Revolution Cleaners of Denver, Co are being featured on this weeks episode of Big Ideas For A Small Planet on the Sundance Channel. The Dry Cleaning industry is not one that I had ever considered as being eco friendly; the use of chemicals cannot possibly be good for the environment.

Revolution’s solution is to use liquid CO2 as the cleaning agent. I was curious about this company and managed to get some time with Co-owner Noel Bennett to discuss the process, and the politics.

One really does not think about the environmental impact of Dry Cleaning, yet it is significant, can you tell us a little about how Revolution Cleaners got started? Was it evolution, or revolution?

It is true, the environmental impact of dry cleaning is huge. It’s one of those things in everyday life that, until recently anyway, no one really thought about. The founders of Revolution Cleaners were the same way, sort of. We all have an environmental bent of one sort or another. One of our partners is an attorney for the Department of Justice, EPA, and he definitely did know the hazards of the traditional solvent, perchloroethylene, PERC, but the rest of us assumed it was bad, simply from the smell. The partner with the idea for Revolution was interested in purchasing a commercial building in his neighborhood, and when that didn’t work out, he and his wife started thinking about what they’d want to see in the building that was missing from the area. They wanted a non-Mexican restaurant (as there were already tons of good Mexican food restaurants in the area, but very little else), a coffee shop, and a dry cleaner. He started looking at dry cleaning, more just out of curiosity, and started realizing that the profit margins were good, but that there may be environmental concerns with the traditional methods. After some more research he stumbled on to the liquid CO2 cleaning systems, and from there became more and more interested. It was about this time that he approached myself, another friend and partner in a few real estate rehab projects, and the neighbor who is the EPA attorney. It grew from there.

Revolution is both a revolution and an evolution. The revolution part is the CO2 cleaning process. It is very cutting edge, and we were the first ones to try this in the state of Colorado. The evolution part is the part where, like in most other industries and businesses, there is a push for less toxic, more energy efficient, and just generally easier on the planet, ways to do business. The dry cleaning industry is very backward looking, but evolution always leaves those types in the dust, eventually anyway. So the evolution of business in general was just starting to carry along with it the dry cleaning industry, but this revolutionary technology is serving to speed this process up.

The liquid CO2 process is clearly better than using PERC, but is it as cost effective?

CO2 cleaning is as cost effective. The CO2 machines are literally 3 times more than an average PERC machine. However, we do not have any of the hazardous waste disposal fees that a PERC cleaner will have to cart away the dirty PERC after it’s been used. When you see a PERC cleanup at a site, which you can read about more than a few times a week, across the country, those costs can be in the tens of thousands and into the millions. That’s an issue that not every PERC cleaner will have, but one that many of them could. We deliberately set out to keep our prices right in line with any other full service dry cleaner in the industry, and we have been able to do that. As well, with the CO2 message, a CO2 cleaner should be able to stand head and shoulders above the competition, and so has a competitive advantage in terms of getting new customers that we believe makes up for the cost of the CO2 machines. If the messaging is right, there should be no reason that a customer would choose a PERC cleaner over a CO2 cleaner, assuming they have access to either. So it’s a matter of leveraging the CO2 message, and the positive PR that CO2 cleaning is picking up over the last couple of years.

Are you seeing this method of cleaning gaining ground in the industry?

CO2 cleaning is getting more and more attention across the country, but there aren’t a lot of new CO2 cleaners popping up. Much of this is due to the lack of a strong presence in the manufacturing of CO2 machines. Though several companies have developed, and tried to sell, CO2 machines, not one of them has put much effort into it. It’s a chicken and egg thing. The companies want a big demand to justify the costs of setting up manufacturing, but the demand will only come from easy access to machines, at a fair price, and a marketing effort to get those cleaners who are worried about their health, the health of their employees, and the health of their neighborhoods, to switch to CO2. Revolution is attempting to solve this problem, but those efforts are at a very nascent stage. Also, the dry cleaning industry is made up of a great number of second or third generation business people. Most of them are doing just fine, and convincing them to change their ways is not easy. Converting to a new solvent involves re-learning, and many of these cleaners just want to continue making money until retirement without making any significant changes. The converts to CO2 are either very forward looking, long-term dry cleaners who have seen the light, or new, never-been dry cleaners who see the opportunity to clean up a nasty, dirty industry, and hopefully turn a profit while doing so. We believe that there is currently in the neighborhood of 40 CO2 cleaners across the US. As soon as the machines are readily available, and as the negative press on traditional dry cleaning keeps up, there should be more CO2 cleaners dotting the landscape.

Thanks for taking time to chat with Blogger News, and good luck with the enterprise.

Simon Barrett

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