GW Is First University in D.C. to Use Bike-Powered Laundry Service

University enlists Wash Cycle Laundry to encourage local sustainability and economic opportunity.

Wash Cycle
GW and Aramark General Services launched a partnership with sustainable laundry service Wash Cycle Laundry last month. (Rob Stewart/GW Today)
May 06, 2015

By Brittney Dunkins

The George Washington University was using disposable paper towels to clean the 500,000-square-foot Science and Engineering Hall, but growing sustainable practices led to increased use of reusable microfiber cloths—and loads more laundry.  

Luckily, sustainable laundry service Wash Cycle Laundry stepped in to help.

“We’ve always used microfiber cloths to some degree, but we wanted to use more because they are reusable and sustainable—the biggest issue was laundry,” said John Johnson, GW Division of Operations general services operations manager.

“With Wash Cycle, we can manage the increase in laundry. We are going to be able to use more microfiber cloths and decrease our use of paper products.”

Founded in 2010 by Gabriel Mandujano, Wash Cycle dispatches staff members on bikes who pick up dirty laundry from different sites, clean the laundry at local laundromats and return it. The company uses eco-friendly detergent and high-efficiency washing machines.

Each bike can transport up to 300 pounds of laundry.

Mr. Mandujano said that the bike powered service isn’t a gimmick, it is a cost effective and sustainable way to reduce the number of “eco-miles” that laundry travels. Using bike-power means fewer trucks on the road, less fuel used and a smaller carbon footprint per load of laundry.

Bikes also are much nimbler in cities like D.C. where large trucks have difficulty navigating narrow streets and traffic, he added.

“Our goal has always been to build a triple bottom line company, and that means prioritizing people, planet and profit,” Mr. Mandujano said. “What bikes allow us to do is work very locally, while reducing the number of vehicles on the road and miles traveled, and we get a cost advantage.

“That’s not to say we don’t think bikes are cool, because we do,” he laughed. “But it's also hard-nosed business sense.”

GW partners with Aramark General Services on custodial services and historically contracted outside vendors to manage laundry services.

Wash Cycle staff can transport up to 300 pounds of laundry via bike to local laundromats where they clean the loads using sustainable detergent and high energy washing machines.  (Rob Stewart/GW Today)

So when the Philadelphia-based Wash Cycle began looking to expand to D.C., GW proved to be the perfect first client, according to Sustainability Project Facilitator Ronda Chapman.

Ms. Chapman said she was excited to connect Wash Cycle with the Division of Operations because of its focus on sustainability, but found she was equally impressed with its commitment to social welfare.

“The university is constantly working on becoming more sustainable in how it operates, and this was a great opportunity to continue toward those goals,” Ms. Chapman said. “Because Wash Cycle is community based, this partnership is really an opportunity for GW to connect with local businesses, support local employment and contribute to sustainability from different angles.”

Wash Cycle has created more than 50 jobs for people who typically have difficulty finding full-time employment, such as those who were formerly incarcerated, homeless, in recovery for substance abuse disorders or are welfare dependent.

Mr. Mandujano said that the focus on economic opportunity and sustainability is a result of his work with EMBARQ Mexico—formerly the Center for Sustainable Transport of Mexico—a sustainable, urban transportation NGO that advised local, state and national governments.

He said that the experience helped him see the potential of using “green” infrastructure and business models to spur job opportunity.

To that end, the company forms relationships with local nonprofit organizations to connect with potential employees, Mr. Mandujano said. Wash Cycle has about five open positions in D.C.

“Our nonprofit partners are really important to how Wash Cycle operates,” Mr. Mandujano said. “Working directly with an organization that knows the person we are considering and understands their situation, helps us overcome barriers to employment that they would normally face.”

For example, childcare costs and reliability can be a big issue for low-income households. If a person’s childcare service falls through it can cause him or her to lose a job. He said that Wash Cycle has more flexibility to work with people in this situation.

More than 50 jobs have been created by Wash Cycle. The company intends to add about 5 more staff members to the D.C. operation.  (Rob Stewart/GW Today)

“Our core staff motto is to give people responsibility and help them take small steps to managing others,” Mr. Mandujano said. “Our staff is made of people fairly early in their careers, and this is an opportunity for them to gain experience thinking on their feet and taking on new challenges.”

In the coming months, Ms. Chapman said, the university is looking forward to expanding Wash Cycle service to more buildings.

“I think GW and Wash Cycle are a great fit, and it’s exciting to be the first university partner in D.C.,” Ms. Chapman said. “This opportunity kind of sprung up for us, but the benefits will be lasting.”