Whether you’re cleaning or powering your home—or going about your many other daily activities—local organizations increasingly provide environmentally friendly products and services for your selection.
Most Madisonians have long been environmentally conscious, buying local so our goods don’t have to travel far and waste energy. We recycle, reuse, bicycle and grow our own food. And local businesses, nonprofits and public programs help us reduce our carbon footprints.
Take dry cleaning. Who hasn’t brought freshly cleaned clothes home, removed the plastic covering and been assaulted by
noxious fumes from the petroleum-based cleaning solvents?
Customers of Best Cleaners, that’s who. For nearly 10 years the company—with stores on Raymond Road in Madison and in Middleton—has used GreenEarth Cleaning’s eco-friendly, odor-free products to clean clothes. The company won a bronze Best of Madison award in 2010 and has been in the top three for years.
Owner John Whitley, in the dry cleaning business for 25 years, used petroleum-based “perc” solvent at first. “It was the best method available for decades. Now it’s considered a possible carcinogen,” he says. “I used an inhaler regularly for allergies and asthma, but since I switched to GreenEarth in 2002, I haven’t used it. There’s that much difference.”
While the EPA regulates perc as a toxic air contaminant, GreenEarth products don’t pollute. The products clean with liquid
silicone, a byproduct of sand that’s safe, natural and gentle on your clothes.
And in the last year, Best Cleaners switched to an outside processor for leathers and rugs that uses carbon dioxide to clean. “It just became available and it’s very environmentally friendly,” says Whitley.
Even the plastic bags Best Cleaners uses are different. “They’re made from cornstarch and are guaranteed to degrade in two years,” Whitley says. “They can still be recycled, but if they do get into a landfill they’ll break down, unlike many plastics that last hundreds of years.”
He recycles, reuses water, encourages customers to bring in hangers for reuse and has Goodwill drop-boxes in stores so people can give clothes a second life. “We also opt in to use wind power energy, and we’re talking with Madison Gas & Electric about how we can use more,” he says.
“If we pay a little more for wind power, it helps the whole community,” Whitley adds. “When you decide to be a green business, it’s a commitment.”
He continues to look for new green solutions. “There’s a new solvent coming out of Germany,” he says. “We don’t know much about it yet, but it’s being touted as the next big thing.”
The jury’s still out on whether it can be used for all fabric types. “We want to be friendly to the environment, but we also need to be affordable for customers,” explains Whitley. “It wouldn’t be feasible to keep a second solvent in the store.”
He’s keeping his eyes open for a hybrid vehicle that’s large enough for his business to use, and has begun researching the potential of heating water through solar power.
Speaking of solar, since 2007 the City of Madison has offered the MadiSUN program, which helps residents and businesses
implement solar power. “Madison is one of 25 communities receiving federal assistance to be part of the Solar America Cities program,” says Bryant Moroder, marketing and outreach director for MadiSUN. “Each community comes up with its own best practices.”
The program features free assessments to determine properties’ suitability to use solar power, along with guidance for people who decide to implement a system. In the Dane County area, of roughly 150 participants, about half are businesses.
“Solar is becoming more affordable—prices have dropped dramatically over the last two years,” Moroder says. “Panel prices are down about 40 percent and local, state and federal incentives are at a peak.”
It’s a pretty good investment, these days, adds Larry Walker, MadiSUN’s solar buyer’s agent. “It takes about 15 to 17 years for a
residential system to pay for itself, which sounds like a long time. But after 25 years there’s about a 3.5 percent return on
investment (ROI) for residences and about 8.5 percent for businesses. That’s a lot better than a half-percent return on an IRA.”
After the payback period, your energy is free. And if you produce more energy than you use, you get paid back for it. “It’s an investment in energy that won’t cost a dime more over the next 25-plus years,” Moroder notes. “It’ll be a great selling point for your house down the road.”
If you’re interested in determining your property’s solar potential, check out MadiSUN’s interactive online Solarmap (solarmap.cityofmadison.com/madisun). “You type in your address and get a thermal imaging map,” says Moroder.
If the results are encouraging, an assessor can do a free onsite evaluation. You’ll get a report of your potential solar energy production over a year, the type of system you’re likely to need, and cost and ROI estimates.
“The main issue with solar is whether your roof faces in a north-south direction and doesn’t have too much shade,” says Walker. “If it’s the wrong direction, your energy output is reduced. If your yard is sunny you could potentially have a pole-mounted system.”
If solar is out of reach for an individual property owner, MadiSUN is facilitating group purchases. “We’re helping people
take advantage of the power of volume purchasing,” says Moroder. “It’s like Groupon for solar; the more people participating, the cheaper it gets. Other communities have seen savings up to 20 percent over purchasing individually.”
— Judy Dahl