Busting organic dry cleaners and getting your boss off SUVs

Rating: NNNNN Q Could you explain the problem with organic dry cleaning? A Honey, your clothes arent just being cleaned theyre.


Rating: NNNNN

Q Could you explain the problem with organic dry cleaning?

A Honey, your clothes arent just being cleaned theyre getting greenwashed, and that aint a good thing. Youve probably spotted the big organic signs hanging in the windows of more and more dry cleaners lately. Its enough to lead anyone to believe the industry that dips your clothes in toxins and calls them clean suddenly went all hippy-dippy on us. Dont be fooled.

That dry-cleaning compound is as organic as petroleum (in fact its petroleum-based hydrocarbons), meaning its organic in the chemistry students sense of the word, not the crunchy-granola one you look for on cereal boxes. And wouldnt you know it, the compound commonly used by those flashing perc-free signs (perchloroethylene being the carcinogenic toxin used in traditional dry cleaning, the one the Toronto Board of Health asked be phased out) is commonly made by the grandest of eco villains Exxon Mobile.

Sure, hydrocarbon solvents are a little better than perc for your health and the planet, but theyre still hazardous air pollutants.

So what are your options? Wet cleaners, like Glenforest Cleaners on Yonge near Lawrence, use biodegradable detergent and computer-controlled machines to accommodate most dry-clean-only garments. (Beware of wet cleaners that basically just wash your clothes in a regular washing machine. Ask for details about their process.)

A few of spots in town use the silicone-based GreenEarth solvent (see www.greenearthcleaningcanada.com for locations). Considered relatively benign, its commonly found in lotions and shampoos (though Environment Canada is looking into potential health concerns raised in rat studies).

A greener future for suit and silk wearers lies with liquid-CO2-based cleaners, though Ive yet to spot any of these pricey machines in Toronto. But you never know, if enough people ask for it, someone just might install one in your hood.

In the meantime, your safest strategy is avoidance. In my experience, most dry-clean-only clothing can be happily handwashed in cold water with a little all-natural soap.

Q I work for a company with a green mission statement, but we use an SUV to drive over 600 kilometres a week! How do I get my employers to switch to a hybrid?

A Its time for your company to get into gear, and it sounds like youve got lots of leverage to, you know, motor them along.

The good news is that your bosses have put their commitment to treehuggery on paper. Its time to gently remind them of their quite public commitment to the planet and sing them a little song about how disappointed their customers would be if they found out their favourite shnoodle supplier was riding around town in a highly vilified gas guzzler.

To help nudge the company back to the green side, you need to do your research. For one, go to a site like Cooldrivepass.com, punch in your company cars make and annual mileage and itll spit out stats on how much your current wheels pollute.

If its a 2004 Ford Explorer, for instance, it spews, at minimum, a whopping 13,000 kilograms of climate-changing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. According to the Environmental Working Groups Auto Asthma Index, thats 13 times more harmful volatile organic compounds that threaten the health of asthma sufferers than the cleanest SUVs on the road (www.ewg.org/sites/asthmaindex). Not the kind of thing that enhances your corporate image.

Would be nice if we could convince management to take the bus to meetings instead of taking the company car, but youll have a much better chance of convincing them to switch to a greener vehicle.

If they insist on an SUV, the Ford Escape Hybrid produces les than half the CO2 of that planet-crushing Explorer, and if you buy an automatic, the Escape is probably the most fuel-efficient SUV on the road. (Sounds like an oxymoron, I know, but in relative terms itll put half your companys current fuel budget back in the corporate coffers.)

The Mercury Mariner Hybrid scores just as well in the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economys Green Book. If you want to keep shopping your options, check out the ACEEEs Greenercars.org for a full eco rating of other cars and SUVs on the market.

And keep playing the PR card. Tell higher-ups if they make the switch they can proudly paint the company logo on their new hybrid and stop sneaking around town.

Oh, and dont forget to tell them about the $2,000 rebate from the feds if they buy the hybrid, not to mention that, depending on where your company is located, you might be up for an additional provincial rebate of $1,000 to $2,000. Every little dangled carrot helps.

Got a question? Send your green queries to ecoholic@nowtoronto.com

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