Portland Businesses Find Competitive Advantage in Going Green
Twenty years ago, much of the corporate talk about "going green” was around how cost-prohibitive it was. About 10 years ago, companies began to shift their thinking, seeing a benefit to embracing sustainable practices, not the least of which was establishing a competitive advantage with consumers.
Spin Laundry Lounge is a prime example of a business that embraced the sustainability model and shift in consumer behavior. Owner Morgan Gary promises to deliver “laundry, redefined” as the company website states.
Chemical-free detergents and the highest of high-efficiency washing machines were all part of Gary’s business plan, one she developed as she pursued her MBA in Sustainable Business at Marylhurst University. Yet her vision encompassed more than caring for the planet – she adopted the now ubiquitous “triple bottom line” for sustainable businesses: planet, people, and profit.
Spin Laundry Lounge’s biggest differentiator is the creation of a space centered on building community. Neighbors gather not only to get their clothes clean, but to enjoy coffee, beer, wine and “local eats” in a spacious building with a retro-modern design, on the corner where Fremont Street intersects with Albina Avenue in North Portland’s Mississippi District.
Strategic-minded business leaders like Morgan Gary recognize they can no longer afford to put profits ahead of the environment. A 2014 Nielsen study found that 55 percent of global consumers are so passionate about the planet and its people that they’re willing to pay more for products and services provided by sustainable companies – and this trend is on the rise.
Half of those surveyed who indicated they make consumer decisions based in part on sustainability actions are Millennials. As of 2015, Millennials surpassed Boomers as the largest generation – and consequently, the largest consumer base. So catering to their wants and needs is just good business.
“Companies are realizing the benefits of sustainable practices across the board,” said Erin Hinton, senior sustainability consultant at Shift Advantage, a Portland-based consulting firm. Shift Advantage focuses on corporate responsibility and sustainability to meet new market demands and create a competitive advantage. Hinton specializes in data collection and analysis, and, like Gary, she holds an MBA in Sustainable Business from Marylhurst University.
“Smart, sustainable decisions save money,” Hinton said. “Reducing usage translates into decreased costs, and engaging employees yields lower, slower turnover. Conducting business conscientiously can also have the added perk of increasing revenue through brand-consumer alignment.”
Sustainability will continue to be a central consideration for businesses, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, according to Hinton. “Any company, regardless of direct impact on human health or wellbeing, can successfully use sustainable business as a platform to connect to their consumer and employee to strengthen the brand, increase market share and cultivate goodwill,” she said.
That’s exactly what drove Morgan Gary – a burning desire to make a lasting, positive impact on the environment and her community. She was enjoying a solid career in business management when she decided to return to business school. "I had always dreamed of starting my own company," Gary said, "and the laundry business seemed like a perfect fit because typically it's an industry where lots of water, energy and chemicals are being used."
While Spin Laundry Lounge is a very local business, it’s getting rave reviews far beyond Portland’s boundaries. The eco-friendly laundromat was one of 100 small businesses recently recognized by the Small Business Revolution.
Now that she’s at the helm at her own successful business, you might think Morgan Gary would step back and let others run the day-to-day operations. But that’s where she finds her greatest reward, seeing the positive impact on her community.
"I wanted to change people's perception that 'laundry day' had to be this monumental time-consuming chore," Gary said. "Looking around at my customer's faces, I can honestly say that I've absolutely changed their laundry experience for the better. And that feels great. Mission accomplished."