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Specialty Textile makes laundry eco-friendly

The Phoenix company, which provides cleaning services for many upscale Valley hotels, resorts and restaurants, is attempting to get its facility certified through the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. It could be the first laundry program in the nation to do so.

The move is motivated by what the company says its customers want: suppliers that are doing what they can to be more sustainable, said Ted Miotke, founder and CEO of Specialty Textile Services.

“There’s a business reason behind it,” he said. “Obviously, we feel it’s the right thing to do, but we also believe there’s a competitive advantage.”

The company is winding its way through the copious USGBC paperwork required for certification, which must detail everything from its water and energy use to its lighting and transportation methods.

$2 million in two batch washing machines that handle about 85 percent of the linens it gets from beds and tables around the Valley, Miotke said. It is spending an additional $20,000 to retrofit its lighting, $30,000 on handheld computers to limit its paper use for deliveries and dispatching, and $180,000 on other items.

The new washers save about 60 percent to 70 percent in water use over the machines the company just replaced, said Eric Dumont, Specialty Textile’s operations manager. They require less than a gallon of water to launder a pound of linens, compared with 3 gallons per pound for conventional washers.

The company also has taken numerous steps to ensure its products are cleaned well the first time and don’t have to be rewashed, Dumont said.

“If we’re not rewashing, you’re not wasting a lot of water,” he said.

Specialty Textile is an example of the sustainable wave sweeping the hotel and restaurant industries and starting to trickle down to suppliers. Hotels have been a big player in the sustainable market as they’ve looked for ways to save money and respond to guest questions about what they are doing to be eco-friendly, said Kristen Jarnagin, spokeswoman for the Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association.

“I think the hotels are always looking to be more sustainable in their operations,” she said.

AzHLA has begun a Certified Green program for hotels that so far has 16 properties around the state participating. The program includes a multitude of areas in which properties can gain points for being green, including how they handle operations, Jarnagin said.

Part of becoming a sustainable hotel involves finding partners that are doing things in environmentally friendly ways, said Pete Ells, general manager of the Royal Palms Resort & Spa in Phoenix, one of AzHLA’s Certified Green properties.

While suppliers may be doing things at a hotel or restaurant’s request, those businesses are changing at the request of their guests, Ells said.

“It’s not the first thing on their mind, but (guests) want to know whatever property they’re going to is being good to the environment and as eco-friendly as possible,” he said.

Arizona Grand Resort in Phoenix, one of Specialty Textile’s customers, has made it a corporate goal to do business with sustainable partners, said Richard Behr, the resort’s managing director.

“The fact they’re doing this program is an example of how they’re always trying to give back and their environmental awareness, particularly in the laundry world,” he said of Specialty Textile.

Promoting sustainability has become increasingly important at resorts, as meeting planners inquire about it on behalf of their corporate clients. That has led to a search for more sustainable partners, Behr said.

Companies that sell cleaning equipment to hotels are noticing the demand. Laundry Solutions, a Tempe company that deals in washers and dryers for hotels, prisons and salons, is seeing an increase in demand for sustainable products, said Michael Welker, the company’s co-owner.

“People are definitely interested in saving money on their utilities any way they can,” he said.

Sometimes, the biggest challenge for the industry is greenwashing — when a company claims its products are environmentally friendly, but they aren’t.

Steve Chucri, president and CEO of the Arizona Restaurant Association, said many eateries initially stumbled in their quest for sustainability because there were no standards.

“As it’s evolved in recent years, there have been substantial metrics developed to determine what is and what isn’t green,” he said.

Specialty Textile struggled with that as well, searching for different measures before deciding to chase the USGBC designation, Miotke said.

“As a group, we said we use a lot of resources. We live in a desert. We needed to be cognizant of this,” he said.

The company worked with Green Ideas, a Ph