Green Laundry: An Industry-Changing Progression (Part 1 of 2)

Matthew Alexander |

With sustainability gaining global attention, the conservation-minded laundry industry finds itself being pushed to turn an even brighter shade of green.
Green initiatives that include carbon management and implementing processes that reduce or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances stand to have a profound effect on the way that laundries are designed, constructed and operated.
Technological developments, corporate initiatives, and government incentives and regulations are aligning to create demands on laundry operations that will require expanded expertise in operations, supply-chain management, technology and logistics.SUSTAINABILITY GOALS
Industries including hotels, healthcare, foodservice and manufacturing are driving supply-chain demands expected to require laundry operations to become more sustainable — to reduce their carbon footprint (the amount of carbon dioxide they produce through vehicle emissions, electricity use and fuel consumption).
Government incentives and improved technology will make green initiatives financially beneficial. Going green will affect every organization involved with textile services — their business strategy, risk management, operations, policy positions, and relationships with stakeholders, clients and suppliers.
While effective laundry management has always included a comprehensive effort to contain energy and labor, green initiatives will force the adaptation of technology and business methodologies that will create profound change in the way laundries work.
The ultimate goal of a green initiative should be to achieve effective stewardship of natural resources and to work toward carbon neutrality (zero net carbon emission through reduction of emissions and sequestered or offset carbon amounts). Carbon neutrality may not be a realistic goal for the laundry industry in total, but it represents the manifestation of the goal of sustainability.DEFINING GREEN
There are two fundamental aspects of “going green” as it pertains to textile services:Green chemistry, which is also referred to as sustainable chemistry, encourages the use of supplies and application of processes that reduce or limit the use of hazardous substances and work toward the elimination of products that don’t meet biodegradability standards.
For laundry, green chemistry would include elimination of certain detergent/surfactant ingredients such as alkylphenol and ethoxylates, and other chemicals including phosphates, chlorine, carcinogens and/or heavy metals. 
Alternative bleaches to chlorine include peracetic acid and hydrogen peroxide that, while hazardous, are more biodegradable and therefore considered greener than chlorine.
Underscoring the need for careful chemical selection is that hydrogen peroxide requires higher operating temperatures than chlorine. All the pros and cons of chemical selection should be evaluated.
We anticipate continuing growth in the type and amount of green chemicals that are used in laundry and believe that the technology to process using green chemistry is readily available.Energy and carbon management is the most complex, far-reaching and critical measurement of sustainability for textile services.
Effective management involves reducing the carbon footprint. While there is no single definition or standard for this, it generally means total greenhouse gas impact over a product’s lifetime or life cycle.
In the case of laundry services, it may mean the total greenhouse gas impact from any textile product, from the manufacturing of the item (including harvesting natural fibers and the sustainability of agricultural processes involving the same or the manufacture of synthetic materials) to the processing and use of the item to its final disposal or recycling.
The total impact on emissions is therefore affected by all elements of the supply chain as well as processing and delivery of the textile item. Total cradle-to-grave emissions inventorying is far beyond the resources of most laundry companies and underscores the challenges of defining green standards.MEASURING GREEN
To understand the processes contributing to emissions that can be attributed to laundry operations, one may consult the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol developed by the World Resources Institute and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. It’s reportedly the most widely used tool for quantifying greenhouse gas emissions.
As supply-chain specifications from major corporations become more robust, certain suppliers may be required to inventory certain emissions and provide carbon-reporting statements.
Within the next decade, laundry industry professions may be talking about carbon footprint (CO2 equivalents) per pound of laundry processed in a similar way that labor, supply and utility costs are now measured.
The GHG Protocol classifies emissions within three scopes:

  • Scope 1: Direct greenhouse gas emissions from sources owned or controlled by the company.
  • Scope 2: Indirect emissions caused by the generation of purchased electricity consumed by the company.
  • Scope 3: Other indirect emissions that are a consequence of the company’s activities, but are from sources neither owned nor controlled by the company.

Scope 1 emissions include energy sources used for generating water temperature and for the drying and finishing of textiles, as well as environmental control to include facility heating, cooling and lighting. Methods for transporting textiles to use areas, as well as those used by the laundry’s labor force to get to and from work, are considerations here. Textile product selection/supply and sustainability are also included in Scope 1.
Scope 2 emissions include the methods used to generate purchased electricity or steam consumed by laundry operations. While outside the laundry operator’s direct control, the electricity/steam source has a substantial impact on the operation’s carbon footprint.
Scope 3 issues include business travel, outsourced activities, the extraction and processing of purchased materials, and the use of sold products and services. Emissions impacted by Scope 3 considerations include how and where textiles and supplies are manufactured and the emissions of the associated manufacturing processes. 
Scope 1 and 2 emissions must be included within an organization’s boundary for the purposes of building an emissions inventory, while reporting on Scope 3 emissions is optional. For most laundry operators, moving toward operating in a green fashion is likely a first step in demonstrating an initiative toward compliance with green initiatives.
Click here for Part 2.

About the author

Matthew Alexander

Pertl & Alexander LLC


Matthew Alexander, MHS, is the president of Pertl & Alexander LLC, a laundry consulting company based in Chappaqua, N.Y. The firm designs laundry facilities and provides management consultation for companies around the world, and counts many leading hotel and healthcare companies among its clients. He can be reached at 914-238-4247 or by e-mail.


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