Confessions of a Dry Cleaner

Usually when you think green, dry cleaning is not the first thing to come to mind. For the past 50 years, our industry’s reputation has been centered around the use of Perchloroethylene (called Perc for short), a nasty human carcinogen and groundwater pollutant. Almost every dry cleaner in the world used PERC because it was cheap and easy to use. But I’m proud to say that Highland Cleaners never did. For the last 66 years we’ve cleaned clothing using two old fashioned—yet very effective—methods.

The first is a soap and water wash. Called “wet cleaning,” this is universally regarded as the best cleaning method and the safest for our environment. Wet cleaning was widely used 60 years ago when workers in dry cleaners really knew their craft and took great pride in their work. But as the industry was consumed by the use of Perc, wet cleaning was mostly abandoned and, as a result, the methods were largely lost. The tradition, however, has continued at Highland uninterrupted.

In the early 1990’s, Highland worked with a pilot project funded by the EPA to expand the technology and expertise to wet clean clothing and re-introduce the method to the industry as a green alternative. The project was a great success and today Highland Cleaners is the largest user of wet clean technology in the Midwest.

The second method Highland uses for cleaning clothes involves a natural hydrocarbon solvent, which we have been using since 1944. Like wet cleaning, this technology was all but lost in our industry during 1980’s, drowned out by the cheaper, easier-to-use Perc. But Highland led a national effort within the industry to support alternatives to Perc. This included the use of natural hydrocarbons in the dry cleaning process. Again, our continuous 66 years of expertise in this area made us an industry leader in this method, proving that it takes much more than just the latest equipment to be successful. It takes a deep-seated knowledge of cleaning methods along with the skill to properly implement them to fully attain the art of great dry cleaning.

Six months ago, our President Anne Nash embarked on a green audit of Highland’s entire operation. Her goal was to find as many ways as possible to lower Highland’s carbon footprint and minimize the impact of our packaging on the environment. We are working with our suppliers to ensure all of our packaging is not only recyclable, but also contains post consumer content. We are also diligently working on ways to use less plastic.   We have implemented a company wide recycling effort that has reduced our dumpster to landfill use by over 50%.  We are converting 100% of our store and factory lighting to high efficeiency fixtures.  We are systematically analyzing all of our processes and practices to adopt green measures wherever it is practical and prudent.

In addition, as a symbol of our continued commitment to green, Highland’s thirteenth branch store will be a LEED-certified building on Bardstown Road. The facility will feature geothermal heating and air conditioning, a green roof, a solar roof farm, rainwater retention tanks, among many other innovative elements that ensure a lower carbon footprint. We are proud to bring this building to the heart of one of Louisville’s most unique areas—not to mention the neighborhood where the Highland Cleaners legacy began.

Sustainable means something different to Highland. It’s about sustaining Louisville, the city we love. And we feel so strongly about it that we have pledged to donate at least 10% of our profits to the worthwhile causes that make our city great. We were an early supporter of “Keep Louisville Weird” and are proud members of LIBA. We have donated to dozens of organizations like Historic Homes, Operation Brightside, and the Olmstead Parks Conservancy. We are diehard supporters of the Opera and Ballet, Shakespeare in Central Park, and countless small theatre groups. These are the things that make Louisville the amazing city it is—and Highland Cleaners is proud to do our part in keeping it that way.

Signed:  Michael Anthony Jones and Anne Jones Nash