earth.

The manufactures we spoke with started noticing the drive for eco-friendly equipment in the carwash industry in late 2007, although they are careful to distinguish the push didn’t come from the owner/operator segment, but rather the carwash customer, the American media, and in some cases, the municipalities in charge of approving new construction projects.

“The green initiative has grown faster and deeper than most anticipated — us included,” explained Tim Sater, director of marketing for D&S Car Wash Equipment Company, a supplier of in-bay automatics and self-serve equipment to the carwash industry. “By the beginning of 2009, green solutions were no longer just ‘talk’ or theory; they were being applied in the field.”

Past, present, future
In the past it may have been that green carwashes were generally owned by the activist, Birkenstock-wearing type of investor. The advantages were not well understood and the cost savings were minimal and less necessary than in today’s hyper-competitive recessionary market. Green carwashes were few and far between.

Times have changed. “Now it seems everyone is either planning to, or has already implemented, green technology,” Sater explained. That’s because today’s eco-friendly carwashing equipment offers real power and money savings, as well as finely-tuned and perfected marketing opportunities.

Ceccato’s Commercial and Marketing Director Riccardo Dolcetta said eco-friendly options range from biodegradable chemicals to solar/thermal devices which can generate energy or electricity. There are even software programs which can “optimize use of water and chemicals during the wash cycles,” electrical circuits and devices to reduce power use during intermittent operation of motors (such as variable frequency drives or VFDs), and hydraulic circuits which help save chemicals.

If you’re not convinced by all the hype, you might want to start preparing yourself to live in a green world anyway. Carwash manufacturers are placing a heavy emphasis on creating equipment and supplies which are environmentally friendly for the future. Dolcetta said his company is “relying very much” on green research and development to guide the company in 2010 and beyond. “Every new technology introduced will have to be — by company mission — green oriented,” he said.

In addition to a growing market for green technology, operators must also be wary of legislation coming down the pipe line. “Those who don’t embrace the green initiative could very well find themselves facing fines or worse — out of business,” Sater cautioned. “[The green trend] is here to stay. There is no turning back. It’s just a matter of time that ‘green’ will be mandated in almost every market; whether by political policy or by the consumer.”

Options on the horizon
The goal for most carwash OEMs is to construct equipment which benefits the operator in a tangible way and is also marketable to the expanding green customer base. Power and water savings are paramount, as is equipment which utilizes green cleaning chemicals and still achieves a quality wash in a timely manner.

For instance, Proto-Vest, a manufacturer of drying systems for the carwash industry, offers several reduced horsepower units in order to decrease energy costs and promote a more eco-friendly carwash experience. “Operators definitely seem to be considering — if not adopting — greener practices to save money, the environment, and attract earth-friendly customers,” explained J. R. Klemmer, vice president of the company. (For more information on the cost-savings of reduced horsepower, please see the sidebar.)

Recognizing the growing market demand for these technologies, Proto-Vest has also created a motor load device to further reduce energy usage. The AirGate reduces demand rate by shortening the ramp-up time on initial start-up; it also lowers energy usage between vehicles by up to 80 percent.

Proto-Vest isn’t the only company to recognize that going green has benefits aside from those related to marketing and pride. Pam Temko, vice president of sales and marketing for Dosatron International, Inc., said her company has been manufacturing water-powered chemical dispensers for years. These earth-friendly injectors do the job of power- or air-driven pumps, except they are powered by the flow of the water already being used at the carwash.

“It’s part of an overall message of being green,” Temko explained. “It saves money, too, because you’re not using any additional power.”

Certifiably clean
According to Temko, operators should also be thinking about the tax rebate and public relations advantages of becoming a green certified carwash. She cited Dosatron customer Ed Blair, an operator in Sparks, NV, who chose a water-driven pump to qualify his new carwash for a Green Build certification in Nevada.

As green becomes more important to customers and to municipalities, it will be necessary for carwash operators to consider all components of their carwash — not just the basics like water recycling and VFDs — and how those can fit into a green message, Freeman said. Certification programs exist on federal, state and city levels, and also outside of government-sponsored programs.

Sater said he also anticipates green certification will become a fact of life for carwashes in the future. “[M]ore and more locations will be certified by the International Carwash Association (ICA), and we support this initiative and believe it will have a profound impact on our industry,” he stated.

The certification program Sater referred to is WaterSavers, a marketing program launched by the ICA to recognize environmentally responsible operators and give them tools to advertise and promote their carwashes.

Starting with water
Chances are your carwash already incorporates a certain amount of green business practices. The minor ones, like offering recycling bins and energy-efficient lighting, should already be in place. On a larger scale, consider your water use and treatment practices.

Jerry Feldman is president of Jerry's Car Wash and Northway Car Wash, a chain of three tunnel washes in suburban Pittsburgh, and also chairman of the Pennsylvania State Water Conservation Committee. Feldman said many operators mistakenly think that water conservation in the carwash industry begins and ends with reclaim, but he has been able to reduce water usage below 20 gallons per car without a recycling unit at two of his locations.

According to Feldman, he began aggressive procedures to reduce water usage about five years ago. One of his tunnels had a water reclaim system, but the other two did not. The two sites without reclaim were put on a program which included:

  • Select placement (and non-placement) of nozzles;
  • Computerization of the tunnel system to insure equipment was not activated until the vehicle reached the correct spot;
  • Efficient high-pressure applications; and
  • Use of air to foam certain pre-soak and soap applications.

Feldman said the water savings were equal to that of the location which used a reclaim system, around $1,000 per location. He further acknowledged he is frustrated because many manufacturers and even the ICA do not acknowledge that water conservation can be conducted through close water management and without a reclaim system.

A bright, green future
As we ride out the rest of 2009 and consider the opportunities of 2010, it is important to create a business plan which realizes the potential of green technologies. The manufactures cited in this article all agreed that eco-friendliness will become a top priority for the operator of the 2000s, and those who don’t conduct the proper market research and invest in the right equipment and supplies will be left in the dark.

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