Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Staying lean and green

October 11, 2010

When it comes to being green every little bit helps. From the way your materials, products, solutions and equipment are packaged to whether you have recycling bins on site. Self-serves and in-bay automatics need to do their part too, and while it might not be as easy to control the amount of water used in self-serve bay, there are ways to treat the amount of water that is used, when the washing is finished.

Self-serve and in-bay automatics can also benefit the environment by choosing eco-friendly chemical solutions. The ingredients, plus the way they are packaged can all be greener if the owner/operator takes the time to investigate their options.

Chemicals have come a long way, baby
James R. Wurm is the director of marketing at Cleaning Systems, Inc. (CSI), a De Pere, WI-based manufacturer of chemical products for the car care industry including the Lustra brand. He said that chemically, green options are much greater than they were just a few years ago. “We have always recognized that hydrofluoric acid is dangerous to users and the environment but in recent years we have also added products that are NPE-free and meet strict biodegradability guidelines set forth by environmental concerns,” Wurm said. NPE stands for nonylphenol ethoxylate, a nonionic surfactant mixture.

Wurm added that companies, such as CSI, go a step further than just making sure their chemicals are eco-friendly. In addition to new safer chemicals, many companies such as CSI have developed more concentrated products that reduce the amount of packaging needed, reduce the amount of fuel needed for delivery and offer greater flexibility to recycle containers, Wurm said. “This will be a big step towards reducing their carbon footprint.”

Show your true color
According to Wurm, in order to convince customers and would-be customers that you’re a green operation, a solid and honest marketing campaign is necessary. Ccarwashes need to truly implement green products and green practices and then build an educational program to promote these points and show the public how a commercial carwash can benefit the investment they have in their vehicle, as well as the environment.

“Within the industry it is a known fact that professional carwash centers use less water and are more environmentally friendly than consumer driveway washers. The public perception, however, is often just the opposite as consumers watch gallons of water and chemicals run off the car and into drains, and witness some washes that fail to maintain clean locations,” said Wurm.

Some tips from Wurm on how to do this are through:

  • Appropriate signage;
  • Promotional marketing materials;
  • Use of waste recycling containers;
  • Energy efficient lighting; and
  • Maintaining a litter-free site.

Ron Stits, president of Advanced Water Recycling Inc., a company based in Denver, CO, that provides water recycling systems to the carwash industry, said there is a great segment of the populous that thinks about the environment more and notices green businesses more. “Now,” he said, “we just need the industry captains to mind the advantages as well.”

Stits recommends things such as motion sensor light switches. He uses them in the offices and the bathroom. “It’s not a big investment and it might not recoup real quick, but it will. And my lightbulbs will last longer and save me money and I’ll save electricity at the same time.”

From the green ground up
Stits said he simply doesn’t understand why carwashes, especially ones being built now, aren’t doing more to conserve water. “I think in general the industry and carwashes are getting more green, but there is a long way to go, especially with new construction projects,” Stits explained. “People are not installing water reclamation systems for their IBAs and they certainly could.”

Stits not only knows about the water used at carwashes through being an equipment provider, but he also operates two carwashes in Denver and is on the board of directors of the Rocky Mountain Car Wash Association. “I have practical experience with this,” Stits said. “I put my money where my mouth is.”

Stits doesn’t really call himself an environmentalist per se, but he started thinking about being more environmentally friendly when he was given the opportunity to redo a carwash in California about 15 years ago. The carwash was redone using 50 percent reclaim water and all non-toxic and biodegradable cleaning products. When he came to Colorado, he noticed how much water was being used at carwashes and was shocked. “There is sufficient technology available to people at a very reasonable cost and to me, it’s a no brainer,” he explained.

Any equipment that helps you consume less of a natural resource is a good thing, said Stits. He recommended operators planning a new facility look at the new technologies that are available for power management, as well as water or labor management. “When you design the inside of your in-bay automatic or self-serve look at ways that will allow you to use less light and choose light bulbs that incredibly efficient,” he suggested.

Where cash plays a role
Does it cost more to be green? Well, new equipment costs money, but the savings, in terms of water and the environmental impact can outweigh any amount in dollars.

Plus, according to Stits, “There are water savings to be had from incentive programs through municipalities. You can get credits back in the form of a check for reducing your water usage per car.”

Wurm also said that the initial “green” push has slowed somewhat “due to the worldwide economic situation, but growth and interest is still evident.”