Believe it or not the idea of becoming “green” is not a new concept. In fact the idea started decades ago as a small movement. This movement never gained enough strength to become a trend, or even a marketable idea. Then a few years ago all of this changed. Being “green” was no longer a small movement or just a concept it was a full blown market. On a daily basis, we are all inundated with it at work, home and everywhere in between. All types of industries have experienced pressure, both internally and externally, to become more eco-friendly and the carwash industry is no exception. So what does this “going green” really mean and what does the future of green entail?
First of all, “going green” is most likely going to be around for quite some time. Agree or disagree, it is here to stay. Rules and regulations are getting tighter and the industry will have to contour to meet these changes. But before we can start looking into the future, let’s try to understand what being green is all about. Every organization, company, entity or government agency has its’ own definition. However, through each one of these definitions runs a central theme, to become better stewards of our environment. So whether we flush it, burn it, melt it, spray it, wash it, dump it, blast it, cool it, blend it, dry it, pull it, scrub it or drive it we need to do it better and cleaner.
Although very subtle, the carwash industry began to feel the green movement years ago. Most of it started with the use of reclamation pits and “reclaim water.” It was, and still is, an effort by city municipalities to reduce wastewater volumes. The holding tanks allow the solids within carwash wastewater to settle out. The water then passes through a variety of filters to remove finer particulate before being applied to the vehicle as rinse water. Once full, these pits can then be pumped of their solid materials and disposed of properly. By installing a reclaim tank and system a carwash owner could avoid paying large upfront fees for water consumption. Of course there are costs associated with the reclaim tanks, a filtration system and maintenance, but these costs should be less than the water consumption fees and increasing cost of water.
This type of eco-friendly consciousness spilled over to other parts of the carwash industry, starting with equipment. Manufacturers began to make more energy efficient equipment that that could still perform every function of its predecessor. Equipment became smarter, quicker and quieter. By being smarter less chemical is wasted. By being quicker less energy was required and by being quieter less noise pollution is created. Noise pollution is an actual regulation that carries city, state and sometimes federal enforcement. In California, there is an agency dedicated to monitoring and reducing noise pollution. Again, there might be additional costs associated with this equipment, but in the long run this equipment should save some green by being green.
It is within the realm of chemicals that the definition of green becomes confusing. As mentioned earlier, there are several different certifying bodies that will put their eco-stamp on finished goods. Each one of these bodies upholds different standards by which they measure “green-ness.” For example, DfE(a certifying body started by the US EPA) has a list of raw materials that cannot be in a finished good. If the manufacturer can prove none of these chemicals are in their product they will get DfE’s stamp of approval. Another agency, Green Seal™, has a requirement that all products be within a narrow range of pH (usually between 6 and 8). This poses a difficult task for presoaks, tire cleaners or bay cleaners. So with all these agencies lending their stamp of approval, which one should you look for? Or should you look for one at all?
At the moment none of these agencies hold authority or rank over the others. There is not a governing body that regulates what is required in carwash chemical to make it green. Remember the ultimate goal of green is to become better stewards of our environment. That being the case, most of the carwash chemical manufacturers offer choices for more eco-friendly products. Each of the products may or may not be approved by agencies such as Green Seal™, DfE or Cleangredients®. Often times companies decide that creating their own standards is a more viable and responsible option than any of these certifying bodies. Listed below are some of the more common terms being used to describe green products. (This table is not all inclusive, but rather a compellation of the most popular standards.)
Phosphate Free The product is void of any phosphates in any forms. Examples include: phosphoric acid, phosphate esters and phosphate salts such as STPP and TSP.
APE/NPE Free The product is void of any Alkyl Phenol Ethoxylates or Nonyl Phenol Ethoxylates. These are a common family of surfactants found in detergents.
V.O.C Levels The product meets local governmental standards for Volatile Organic Compounds percentages.
Biodegradable The product will degrade over a short period of time. Usually week(s) to month(s).
Naturally Derived The product is composed of raw materials that are typically plant derived.
Does Green Clean
As technology and innovations have improved, so have the building blocks of green detergents. These detergents are no longer limited to a single petroleum based feedstock. They can now be derived from fully renewable sources such as corn, soy, palm, tallow and other various oils. These detergents are becoming more complex and much closer replacements to their petroleum counterparts. This makes them very attractive to manufacturers because of their natural origin and marketing ability. Typically, these products are marketed for their safety aspect and renewable feedstock.
But if these naturally derived eco-chemicals are so technologically advanced, why isn’t everyone using them? For two reasons: cost and effectiveness. Many of these green products are naturally derived and require more care when growing and more labor when harvesting. This extra care and labor results in a higher primary cost (primary cost is the initial cost to the consumer). Not to mention the growth of these feedstock sources is solely dependent upon the weather. (Something all of us in the carwash industry completely understand.)
The second aspect is effectiveness. Most presoaks are comprised of two parts, the first being the detergent and the second is the alkaline or acid builder. Typically the acid/alkaline builder is aggressive so it will remove the mineral deposits on the vehicle and help break down the greases. As earlier mentioned, the certifying body known as Green Seal™ requires a product to maintain a neutral pH (6-8) for it to be certified green. When these presoaks are void of their alkaline/acid power they have a tendency to become less effective and can require greater usage amounts. This will create higher secondary costs (the secondary cost is added cost related directly to greater usage requirements).
What has been forgotten in all the talk of eco-friendly products is that non-green products were forced to forage this same path of refinement. It took years, if not decades, of constant improvement and testing to get current non-green products to perform at accepted levels. Green products are going to require the same testing and effort as their counterparts received. It just so happens that urgency has decreased the amount of time allotted to the refinement of these products.
At the moment it is difficult to determine which certifying body(s) will reign supreme and win the eco-friendly battle. Some experts are forecasting a big push to completely renewable chemicals, while others think this is unrealistic as it might create shortages of food and other resources. Regardless, it appears green is here to stay.
Local municipalities are not waiting for a decision to be made; rather they have taken it upon themselves to start policing what moves into their facility. The primary chemicals of concern are phosphates and APEs/NPEs (see table for definition). An example of another type of enforcement can be found in California. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) implemented a VOC threshold which all carwash chemicals are to meet. They require that the total percentage of VOC at the point of usage be under 0.2% by December 30, 2010. This trend will most likely increase as local facilities become more conscious of the effluent they are treating and the air people are breathing.
If your local municipality requires you to make a change or address any chemicals they deem unfit for disposal, contact your chemical distributor of manufacturer. Often times they will have replacement products or would be willing to make replacement products that will meet the requirements. As time consuming and inconvenient as this may seem, it forces all of us to better handlers of the products we work with daily.
Ultimately the future of green resides within its ability to improve effectiveness. As effectiveness improves, costs will gradually reduce and no longer be the main focal point. Instead safety, ease of use and renewability will be come the motto of green products.
Going green can mean something slightly different to everyone. Green can mean reducing your water consumption. Green can mean wasting less chemicals. Green can mean saving energy. Green can mean using chemicals that are derived from fully renewable resources. Regardless of the definition the basic principle remains intact, if we can become better stewards of our environment we should. No longer is green just a secondary color created by blending blue and yellow, but it is an action we can all take part in.