It’s Everywhere, but What Exactly Does That Buzzword ‘Green’ Mean? (Part 1 of 2)

“What ‘green’ laundry products are available for my operation? Are they truly ‘green’ or ‘environmentally friendly’? What’s the difference? I hear the term applied most often to chemicals, but can’t equipment or textiles carry that description, too?”Textile/Uniform Rental: Steve Kallenbach, American Dawn, Los Angeles, Calif.
Green is a loosely used and barely defined term, regardless of industry. If you look it up in most dictionaries, it’s defined as a product, service or process that’s environmentally friendly. In other words, it doesn’t “hurt” the environment.
The term “green” is thrown around in industry and retail so much that the average consumer really doesn’t know what it means! In fact, there’s a new term called “green-washing” that refers to the misuse of the term for marketing purposes.
With regard to the uniform and linen rental industry, we are, in fact, one of the biggest recyclers of textiles on the planet. Yet, this is a little-known fact. Compare paper towels or paper napkins to industrial shop towels or linen. You’ll find the difference to be one use versus 20 to 80 uses. That is the essence of green!
Our industry, therefore, defines any IL (industrially laundered) textile product — industrial towels, hospitality linens and towels, healthcare linens and towels, aprons, garments, etc. — as being green. In addition, there are a number of environmentally friendly restroom supplies — including soaps and air fresheners — that are also considered green. This pretty much covers most of the products used in the IL industry.
If a textile is laundered for multiple use through a qualified professional laundry, it’s greener than its equivalent paper product.
With regard to equipment and laundry processes, it is also these systems that make our products green by using proper (environmentally friendly) chemicals, reclaiming heated water, reclaiming water flushes, capturing contaminants during sewer treatment, properly disposing of contaminants under legal and ethical guidelines, and containing air pollution within stack filtration systems.
Our industry is a poster child for green and most consumers don’t even know we exist!
There’s a major marketing initiative being launched in the IL industry, managed by both the Uniform & Textile Service Association (UTSA) and the Textile Rental Services Association (TRSA), called “Clean Green.” It teaches consumers that, by virtue of using IL products through qualified laundries, they’re participating in the “green movement.”
This program will likely extend the dual-association LaundryESP program into marketing the attributes of our industry. A study with Pepperdine University’s MBA marketing program is under way to establish the baseline. Once done, the industry will start to see many new Clean Green marketing tools, including licensing the name and logo for use at any qualified (certified) operation.
The green era is an exciting, new time in our industry. It’s time to embrace it, become it and market it — to everyone’s benefit, including the planet!Commercial Laundering: Richard Warren, Linen King of Central Arkansas, Conway, Ark.
Not only is this a chemical and laundry question, it has social and political implications as well.
Virtually all washing compounds are biodegradable and in the narrow sense are considered green.
Some cities restrict the disposal of phosphates, not because they cause damage but because they boost growth of flora and fauna that fill sewage treatment facilities. Phosphates are found in many fertilizers used privately.
When I was a kid, we drank phosphate in soft drinks. Cherry was a favorite. That said, if you get alkali on your hands, or accidentally mix chlorine and sour, you’ll have more trouble than you want.
So, are these things green? Cyanide is a natural product, so it’s green in a strict sense. I believe that the political climate has made us hypersensitive to the term.
But consider this: What is done with the land after these substances are mined? If the mines aren’t closed in a responsible manner, those circumstances wouldn’t be considered green. There would be room for considerable indignation.
The manufacture and blending of these laundry products may present an issue, but I really can’t say. I don’t know what the blending process is, nor do I know how much residue remains after blending.
Packaging of products could very well be an issue. If packaged in plastic, is there a system in place for recycling? When paper is used, there’s still a need for disposal.
Plastic was touted as saving our trees, and now the Earth is teeming with nonbiodegradable products. Do we go back to cutting down our softwood trees in order to make paper? Obviously, the whole green concept is complex.
Our industry is big and important ... to us. But we shouldn’t, as an industry, assume we’re going to save the planet. Let’s not make ourselves out to be more influential than we really are.Technical Support: Jim Mitchell, Ecolab, Eagan, Minn.
Cleaning products can be submitted to a certification organization such as GREENGUARD, Design for the Environment, LEED-EB, GreenBlue, Green Label and GreenSeal for analysis.
As an example, products sent to GreenSeal that fall within its standards as being environmentally “green” will be recognized with its certificate of approval. However, its certification parameters apply primarily to all-purpose cleaners, degreasers, glass cleaners, bathroom cleaners, hand soaps, floor cleaners, etc. At this point, they don’t apply to laundry-related products.
Responsible chemical companies in the laundry markets have already made adjustments to product formulations to make them sustainable, or as environmentally friendly as possible.
Such ongoing formulation changes can include alternate raw-material chemistry for water conditioning (phosphate-free), surfactants, caustics, bleaching agents, etc.
However, being green isn’t just about product chemistry. It also involves customer satisfaction, economic progress and social responsibility. Advancements in all of these areas are necessary to protect needed resources and preserve quality of life for future generations.
A responsible approach to sustainability focuses on helping operations conserve resources, reduce waste and protect the environment. When deciding to “go green,” you should also consider environmentally friendly solutions in these areas:


• Maximize your operational efficiency and lower energy consumption. This should include washers, dryers, ironers, conveyor systems, building heating and air conditioning, vehicle transportation systems, plant lighting, etc. Maximizing energy consumption will also save you money.
• Maintenance and repairs keep equipment at peak operating efficiency. Upgrade old, inefficient equipment to new, more efficient models.
• Incorporate low-water temperature products, formulas and systems. New product chemistry has made some systems far more effective than previous systems.


• Consider new product chemistry/technology and dispensing systems that are designed to use less water without compromising effectiveness.
• Water reconditioning and/or recycling systems can save thousands of gallons of water. 
• Eliminate unnecessary cycles in your wash formulas (flushes/rinses). Make sure all washer water levels are set to minimum without compromising results.


• Switch to bulk chemical packaging or highly concentrated solid packaged products to reduce plastic or other product packaging waste.
• Make sure packaging material can be recycled. Keep excessive product waste out of landfills.
• Is your chemical dispensing system dishing out too much product? Controlled, precise dispensing is important in reducing waste.


Yes, going green can also apply to textiles, although most of the consideration here is via the textile manufacturing process. Green textiles can include bamboo, hemp, wool, fair trade, silk, soy, even recycled soda bottles to make fleece.
A good source of information is National Geographic’s Green Guide website, Search for the phrase “fabrics and yarns.”

Employee Training

Going green in your operation will require a certain degree of cooperation from employees. Proper training may be required. Employees must:
• Properly load (but not over-load) washers and dryers.
• Choose the correct settings on the dryers to eliminate unnecessary overdrying, one of the biggest energy wasters in a laundry.
• Choose the correct formulas for the soiled linen being washed. 
• Keep all laundry equipment in optimum working order: proper combustion in the dryer, no leaking drains, clean lint screens, etc.


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