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Some operators, upon hearing that they ought to “go green,” may groan and roll their eyes. It seems like a bunch of hippie nonsense. For instance, they want to know, does Mother Earth really benefit if I reclaim a few extra gallons of water per wash?
Well, yes — but that’s not the point. Being a green business is more than a trend or a marketing gimmick, many operators are discovering there are opportunities to save money, feel good about their efforts, and create a unique selling proposition in the process.
And at chains like Kaady Car Wash in Portland, OR, and Hoffman Car Wash in Albany, NY, the opportunities aren’t only found in the typical water reclaim/biodegradable chemicals/efficient dryer set-up. Instead, these operators are branching out and considering all sorts of alternative technologies to aid their businesses.
The power of wind
For Chuck Kaady, owner of Kaady Car Washes and Kaady Chemical, a provider of cleaning solutions for the carwash industry, adding a wind turbine seemed like a natural fit. His chain of 16 carwashes had joined the ‘green movement’ decades earlier when the West Coast started to push for more eco-friendly businesses.
“We’ve been green for years,” Kaady explained. “We were kind of on the cutting edge of that.” For instance, the company started recycling its water in the 1960s and started using variable frequency drives 20 years ago. “And of course, our chemicals are environmentally friendly,” he added.
So a few years ago, the Kaady team started researching wind power, which was a better fit for their environment than solar power. “It wasn’t heavy research,” Kaady explained. “We’re just kind of tip-toeing into this.”
In the end, Kaady selected a company from the Netherlands which his friend and cousin Derek Hanna was distributing for in the United States. “He had really done his homework,” Kaady said, “and this turbine was aesthetically pleasing and had some great efficiencies in its power generation system.”
Thar she blows
The next step, after deciding upon a wind turbine design and manufacturer, was finding the perfect location to host the technology. Kaady said it came down to two factors: Space and wind environment.
“Did we have the space?” Kaady asked. “It doesn’t take a lot of space because it’s vertical, but we still needed the area. And then we needed wind in that area.” The company selected its Vancouver, WA, location.
The wind turbine was installed in December 2009, and although Kaady is still awaiting the final cost for switching gear which will plug the power source into the grid, he estimates the final investment to be in the $25,000-$30,000 range.
Of course, he is first to admit the power generated will be only a small amount for just one turbine. “If our wind calculations work out, it’s only going to be a few percent,” Kaady said. “But I think it will be a great marketing opportunity. It shows people we’re trying to do our part, even if it’s a small part. If everybody does something it all adds up. That’s the nature of it. And we have to learn, too. This is a new territory for us.”
And so far, the community has embraced his ‘small step.’ “We haven’t had any adverse feedback, actually it’s been very complimentary,” Kaady said.
Cutting down on paperwork
If putting up a wind turbine seems too extreme for your operation, follow the lead of Hoffman Car Wash — look around the office. According to Tracy Braun, CPA and controller for Hoffman Car Washes, a chain of 21 locations throughout New York, a document management system like CNG-SAFE can reduce paper usage by 50 percent.
Braun said she was turned on to Cabinet NG, the company which manufactures CNG-SAFE, after another operator raved about his success with the technology. “We were looking for access and efficiency and a way to control our paper usage,” Braun explained. “I myself would create a 4-inch stack of paper each week.”
But with this new program, Braun has no need to manually file her documents. The advantages stem far beyond their eco-friendly attributes, she added. “The main benefit is really tied into time with the retrieval end of things. Looking up information — it’s literally at your fingertips. It takes that dreaded question away, ‘Will I find that file?’ Braun attested. “Now it takes seconds and the file is there. It’s much easier to locate our documents since they are filed electronically.”
How it works
Braun admitted the company was a little hesitant at first to move forward with the software. They wanted to be sure they could afford the technology, as well as time for training. But in the end, Braun said the process was very smooth.
“[Training] was very easy and … probably took a week on and off,” she explained. “We actually obtained CNG-SAFE through a reseller (E-BizDocs) and they have what they call the ‘guide and assist method.’ Basically, they set up one cabinet for us to start with. During the training, they walked us through building a second cabinet and then later I built my own cabinet by myself.”
In the end, the process is much like you would imagine. The physical documents are scanned to become digital copies, and e-mail, computer and audio files are automatically converted to files on the CNG-SAFE server. The software can digitize virtually any type of office communication or paperwork, from e-mail and faxes to existing documents, forms, database reports memos, and even audio files and Office Suite documents.
The big picture
For Hoffman Car Washes, reducing paper waste was just one small part of their overall effort to decrease their carbon footprint, save money and become more environmentally friendly. For instance, in their Jiffy Lube operations, the company uses waste oil burners to heat the building, and they also use water reclaim systems throughout the chain.
In addition to the more obvious and commonsense methods, the company has also replaced their traditional motor technologies with variable speed drives — over 150 are installed today.
Beyond what the new software program has meant for their green initiatives, Braun said the program has also freed up space in the office. “Now we don’t need those big clunky filing cabinets anymore so we’re saving on real estate as well,” she explained, adding that the technology has improved efficiencies among office staff. “[Workers are] more organized and [the technology] increases the speed of how the work is flowed from person to person,” Braun explained.
Odor removal, green style
Now let’s step out of the office and into the customer’s car. When you’re assaulted with the strong odor of spoiled milk or overwhelming cigarette smoke, probably the last thing you’re thinking of is how you can remove the odor in an environmentally responsible manner. Instead, you’re more likely thinking of just how many chemicals you can throw into this bad boy until the milk smell somehow evaporates.
But Philip Coffey, CEO of OMI Industries, a manufacturer of odor removal products, doesn’t believe it has to be that way. According to Coffey, his company’s product, Fresh Wave – IAQ, just now being introduced to commercial markets, is a biodegradable, completely natural solution that will eliminate odors.
OMI Industries got its start in industrial settings in 1989. Back then, and still today, they were applying their odor removal process using plant based oils and water at paper mills, refineries and wastewater treatment plants to remove the unpleasant traces of those businesses. “When our industrial product, Ecosorb®, was introduced into the plant, the odors were eliminated,” Coffey explained. “And it never affected their process.”
In 2003, OMI launched a consumer division to offer the same technology in candles, sprays and other mediums. The difference was that OMI’s product didn’t mask the smell. In other words, it didn’t leave a fragrance behind. Instead, Fresh Wave, as the product is known, would simply eradicate the odor until no odor was present whatsoever.
Companies like Procter & Gamble and Unilever passed on FreshWave, so instead the company launched its own brand. Today, the products are available in stores like Bed, Bath & Beyond and Ace Hardware. Surprisingly, the appeal of Fresh Wave wasn’t its eco-friendly nature — at first.
“Initially, we didn’t push the green aspects of the product,” Coffey said. “The rational was simple. Most people think green probably doesn’t work, probably is being forced on us and will cost us more. What we pushed was: It works. If you try it you will buy it.”
Heading for the commercial market
After realizing their successes in the industrial and consumer markets, OMI naturally wanted to pursuit a commercial path. But how? The company got its big break when Hertz, the rental car company, contacted them.
“They had heard about the product, and they wanted samples because they had heard it was an effective way to eliminate odors,” Coffeey explained. OMI was already a believer in free samples and product test trials, but they wanted an additional level of control. Fearing that in such a wide application, the company might apply or use the product incorrectly, they asked Hertz to give them access to two of the company’s airport locations.
There, they trained the staff and started using Fresh Wave in each and every car. Hertz was amazed at the results. There was absolutely no odor — not even in the cars with noticeable smoke odors. Although, Coffey joked, it was a bit difficult to get the staff to realize that no odor was a good thing. They were so accustomed to using masking agents that many didn’t believe the product was working since there was no lemon or vanilla smell left behind.
Hertz then decided to partner with OMI. They agreed to use the Fresh Wave IAQ product at every airport and off-site Hertz location in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and have plans to reach franchise sites in South America later this year. OMI was asked to provide training at each Hertz airport site as part of the collaboration and has so far visited every one of the major airport locations in the United States, Australia and New Zealand, as well as several in Europe.
Today the company is beginning to reach out into the carwash and detail industries. “We always wanted to be in the commercial business, but we’re not commercial guys,” Coffey explained. “We’re a heavy industrial industry. Then we were consumer. But what Hertz did for us was to make other people aware of us, not just in the car industry, but also the hotel and hospitality industries, and companies like ServiceMaster and Merry Maids.”
Taking the LEED
If these companies have inspired you to take a small step towards some alternative green technologies, perhaps you’re ready to hear about The Smart Car Wash, a business being constructed in Dale City, VA, that is about to seek certification by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System.
If plans for The Smart Car Wash succeed, it is believed it will be the first full-service carwash with LEED certification in the world. What would inspire such madness? Well, for owners Eric and Taryn Rosenkranz, the motivation came after a trip to drought-stricken Australia. (You can read more about the Rosenkranzes’ trip in our case study here.)
Upon setting their feet back on U.S. soil, the Rosenkranzes began seeking out leading environmental architects and contractors in their area; which actually wasn’t too difficult considering their proximity to Washington, D.C., a community at the front lines of environmental law and research.
“In this area it wasn’t so difficult to find high quality resources,” Rosenkranz explained. “I don’t know about other parts of the country, but I know that the database of LEED qualified professionals has increased exponentially.”
He continued, “It’s so important to build a team of experts when you’re doing a project like this,” Eric Rosenkranz explained. “We put together a top-notch team, both on the business side and the development side as well.”
For instance, the Rosenkranzes found an architectural firm that is on the forefront of LEED buildings, even designing the Green Council headquarters. The couple’s mechanical, plumbing and electrical engineer are also LEED-certified, as is their civil and construction engineers.
Going au naturale
At this point in the game, Rosenkranz is accustomed to people asking him why he is so gung ho about seeking LEED certification. For him the answer is simple.
“We did research and we looked at what people were doing in the U.S.,” Rosenkranz explained. “There’s been coverage here and there of different carwashes that have essentially bolted green on to an existing facility and we’ve heard stories about people who changed their light bulb. And all those things are great. They’re great for the industry and they’re great for sustainability, but they’re not the ‘end all’ for creating a sustainable carwash or business.”
Instead, Rosenkranz figured he could start with a picture of a sustainable carwash and then work towards that goal. As wife Taryn is quick to point out, this process also greatly reduced costs by allowing the couple to focus on a budget and what was feasible within those limits.
Perhaps what most impressed Rosenkranz about LEED was that it actually had fairly simple goals and requirements. Ignoring the flashier side of being green, the couple was able to focus on smaller efforts, like using natural sunlight in their design.As he explained, LEED focuses on five components:
• Sustainable site development;
• Water savings;
• Energy efficiency and atmosphere;
• Material selection; and
• Indoor air quality.
Energy and water savings
Within the carwash industry, the Rosenkranzes had numerous options for water and energy efficient equipment. They also selected an eco-friendly chemical set-up that would fit nicely into their plan. Most importantly, these technologies, along with the rest of the construction materials, have been cost efficient, as well.
The couple started with a budget in mind, and also a wish list. Then, they worked backwards and identified the areas which would provide the most return-on-investment and also had the biggest impact on sustainability. “As an example, we originally had solar panels across the roof, but considering the cost of that compared to choosing energy efficient equipment and reducing the electrical demand size, we could actually get more for our money by more carefully selecting our equipment than by installing solar panels,” Rosenkranz explained.
They also built the carwash in a modular fashion so they would be free to add green components later on. “We had to cut our budget by over $500,000 as a result of the economic downturn, but were still able to maintain the commitment to LEED,” Rosenkranz said. “So we laid all the ground work for a greener roof, but we’ve deferred the $70,000 investment for a later date when we think we can afford it.”
The couple also made sure to calculate the fee for LEED certification into their budget.
Going green whatever way you can
As it turns out, there is a green solution for every operation; from small efforts like recycling programs or reducing paper waste, to bigger ideas like wind turbines and LEED certification. The trick is finding the match for your carwash and deciding how to present it to your customers. Not every market has a niche for green consumers, and choosing to broadcast your green business practices is at your discretion.
At a minimum, every operator should consider the cost savings and efficiencies that result from eco-friendly choices. After all, when you can’t raise the cost of a carwash or squeeze another car down the tunnel, that’s all you have left.