Gabriel Mandujano operates a cleaning service called Wash Cycle Laundry. He opened the service four years ago in the American city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At the time, Mr. Mandujano had three goals: earning a profit, developing community and staying "green" – not harming the environment. Now, he has not only met those goals, but his business is expanding.
It is not hard to find people working for Wash Cycle Laundry. They wear bright orange t-shirts and ride bicycles with big orange trailers on the streets of Washington, D.C. The cyclists and their vehicles pick up dirty laundry and take clean clothing to customers -- users of the service. That separates Wash Cycle Laundry from other businesses. But that is not the only difference. The clothing and linens are cleaned with locally produced and environmentally friendly cleaning products.
Gabriel Mandujano wanted Wash Cycle Laundry to go "green" – using products considered safe for the environment. But he also wanted his company to stay competitive.
"I think a lot of time, when people hear ‘environmentally friendly', they automatically think ‘more expensive'. But laundry is really a neat industry where it is cheaper to save water and energy than it is to waste it."
He notes that it costs less to use the equipment of other companies.
"We've done millions of pounds of laundry. But we actually do not own a single washing machine ourselves. We are not bringing anything new to the market. What we've done differently is rather than building one gigantic plant, often in industrial parks, somewhere that is 40 or 50 miles away from the city, we've established ourselves in a lot of sort of micro plants, where we are three or four blocks away from our clients. We always find laundries that are under-utilized and then we make a sort of an agreement with the ownership of that laundry to use it during their downtimes."
Gabriel Mandujano says Washington seemed like a good place to set up his cleaning service.
"There are a lot of people who do not have the time, but do have a little bit of income that they can use to afford our service."
Mr. Mandujano once worked with community development non-profit groups. He says that experience continues to influence his business decisions.
"About half of our employees are from what you call a vulnerable adult population. That means they could have been chronically unemployed. They could have been coming off a public benefits program, a number are in recovery from stance abuse. Some have a history of incarceration."
Shawnice Foxx is one of the company's newest employees.
"I thought I wasn't going to be able to continue working here because of my personal problems, but they helped me out. I'm still here and everything is going great now. I am trying to just sustain one job and be able to be there for years and advance in a company instead of keep hopping from job to job."
Jim Starn is a satisfied customer of Wash Cycle Laundry. He owns a massage therapy business. He likes the company's effort to help those in need and to go "green".
"It's easy. I do not have to worry about a truck coming by and blocking traffic and people being irritated. And I love the fact that they aren't just using all that gasoline. Because we're a massage studio, people come to us for natural wellness and alternatives. So the fact that we do not have to worry about the chemicals and the bleach and all these things that can be in the laundry and the laundry comes back spotless is just terrific."
Chis Walke works as a cyclist for Wash Cycle Laundry. He explains why he likes his job.
"I get to move around, be active. Be out in the sun. My body is engaged, but my mind is free, which I really appreciate."
That is just what Gabriel Mandujano hoped for when he launched the business.
"My family was probably a little bit concerned when I told them I was quitting my job to start a laundry business. This is not the most glamorous profession, it's not like going to a dinner or a cocktail party and saying, ‘I'm a doctor', ‘I'm a lawyer', ‘I'm a banker'. I think as business has grown, people started to see the vision and what we have been able to accomplish and where we might go."
He plans to expand Wash Cycle Laundry to other American cities and, he hopes, around the world. I'm Bob Doughty.
This story is based on a report from Faiza Elmasry.