When someone mentions a “green” laundry, what comes to mind? Some believe that a green laundry offers the most energy-efficient washers and dryers. Some believe that a green laundry utilizes nontraditional industry equipment, such as solar panels, water-reuse equipment, etc.Whatever your definition of a green laundry is, here’s another question to ponder: How green is the self-service laundry industry? We posed that question, and others, to distributors from across the country.DISTRIBUTORS WILL INFLUENCE GREEN MOVEMENTA green laundry is one that has varying degrees of energy-saving features, such as axial-airflow dryers, microprocessor-controlled washers, condensing water heaters and high-speed-extract washers, according to Karl Hinrichs, HK Laundry Equipment, Armonk, N.Y.“We’ve been focusing on energy savings and being as energy efficient as possible,” Hinrichs says. “Being greener would mean solar, thermal water reuse, etc. But until that stuff becomes cost-effective, there’s no big rush toward using alternatives.”Hinrichs estimates that less than 5% of the laundries in his area qualify as being green, based on his definition. However, if one just looks at the stores his company has installed in the last several years, more than half of them would be green, he adds.Hinrichs believes going green makes financial sense. “You should build an efficient store because energy costs are not going down, they are going up. If you can spend $500 more on an efficient machine and get your money back in a short period of time, why wouldn’t you go that route?”While that argument may be logical, he has seen a reduction in the number of stores being retooled. “When more stores open in a marketplace, your business can’t grow, so owners don’t have the money or confidence to retool. There’s a huge initial capital cost to put in a new hot-water heating system, new washers, dryers, etc. There is interest in new hot-water heating systems, but when owners see the price, they often end up going to stores like Home Depot and slapping something together that’s inadequate. But operators are financially crunched.”Hinrichs says the general population in his area has a good amount of green sentiment. “My company even has two hybrids that the salespeople use. We’re not throwing away money here — we want energy-efficient vehicles. This same thinking is true for Laundromats.”The government may impact the green movement. There are already manufacturer restrictions on top loaders in terms of being energy efficient, he says. And, he adds, if you go back to the Jimmy Carter administration, the energy crisis led to push-to-start buttons on dryers.“Conditions dictate. If the price of oil shoots up again, people will be running back to hybrids and dabbling in solar.”Are more efficient laundries going to emerge in the near future? “There will be a natural progression in this area. Distributors will take a long-road approach to lower operating costs, and will set owners up with the most energy-efficient machines out there.”If you are green, get the word out, Hinrichs advises. “We give customers posters that highlight green factors in their stores.”If you have a green store and market that fact, it may not make a significant impact on your success, but if some customers feel good about visiting a green store, it couldn’t hurt, Hinrichs suggests.“If you win over some tree-huggers, that’s terrific. Look at polls — 70-80% are for the environment. If you create a poster [highlighting your green features], you differentiate yourself from the guy down the road.”RECESSION HURTS GREEN MOVEMENTA green laundry focuses on energy and water savings, says Jeff McGarity, PWS — The Laundry Company, San Diego. “In my area, about 25-30% of the stores fit that definition.”McGarity says there has been a good deal of talk about new energy sources, such as solar, but no one has taken the plunge. “People are waiting for others to try [the new energy alternatives]; some people are just waiting for the cost to come down on this.”McGarity says the San Diego area is definitely a green area. “The operators are concerned about water and energy, but with the economy the way it is, most are not in a position to replace equipment.” What the operators can do, he suggests, is optimize the equipment they already have in place. “Stores need to use the least amount of water possible, and still not run customers off. The recession has hurt the green movement. We have a new line of equipment that controls all aspects of the wash, but operators are sticking with what they have in place.”Looking 5-10 years down the line, McGarity is not sure how many stores will make the green transition. “I just don’t know when we are going to get through this [economic slow period]. By 2012, when people may see a stabilized real estate market, the corner may turn on the economy.”If you do have a green laundry, it would be advantageous to showcase it, he believes. “Let all the people see how much energy your store is saving.”Come back Friday for Part 2 of this story!