Corporate Responsibility

Dry cleaning conversions: How Kimco is helping dry cleaners replace perc with environmentally safe alternatives

Posted by: Scott Gerber Scott Gerber
on April 24, 2012

Many dry cleaners are at a turning point in their businesses, and Kimco is offering some new ways to help them round the corner. Dry cleaners are under increasing pressure to eliminate their use of perchloroethylene. Known as “perc” for short, the chemical has been used by nearly all dry cleaners since the 1930s.

But perc has been classified by the EPA as a “likely human carcinogen” if inhaled or consumed. This draws a direct line to dry cleaners, because vapor emissions and waste from their establishments can contaminate the soil, groundwater, and air, not to mention impact the shop environment for employees and customers. In addition, just this past February, the EPA concluded that perc can cause neurological, kidney, immune, and other health problems in addition to cancer.

It’s doubtful any dry cleaner isn’t familiar with the major regulations that have come out over the past several years to reduce harmful emissions from dry cleaning operations. Dry cleaners located in residential buildings must stop using perc by 2020, according to national EPA regulations. And the California Air Resources Board is phasing out all perc dry cleaning statewide by 2023.

As a result, many dry cleaners have begun transitioning to non-toxic, environmentally safe cleaning agents and methods. Manufacturers are responding by producing more green dry cleaning technologies. And some landlords have adopted new policies requiring their dry cleaning tenants to eliminate their use of perc and convert their operations to green establishments.

Over the past several years, Kimco has taken some of the most aggressive strides to reduce the use of perc in its shopping centers and the associated environmental, health, and regulatory risks. We’ve updated our practices and procedures to encourage green dry cleaners to come to our centers and to facilitate the green conversion of existing perc dry cleaners. We have researched the various alternatives and have found several environmentally safe options for dry cleaners.

We wanted to write about our initiatives to make current and prospective Kimco dry cleaning tenants aware of their options. Also, if you’re in the dry cleaning or real estate industries, we hope this helps you understand what we’re doing as a company to support the various governmental regulations and bring greater safety to communities in which our shopping centers are located.

Kimco’s Good Housekeeping Practices

Current Kimco perc dry cleaning tenants that remain in good standing with respect to their lease agreement can continue to use perc and operate their business as they currently do until their lease expires. When their lease expires, if tenants desire to remain in the center, they have the option to either convert their business to one of the approved green technologies, or convert to what is known as a drop-off/pick-up store.

A drop-off location is a store that accepts clothes for dry cleaning, but all the dry cleaning is done off site. This is a popular choice for tenants that have multiple locations. In this case, tenants might have one facility where they dry clean clothes, along with several drop-off locations that feed it.

As far as green technologies go, the options that are generally widely accepted and approved for Kimco’s centers are:

1. The GreenEarth Cleaning method. GreenEarth Cleaning is used by over 1,500 dry cleaners worldwide, and is growing rapidly. The GreenEarth method uses liquid silicone — which is essentially liquefied sand — to carry detergent to garments to remove dirt and oil. Liquid silicone is odorless, colorless, and doesn’t react with fabric fibers. This lets it clean without abrasion, so garments stay smooth and don’t shrink. When liquid silicone is released into the environment, it breaks down into sand, water, and carbon dioxide. GreenEarth has an affiliate program, so Kimco dry cleaners can either license GreenEarth’s technology to use in their business, or open a Tide Dry Cleaners franchise location. Tide Dry Cleaners is a franchise that uses GreenEarth’s technology for all dry cleaning, and is an approved Kimco franchise. More information about GreenEarth and licensing its technology can be found on its website.

2. Wet cleaning. The wet cleaning process uses computer-controlled washers and dryers, and biodegradable, non-hazardous detergents and conditioners, similar to home laundry products. Wet cleaning is safe for many fabrics that are traditionally dry cleaned, including silks, woolens, linens, suede, and leather. All waste is disposed of through existing drains and can be handled by the local waste water treatment facility. Wet cleaning typically whitens whites very well and is highly effective at removing water-based stains.

3. Liquid carbon dioxide cleaning process. Liquid carbon dioxide has a gas-like consistency and a low surface tension. This lets it function as a very effective solvent when combined with recyclable detergents. Once garments are cleaned through the liquid carbon dioxide process, excess dirt and detergent is distilled from wash fluid. Residue is collected and recycled. Carbon dioxide gas is removed from the machine using a compressor and the gas is sent back to the storage tank for reuse. Heat is not needed to dry clothes, eliminating the risk of heat-related damage and setting any stains that might not have been removed during the wash cycle. The process also has excellent color fastness.

It is important to note that the hydrocarbon cleaning process using solvents such as Exxon-Mobil’s DF-2000 or Chevron Phillips’ EcoSolv, which are sometimes perceived as green alternatives, are not truly green. These petroleum-based solvents contain volatile organic compounds, like perc, and are thus treated as hazardous materials. If they leaked into the soil or groundwater, a cleanup might be required. Although better and safer than perc, and less costly to remediate, these solvents pose many of the same risks and problems as perc, so Kimco does not consider hydrocarbon cleaning an acceptable alternative to perc.

Once tenants adopt a green cleaning method, several important business benefits are available to them. Green cleaning creates a competitive differentiation that tenants can use to create a positive narrative about their business and boost their marketing power. This can attract new customers, who are increasingly environmentally conscious.

Kimco is committed to working closely with our dry cleaning tenants so that conversions have as minimal of an impact as possible on their business. Our goal is to help our tenants eliminate environmental, financial, and regulatory risk regarding the use of perc, and improve the safety of the environments in which we operate.

We want our dry cleaning tenants to stay in their locations, and we’d like new tenants to come to Kimco centers that don’t already have a dry cleaning business. Our company mission has always been to support neighborhood shopping centers and their tenants — many of which are small, mom-and-pop shops — and dry cleaners are an integral part of that tenant dynamic.

And at the end of the day, we believe dry cleaners are great co-tenants to have in shopping centers. Dry cleaners require two visits — one to drop off clothes and one to pick them up, which helps bring more traffic to the center overall.

Over the years we have signed new leases with tenants employing some of these green technologies, and many more operating as drop-off locations. We have also had great success over the years converting several of our dry cleaning tenants to green cleaning and drop-off locations.

We’re planning to interview some of our dry cleaning tenants on our blog about their conversion experience to help you understand what’s involved and how to go about handling the process. Look for our first interview in the coming weeks.

If you have any questions about anything you’ve read here, feel free to leave a comment.

1 COMMENT

This is a nice post and something the shopping center owners and current drycleaners can find useful. There is so much negative information about drycleaners and it is refreshing to see something on the positive side. Everyone is invited to go to TextileCleaning.com for additional information on all of the alternative solvents (except GreenEarth, but it is coming) that may help them to decide on the proper solvent for them.

Everett

April 26, 2012


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