Organisations like the TSA (The Textile Services Association) represents both family businesses as well as the larger commercial laundries, and from member surveys is well aware some have already seen energy prices leap to as much as five times the bills they were receiving just three years ago.
They are expecting even higher charges in 2023, and that’s just not sustainable, which is another high-ranking agenda item. Assuming your business remains viable, let alone makes a profit, how can you ensure promises made to customers on sustainability targets are achieved? The TSA is one of the bodies pressing for more government action beyond the six months emergency price cap for businesses. The crisis is a ‘double whammy’ for many laundries and cleaners who had just started to recover from the pandemic downturn while still battling supply chain issues, especially those who serve the hospitality sector which is itself being hit by price increases on top of concerns over consumer confidence.
The uncertainty over just how much government support there will be, and when, let alone the cause and effect of international energy prices, is perplexing for even the field’s experts, including those who specialise in supporting our sector. For instance, Paul Dilley, director at Fox Energy, says: “A main task right now is trying to keep everyone’s heads above water. I know people have spent a lot of hours looking for the best deals and often felt frustrated, but it’s important to stay in touch with both consultants and suppliers as so much is changeable, including what you might be eligible for that can cut costs. “For instance, in what passes for normal times we’d usually be steering most people towards the longer term deals, but right now it will make sense for some to choose short term contracts, from three to 12 months.”
Dilley might like government to react clearly and speedily on energy, but doesn’t blame them, saying global problems have dealt them, like us, an impossible hand of cards. One thing’s for sure though. Unlike some of our sector, the government might change ‘the management’, but it’s at no risk from going out of business. Let’s move on to expert tips for a variety of operations, starting with in-house operations. Diversey, developers of hygiene, infection prevention, and cleaning solutions, recognise that many businesses running laundry operations in-house will be doing so because they want to retain ownership of the process and results. Improving sustainability by reducing energy and water consumption or switching products is often an important consideration too. A good place to start is to check that tasks are completed with the right processes, products, and equipment. This will help ensure optimum efficiency and reduce the need for repeat washing which avoids additional water heating and electrical equipment running costs let alone savings in time and product consumption. Another simple task is to maintain equipment correctly so that it is reliable and energy efficient. It is important to follow manufacturers’ guidelines for daily inspections and arrange servicing at the correct intervals. Daily tasks might include, for example, checking and cleaning a machine’s pumps and filters to remove blockages that cause inefficiency.
Washing machines used in hard water areas can be prone to limescale. This can accumulate and restrict the passage of water and impact on the equipment’s reliability and limit the efficiency of the heating element. More energy will be required to heat the same amount of water. In fact, each millimetre of scale inside the heating element will add around eight to 10 per cent on energy costs for a typical commercial machine. Limescale can also interfere with internal sensors that manage the temperature and the flow of water and cleaning products, leading to further inefficiencies and wastage. Regular descaling with a specialist product or switching to formulations that prevent limescale will help prevent this issue. Another way to reduce energy costs is to switch to products that are effective at lower temperatures. Washing at 40oC significantly reduces energy costs by up to a third compared to washing at 60oC or above. However, healthcare guidance does stipulate that thermal disinfection is the preferred choice for infected linen. Alternative low temperature formulations are available for laundry and will deliver payback from day one. Many can be swapped into existing processes without significant retraining or other changes.
Thus far these considerations have highlighted the energy-saving benefits of using the correct equipment, products, and processes. But optimised processes at lower temperatures can also save another valuable resource: water. The first saving is made by avoiding the need to wash items a second time. The second saving is by reducing the number of required rinses – the standard on many commercial machines is three rinse cycles. If we consider on average for each kilo of linen three to four litres of water is required to remove residual soiling and chemical from the fabric, removing a single rinse will save 33 per cent of the water being used and is achievable using specific product neutralisers. Time savings are also achieved by the removal of one or two rinse cycles. Product formulations are another sustainability consideration. Traditional laundry products have been developed over decades to deliver highly effective, economical, and consistent results. But laundry operators are increasingly seeking novel formulations with additional sustainability benefits.
This includes, for example, using ingredients from renewable resources. Switching to ultra concentrates from traditional liquid formulations can reduce the volume needed to support a laundry. This leads to smaller pack sizes or fewer deliveries, which reduces the number of transport movements and lower CO2 emissions, as well as minimising storage and handling burdens across the supply chain, all good sustainability benefits.
Modern packaging also uses fewer raw materials such as plastics and cardboard. Sustainability is further enhanced when these materials are made wholly or partially from recycled sources. Packaging is also designed to be easier to sort and recycle after use. All of this helps to promote a circular lifecycle for packaging which contributes to the sustainability of laundry products. Businesses running one or more commercial machines and dealing with higher volumes of laundry can often achieve significant sustainability benefits by tapping into the capabilities of the latest smart technologies and applications. These systems work in conjunction with washing machines and dosing equipment to help on-premises laundry operators reduce costs, minimise rewashes, and enhance results by providing an advanced set of remote real-time management and diagnostic tools over the internet. Operators can respond proactively to deal with issues before they impact on operations and modify settings to optimise water and energy consumption and the quality of results.
Many of the changes outlined above can be implemented quickly and easily with little or no additional upfront investment. When more significant change is identified it becomes much easier to justify an investment when energy prices rise because savings offset the costs much more quickly. Reputable suppliers can advise on the most energy-efficient combination of their products for specific applications. They will support their claims with proper documentation and may have tools and calculators to help assess savings. We know that much of this feature will be something of a checklist for those already deep into the dreaded numbers. But tips from a business which launched on a mission to be carbon neutral and champion sustainability always have merit.