By Rick Siegel

Published in American Drycleaner


There’s a drycleaner in my neighborhood that brags that, “The only greener way to care for your clothes is to use a rock and a stream.”

That drycleaner has no solar panels, uses florescent lighting (which remains fully lit 24 hours a day, though they are closed for ten of those hours), has no reusable or even biodegradable packaging, and is in fact a perc cleaner. Why do they advertise themselves as green? “Because consumers like green.”


And why don’t they don’t incorporate any green initiatives into their plant operations? “We’ve run our business the same way for fifty years, we see no reason to change.”

What, I asked, would they think if other industries operated that way: no computers, no fax machines, no remote controlled televisions. “That’s different, that’s innovation. This green technology is only a different way of doing the same thing.”

What if, I asked, the government didn’t put limitations on the waste factories used to send into our waterways, the level of emissions put into our gasoline? Wouldn’t our skies be blacker, our water browner if someone didn’t get them to find a different way to control their waste? I grew up in Middlesex County, New Jersey. In the 1980’s, when my mom died at 60, it had the second highest cancer rate of any county in the U.S. without coal mining, all because of the water we drank. So I think changing the way we do things, if it’s for the better, is important.

“Sure, we need to limit pollution when it hurts people,” was the answer. “But my customers like the way we do things.”

“Really?” I said, turning the conversation more specifically about The Green Garmento. “Do you think your customers like reaching for one shirt and getting six, then spending 45 seconds fighting with a twist-tie? Do you think they like having a closet filled with poly and garment covers; all that wasted? And do you think your customers that don’t have a VIP bag like worrying about what they dropped between their closet and your front door?

“I don’t think care enough to where they’d want me spending more money and having to charge them more to clean their clothes.”

Huh, I said, what makes you think that doing green things costs you more? If you used more eco-friendly lighting, over time the company would save thousands of dollars. Imagine how much you would save if you didn’t have to make continual purchases of single-use poly bags and garment covers. Why do you think many local distributors are not encouraging drycleaners to make the switch? Sure, they may want to they don’t want you to save more if it means they make less money.

Some distributors are like those guys around the turn of the last century trying to sell horseshoes instead of tires because they make more money on horseshoes. Their biggest revenue items are poly and garment covers, the more drycleaners save money on reusable items, the less money they spend. But as drycleaners realize that the distributors are only looking out for their own welfare, they will find a new distributor.

“But we’re different that most drycleaners,” I was told, ”we make most of our money on our pick-up/delivery business.” That only means, I said in reply, that you have to give everyone delivery bags. Why not pay only $1.50/2.00 per bag more than what you’re already paying and eliminating the waste – monetary as well as ecological – of your poly and garment covers. And since polypropylene protects better against rain, show, hail or sun (because it’s breathable), you’re offering your clients a better product while saving a small fortune. And you can even sell them the bags or take a deposit – all the grocery chains have paved that road for you.

That, I rant, is why I’m so frustrated with the route consultants who refuse to recommend reusable bags over single-use packaging. Those consultants’ whole business concept is showing how, if your follow their plan, a delivery business can be more profitable than having a storefront. Why won’t they explain how best to economize – and ‘ecologize’ – that business?

But, I’m told, “We only change things when we have to change things, when I see something’s going wrong.”

Well, I say, even single-store owners are responsible for putting over a ton of waste into the eco-system. I’ll leave that to others to decide whether that’s wrong. But isn’t spending money in ways you no longer need to spend it on a mistake? Do you really want to wait until your town/county/state taxes or prohibits single-use plastic bags; don’t you want to be on the front of that curve?

The truth is, when I realized reusable drycleaning garment bags eliminated some my frustrations with drycleaning packaging, I thought of it as a solution. When I realized we could make these bags – bags that protect the clothes better, are safer, are so much better for the environment and save drycleaners thousands – I knew there was a business.

Since then, I’ve started using LED lights and turn them out when I leave the room; we’ve changed our air conditioning and heating habits. Last year I saved almost $3,000 in energy costs. Next year the savings will be even greater after treating our windows. We bought a Prius in April and already we’ve saved over $550 in gasoline costs – just on 4,000 miles. My water bill has gone down over 30% in the last two years. It’s not expensive to be green these days – it’s expensive not to be.