May 1, 2012

What it Means to be Green in Car Washing

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Green marketing might be the carwash industry’s biggest opportunity since we swapped out brushes for cloth. To date, however, few operators have been willing or able to make environmental issues a core part of their business strategies. This is despite the fact that carwashes are intrinsically “green.”

Green Marketing History

The term green marketing grew in popularity in the late ’80s and early ’90s, as environmental issues became a growing concern and topic of conversation for many Americans. While there had always been a handful of companies with owners who were public advocates for certain environmental causes, few companies thought of using environmental issues as an opportunity to increase the value of their products or services..

However, as these issues became a regular feature of news coverage, more consumers began looking to make purchases from companies that took steps to reduce their impact on the planet. Increasingly, over the past 20 years, companies ranging from GE to Domino’s Pizza have tried to include “green” in their marketing plans.

The problem is there continues to be a lot of confusion over what it means to be “green” and too much drive to jump on the green bandwagon without implementing measures that are truly environmentally friendly. This has resulted in many companies touting themselves as “green” but not making clear what that means. If you do a search for “green marketing” on, you’ll find more than 4,000 books to guide the way, but many businesses still fail to find a balance between real environmental benefits and superficial green efforts.

Before we explore different aspects of green marketing, we need to agree on a definition. For the purpose of this article, let’s define green marketing as communicating with your community about the measures your business has taken to reduce the negative impact your services have on Earth’s ecosystem.

Why You Should Care

Aside from the altruistic benefits that come from being a better steward of the planet, green marketing represents a real business opportunity. Promoting the green aspects of your business demonstrates that you are a responsible local business that cares about its community. For most carwashes, 80 percent of their business comes from within a three-mile radius. Therefore, showing that you care about the local water supply and local environment creates goodwill and increases the perceived value of your carwash.

In a world where we are inundated with marketing messages, goodwill is the stuff that cuts though the noise and proves that you care about more than just profit. This builds community trust and creates a more loyal customer.

For this reason, demonstrating that you are concerned about the environment helps build a strong brand that resonates with the community, whether you have one carwash or 100. All great retail brands are based on values. In his book, Pour Your Heart into It, Howard Shultz, the creator of the Starbucks brand, wrote, “The most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart. Their foundations are stronger because they are built with the strength of the human spirit, not an ad campaign.”

Communicating values has always been a difficult thing to do in carwashing because it is perceived as a commodity. However, carwashes are naturally environmentally friendly when compared to traditional driveway washing. This environmental benefit provides a built-in path to a values-based brand.

If you want to explore the possibility of utilizing green marketing, the most important question is not how you implement it, but why. Authenticity is the most important aspect of succeeding with green marketing, and companies that try to appear environmentally conscious simply by slapping a label on a product or on their Web site do not understand what green marketing is all about.

The International Carwash Association last year created the WaterSavers program to help carwash owners “promote their environmentally friendly business practices and educate consumers about the environmental benefits of professional carwashing.” While this is a valuable service and a commendable effort, true impact from green marketing can only come from operators that make environmental concerns a core value of their businesses.

Marketing is about listening, learning and reacting to your customers. So green marketing means you have to be concerned about what your customers are concerned about.

If you want to succeed with green marketing initiatives, you have to personally care about what’s happening to the environment. Personal concern can then translate into real action, and that authentic tone will resonate with customers.

This doesn’t mean you are required to handcuff yourself to a tree that is about to be chopped down or adopt a whale. What it does mean is you should educate yourself about environmental concerns, particularly those that have relevance to the carwash industry and running a business. Ignorance is bliss, but knowledge is required if 
you want to tell your community that you care about the environment. Al Gore’s documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, is a great place to start to accumulate information about the impact humans are having on the environment. In addition, there are plenty of books and articles on the Internet to help you determine what your personal commitment level is to environmental issues.

While there is plenty of debate about global warming, no scientific body of national or international standing has said global warming is not real. The scientific debate is more about how severe the impact will be, not whether it exists. In addition, our growing impact on local water sources and animal habitats is an unfortunate fact. So before you say this is all a conspiracy that isn’t worthy of a business reaction, make sure you understand the facts.

Communicate Benefits

Once you’ve decided that environmental initiatives should be part of your business, take a green inventory to determine what you are doing that is environmentally friendly. This includes water management (reclaim systems, nozzle size reduction, etc.), power management (variable frequency drives, fewer motors, more efficient motors, fluorescent bulbs, etc.) and conservation (recycling, biodegradable chemicals, using recycled paper, etc.). By becoming a green marketer, your business makes the claim that it takes measures to reduce the negative impact its services have on Earth’s ecosystem. The green inventory you derive will help you support that claim and prove that messaging is more than just advertising.

The next step is to communicate these efforts to the community. Begin with signage that describes some or all of your green efforts. Signage is best kept simple so don’t try to say too much. Just make it clear that the environment is important to the carwash and that you have taken concrete steps to make sure your business is environmentally responsible.

From the signage, you can direct customer attention to your Web site where more information can be made available. You should have ample room online to explain exactly what you are doing to reduce your environmental impact. This should be its own page or pages, but be sure to include a blurb and link about your green efforts on your homepage. You might also consider creating a simple logo signifying your green efforts that you can include on the footer of the Web site, signage, letterhead and anywhere your carwash is branded.

In addition, green practices are the perfect topic for posts on social media networks like Twitter and Facebook since they are not tied to specific wash promotions but can increase your perceived value.

Besides reducing your carwash’s environmental impact, you also can get involved with a local or regional environmental group through participation, donations or both. This is another way to back up your claims, and it will connect you to people who share your values.

Another important part of green marketing is to train your employees to ensure they understand how and why your carwash is committed to environmental issues. Making green initiatives a team effort creates a larger pool for ideas and helps prevent employees from circumventing environmental policies or thinking they are just lip service.

Between the current economy and reactionary consumer behavior, carwash operators have to do more than ever to attract customers. It is imperative that you stand for something and do everything you can to increase your perceived value. Being environmentally conscious and making it an integral part of your marketing strategy is a great way to start. Remember, it is important to be authentic in practice and not just a label.

Hopefully, professional carwashes will one day be known far and wide for their environmental benefits. Heightened awareness could lead to a nationwide ban on driveway washing, and the market for professional carwashes could explode. However, that day will never come unless more operators take a sincere interest in the environment and build their marketing strategy around being green.



Kyle Doyle is president of Blue Sky Image Group, a full-service marketing firm dedicated to the carwash industry. Kyle has been in the carwash industry for 15 years. Prior to starting Blue Sky, he was CEO of Compuwash and also managed a carwash in Long Island, N.Y. He can be reached at 631.431.2600


A Green Carwash Case Study

Car Wash Enterprises Inc. knows a thing or two about green marketing. As the company behind the Brown Bear Car Wash chain in the state of Washington, Car Wash Enterprises has made environmental issues a key part of Brown Bear’s marketing and business strategies.

A visit to Brown Bear’s Web site ( immediately reveals a flash animation about the company’s “Wash Green. Cruise Clean.” program. It explains why driveway washing is bad for the environment and then touts the benefits of tunnel carwashing. The message of environmental concern is genuine and authentic.

“Our owner, Victor Odermat, has always been concerned about environmental issues,” says Steve Palmer, CFO of Car Wash Enterprises. “In addition to clear efforts to be good environmental stewards and charity work, Mr. Odermat personally funded an environmental study on the effects of untreated wash runoff on marine life. That study increased awareness and was reported on throughout the country.

“If you’re just [promoting green initiatives] for marketing, it’s not going to be effective in the long term,” notes Palmer. “If there’s not an authenticity there, it doesn’t carry any weight.”

Car Wash Enterprises’ commitment has made the environment an integral part of the Brown Bear brand — one of the industry’s strongest. “Some customers realize that they have found a carwash company that shares their concerns,” says Palmer. “Even less environmentally conscious customers realize that Brown Bear has deep roots in the community and cares about the local environment.”


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