What if washing your clothes at a laundromat was an enjoyable and desirable experience?
Sustainable Laundromat Cafe Bar Business Proposal
Design Research / Environmental Policy
Harvard University, 2016
Reframe the way people see laundromats by redesigning them to be sustainable and design business leaders in communities.
A year long research project into environmental issues around laundromats, and then creating a business proposal for how to transform them in a feasible, viable and desirable way.
The Current Landscape
Currently, no policies in place or incentives to clean or monitor toxic laundry wastewater and there are no requirements for detergents to list toxic chemicals on their labels. There are limited federal regulations on energy efficiency and detergents. Federal regulations are so limited that the only regulations within the laundry industry available on the EPA website are those surrounding dry cleaning services. Federal efficiency standards too are minimal. Laundromats and homes have no responsibility to clean or monitor their toxic wastewater and there are no requirements for detergents to list toxic chemicals on their labels. Personal homes are retrofitted to be more energy efficient, but no such initiatives have transferred into the common practice and design of laundromats. Therefore, there is a dire need to change the design and the way laundromats are regulated and operated today. This thesis investigates what sustainable issues currently face laundromats today, and how implementing a sustainable laundromat-café in Somerville, MA would improve the laundering experience, reduce health and environmental effects from laundry, and encourage green design into common businesses. It explores how to improve a laundromat’s sustainability by upgrading its power sources, installing water and energy efficient machines, and promoting the use of healthier non-toxic detergents.
The research conducted for this study primarily consists of secondary research sources collected from books, journals, news reports, blogs, and public business and census data.
According to a 2011 study, laundromats serve an estimated 100 million Americans, many of which are coin-operated laundries. For many people without washers and dryers in their homes, this is the only way to clean their clothes and so it is no surprise that there are often 3 or more in one neighborhood alone. Even though laundromats have become so common, few in the entire country follow any sort of sustainable practices such as using renewable energy to power their machines, or setting up water and energy efficient washers and dryers, and many are characterized as rather unpleasant spaces. Laundromats as they currently are designed and run, bring almost nothing more to the consumer other than clean clothes, and do so in an unpleasant and unsustainable way.
Redesigning laundromats to be energy and water efficient would cut operating costs allowing for laundromats to be more profitable. Additionally, when asked what people thought about laundromats, most said they were undesirable places that they have to go to. Design-centered laundromats could alter the experience around washing clothes by incorporating other services that user expressed they wanted like cafes, bars, or places they can do work while they wait, or meet with friends during the washing down time.