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Marketing Environmental Sustainability

CHICAGO — AmeriPride Linen & Uniform Services is one of the largest uniform and linen supply companies in the world. At the end of 2017, it strengthened its business by becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of Aramark.

While the company has continued to make strides in business, it hasn’t been ignoring its impact on the environment.

“AmeriPride strives to lead the industry in sustainability and set the standard for clean operations,” says Bill Evans, president and CEO. “We have taken significant steps in our production and delivery operations to increase efficiency, save energy, conserve water and reduce waste and pollution.”

According to Evans, the company has accomplished this by strict compliance with all government regulations and guidelines, along with voluntary self-regulation activities, such as the industry’s Environmental Stewardship Program (ESP) and Clean Green certification from TRSA, the association for linen, uniform and facility services. 

“We also test new technologies and pilot new programs that raise the bar and help move the industry forward,” he says. 

While the need for laundry services to be environmentally responsible is obvious, the effectiveness of marketing sustainability to customers and potential customers hasn’t been so clear. 

However, to Evans, the need is quite clear.

“We were finding that many of our prospects were asking for evidence of sustainability in RFPs [requests for proposals] and throughout the sales process,” he shares. “In addition, our existing customers were asking about our efforts. More and more, customers are asking for evidence of sustainability and corporate responsibility during account reviews and the renewal process.

“While it’s difficult to qualify with an actual number, we can say that our efforts have undoubtedly supported our new-business and retention efforts, and that ultimately impacts our bottom line.”

CLEAN GREEN SURVEY

The Clean Green certification Evans mentions provides a means to promote the industry’s environmental virtues to its customers and prospects, says Joseph Ricci, TRSA president and CEO. 

“All Clean Green promotion reflects positively on all operators, because just having an industry sustainability certification suggests the industry is good for the environment,” he points out. “But industry customers concerned about conservation are urged to do business with linen, uniform and facility services companies that have earned the certification.”

According to Ricci, TRSA’s Marketing/PR Committee surveyed the 58 companies who have earned Clean Green certification about tactics they use to promote their attainment of the designation. In order of popularity among respondents, here are those they use:

Clean Green logo/information presented on company website.Logo placed on printed materials (invoices, forms, sales collateral, etc.).Logo placed on trucks.Logo included in electronic communication (e-mail signatures, e-blasts, social media, etc.).Clean Green mentioned in press releases.

“More than 60% of our survey respondents indicated they have attempted to work with customers to connect the Clean Green certification to customers’ quantification of their sustainability success,” he shares. 

Some responses provided to the question about how the certification has benefited their companies include:

“Has given us third-party verification that our process employs best management practices for energy- and water-conservation efforts.”“Credibility and differentiator.”“Some prospects have asked about green initiatives we are involved in.”“Helped us gain traction with environmentally conscious customers.”“Helps validate our commitment to environmental sustainability.”

“Ultimately, customers are concerned about price and the alignment of good environmental stewardship and best management practices that reduce water and energy usage, and increase efficiencies to help control or reduce costs,” says Ricci.

INDUSTRY EFFORTS

The environmental efforts AmeriPride has made are impressive. In recent years, Evans says the company has incorporated heat reclamation systems and made equipment upgrades in its production facilities, added solar power at two plants, improved wastewater treatment and switched to more environmentally friendly detergents. 

“We have also implemented water reuse systems and recycling programs at many of our facilities,” he adds.

And AmeriPride has been at the forefront of environmental sustainability on the delivery side, according to Evans. 

“We have replaced much of our fleet with newer vehicles, replaced cargo vans with fuel-efficient sedans, and improved efficiency and shuttle capacity in many of our semitrucks,” he says. “We have also incorporated alternative-fuel vehicles (propane, compressed natural gas, electric and hybrid electric) into our fleet.” 

In addition, Evans says the company uses new routing software to improve delivery efficiency, and it has incorporated telematics technology into all of its vehicles to promote more efficient driving standards.

Ricci points out that the entire industry has focused on reducing water and energy consumption and using more environmentally friendly wash chemistry. 

“We have reduced energy consumption by recapturing heat from dryers and wastewater to reheat water for the wash cycle,” he says. “The wash aisle has reduced water usage through reuse and recycling and tunnel washer reuse of rinse water that would have otherwise been sent down the drain. In addition, the industry voluntarily removed NPEs from their chemistry after EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] research indicated their harm to aquatic life.”

BUSINESS MODEL

Ricci says it is the “perfect sustainable business model” when business interests and environmental concerns align, resulting in reducing costs for energy and water, while improving efficiencies reduces the impact on the environment.

“Founded more than a century ago to reuse textiles and take advantage of the benefits of mass processing as the ‘original recyclers,’ the fundamental environmentally friendly aspects of the industry and basis in conservation not only created the industry, but has sustained it,” he shares. 

The earliest users of towel service, then linens and uniforms, contended with scarcity of resources and saw the conservation benefits of comingling their laundry work, according to Ricci. 

“They weren’t intentionally protecting the environment, but they fueled development of an industry that has steadily grown more adept in accomplishing this over the decades,” he points out. “To remain in business, competitors must increase proficiency in this respect. So, you can’t say they’re either motivated by economics or caring for the environment; it’s a chicken-or-the-egg question. The two are completely synergistic.” 

According to Evans, sustainability is becoming increasingly important to AmeriPride’s customers, prospects, employees and shareholders. 

“And if it’s important to them, it’s important to us,” he relates. “The world is changing, and we need to change with it. If we can improve sustainability and do so in a way that is cost-neutral or, better yet, increases efficiency and positively impacts our bottom line, everybody wins.”

Evans notes that there are financial benefits to becoming more operationally efficient, “but it goes way beyond that.”

“Becoming more sustainable helps protect the environment and conserve resources, it builds our reputation and credibility in the marketplace, and it helps us win new business and recruit and retain employees,” he says. “Right now, it is a key differentiator for us.”

Evans says the company includes information about its sustainability efforts in sales materials, brochures, other promotional materials, press releases, even on business cards. Obviously, the efforts are highlighted on the company’s websites and on social media.

In addition, AmeriPride produces an annual corporate responsibility report and online interactive brochure to help promote efforts, while also talking up efforts internally through employee newsletters and announcements.

“We’re not necessarily doing it for the recognition, but it’s an added benefit,” shares Evans.

“As one of the biggest players in the industry, we feel like it’s our responsibility to test and promote new technology and processes,” he says. “Our scope and scale allows us to pilot and incorporate new systems into our operations and help push the industry forward. This improves the overall reputation of the industry, and that benefits us all.” 

He adds that being recognized as a sustainability leader helps AmeriPride recruit and retain the best talent, especially younger professionals who place a high value on corporate responsibility and ethical operations.

“All linen and uniform services point out their environmental virtues, it’s fundamental to the industry,” Ricci says. “Conservation practices are standard operating procedures now for everyone in the business.” 

The question, he says, is the extent to which those linen, uniform and facility service operations who are most efficient will qualify and quantify their environmental virtues to encourage detailed comparison with competitors’ efficiencies. 

Ricci shares a hypothetical scenario about the value of promoting environmental sustainability: Consider two laundries competing for a large industrial uniform rental account. A high-volume laundry with new, high-capacity equipment will use less water and energy to serve this account than a competitor with low volume and older, less efficient equipment. 

“The high-volume laundry will also be more efficient in other ways, such as material handling and delivery, that will minimize costs per pound and make the operation more price-competitive,” he says.

If the account were smaller, though, with unusual uniforms or other rare service needs requiring small wash loads and much manual handling, the expense gap might not be as large, Ricci points out. 

Or, if the account had long been a customer of the lower-volume laundry, which had earned a reputation for responsive service, the cost differential might not be as meaningful.

“It’s incumbent upon more environmentally friendly laundries to tout their green virtues as they increasingly seek business from smaller accounts with unusual needs,” Ricci points out. “Soon, the most efficient of them, armed with data on their water and energy efficiencies and estimates of their competitors’ efficiencies, will estimate for prospects the carbon footprint differences resulting from their choices of one laundry or another. 

“Given that scenario, it’s reasonable to expect customers to be more attentive to these details.”

CONTINUED ENVIRONMENTAL MARKETING

According to Ricci, customers are more likely to inquire about the sum of environmentally friendly practices as opposed to the parts. 

“While we haven’t quantified this sentiment, we have observed its pertinence, especially among public sector users of the industry,” he says. “Many government entities must document their justification of their purchase decisions, either before or after the decision, by profiling bidders or the selected candidate. Clean Green companies bidding for their work mention the certification in their sales promotion and these profiles reflect it.”

“Interest and attention from customers will likely remain strong for some time,” Evans adds. “We will have to wait and see if sustainability eventually becomes ‘table stakes’ in our industry. In the meantime, we will continue to look at new ways to be operationally efficient and reduce our impact on the environment, and right now we see these efforts as a competitive advantage.”

The biggest challenge he sees is to find a way to implement new solutions without it becoming cost-prohibitive. 

“The marketing benefits are apparent, if we can make it financially feasible,” he says.

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