Go Green, Save Green: Sustainable Laundry Operations

laundry operationsBy Joseph Ricci

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, businesses and other institutions account for 17 percent of water taken from public water supplies in the United States. They also generate 45 percent of the U.S. green house gas emissions. Nevertheless, healthcare, hospitality, and other industries have done a great deal to reduce their energy and water usage—that’s clear from the proliferation of Energy Star ratings and low-flow toilets in these environments.

But there are more resource and financial savings to be had. Finding them requires a close look at laundry operations. It’s worth the time—16 percent of the water used in hotels and 9 percent of the water used in hospitals is used for laundry. Though restroom and other domestic purposes use more water, laundry is a far more viable target for water and energy savings. Some green initiatives add costs; for example, compostable flatware is pricier than its plastic cousin. But making laundry operations more efficient serves to generate savings in the long run. You just need to know where to look.

Properly equipped and functioning, a laundry can use very little water and energy to wash, dry, and iron linens and other items. A sustainable laundry operation requires less water, electricity, natural gas, and other supplies to properly serve a facility’s needs than a traditional laundry. It also allows for reusable textile products and careful management of inventory carefully to maximize linen life.

But improving laundry operations is no small task—where to start? Simple operational solutions can make an on-premise laundry (OPL) run more efficiently:

  • Start by monitoring water usage and take note of any fluctuations.
  • Monitor and conduct maintenance on equipment to ensure it is operating properly and efficiently.
  • Add a scale to the OPL. Weighing loads ensures laundry staff is adding enough linen to each load, which ensures they are running full loads. This uses water more efficiently.

To make substantive gains, an OPL should be equipped with modern energy- and water-efficient equipment. Over the long term, this investment may be worth it. Some large facilities can afford to invest in water-sipping continuous-batch washers and water reclamation systems.

The Outsourcing Option

But not every business can afford to make that investment in equipment and labor. When many facilities examine the financial cost of their laundry operations, they consider the direct, immediate costs like labor, chemicals, supplies, and the initial cost of equipment and linen. However, peripheral costs add up: water and energy, pollution mitigation, maintenance and repairs, equipment depreciation, linen replacement, insurance and workers’ compensation, management costs, etc.

That’s one of the reasons outsourced services are becoming more and more common, particularly in the healthcare industry. Laundry has become the number one outsourced operation in the healthcare space. Hospitality isn’t far behind—95 percent of hotels in the U.K. outsource their laundry operations and U.S. hotels are beginning to follow suit, as labor and equipment replacement costs continue to rise.

That may not seem to have much to do with sustainability, but outsourcing to a commercial provider ensures laundry is processed efficiently. After all, laundry and linen management is their primary job. And that means for commercial laundries, the choice to go green is easy. The success of these businesses depends on energy and water efficiency.

green laundry
(Source: www.greenhotelier.org)

That motivation, combined with increased scrutiny from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has led to significant reductions in pollution and water and energy usage at commercial laundry facilities. Water use per pound of production at commercial laundries has declined 33 percent from 2.31 gallons per pound in 1997 to 1.55 gallons per pound in 2009. Over the same time period, total in-plant energy used per pound of textiles laundered dropped 27 percent from 3,101 Btu per pound to 2,262.

With laundry as their core business, commercial laundries are able to invest in equipment that makes the most of resources while keeping chemicals out of the environment. Massive continuous batch washing machines use two gallons of water or less per pound of fabric —and these are standard practice for commercial laundries. In many of these commercial laundries, up to 80 percent of that water use is recycled.

But if your facility is deeply committed to sustainable operations and greening your supply chain, tour a commercial facility. Ask about how much water they use. To process a million pounds of linens, a sustainable commercial laundry can use as little as 250,000 gallons of water, thanks to efficient equipment and recycled water systems.

Also ask about additional measures they take to conserve water and energy. Water reclamation systems not only recycle water safely, but they reduce the need for laundry chemicals, which keeps them from entering the environment. With the water already warmed, these systems reduce the need for natural gas or electricity for water heaters.

You can also ask about what third-party sustainability certifications they have from relevant industry groups. There are certifications for sustainability, such as Clean Green, and certifications for obtaining and maintaining cleanliness, such as TRSA’s Hygienically Clean certifications for healthcare and hospitality.

Outsourcing laundry produces other efficiencies less apparent but just as important. For example, hotels and hospitals see great fluctuations in linen usage depending on the time of year or even day of the week. A contract with a commercial laundry only requires you to pay for the linens you send to the laundry. On-premise laundries require the same staff attention and thus the same labor costs every day. Plus, laundry workers may be forced to “short load” machines—that is, load machines well under their capacity—which wastes water and money.

No matter how you approach it, creating efficiencies in laundry operations will reduce water and energy consumption while creating concurrent financial savings. There is no one size fits all approach, but auditing laundry operations and discussing the issues with professionals can serve as a step in the right direction.

laundry operationsJoseph Ricci is President and CEO of TRSA, which represents members responsible for nearly 95 percent of the textile services market.