By Michael Wallen
As I was reading through the Oregonian online, I found an interesting story on Green dry cleaning. Oregon has a reputation as an environmentally conscious state, but there are still all sorts of businesses that damage the environment without us giving them a second thought. The dry cleaning industry has been one of them, with its infamous chemical perchloroethylene, or perc for short.
If you’re a man like me, or a woman, and you’re not some kind of hippie, your closet contains nice clothes with the dreaded “dry clean only” tag. It costs good money to get your suits, sport coats, wool sweaters, and so on cleaned. Worse, it’s terrible for the environment. That’s why this story by Bridget A. Otto is interesting.
Otto starts with a quote lede. “Eco-dry cleaning is not an oxymoron,” says DJ Widmer, sitting in the offices of Eco Dry Cleaner. The quote grabs your attention and establishes the What, while the attribution immediately establishes the Who and Where. It also clarifies the What from an industry as a whole to a particular business. So we expect to have a nice, tight focus.
The nut graf is the second graf. Otto doesn’t give us a soft lede with a lot of narrative before the nut. That’s appropriate. This is a story whose main audience is the general public rather than investors, but it’s still a business story. “Failure to regulate the industry in its infancy resulted in mishandling of toxic materials and waste.” That’s the nut of our story. There’s an environmental problem with this industry, and the quote introduces someone who’s out to fix it, plus the name of his company within the first sentence.
The fourth graf introduces readers who may not know anything about this industry to perc. It also tells us 60% of dry cleaners use it. The fifth graf is another informative quote. Then the sixth takes us into the solution that makes this “Eco” Dry Cleaner. Otto provides a hyperlink to what the GreenEarth substance is. Indeed, she uses links right where they’re needed throughout.
The seventh graf tells us that part of Widmer’s goal is growing the business by keeping prices competitive. That’s exactly the information I was reading for. People may splurge on organic food, but who wants expensive Green dry cleaning? Speaking of food, grafs eight and nine tell us how Eco has satellite locations, like a Portland Whole Foods where you can drop your bags in a bamboo box and they’ll deliver the clean clothes to your house the next day. Price and convenience make up the story’s first point.
The tenth graf talks about how Widmer has built relationships with the sustainability coordinators of several large firms. This isn’t interesting to the average clothing owner. However, it does end with “he lists the companies on Eco’s website as green supporters who promote clean, green living.” This is a good segue to the second point. Otto interviewed the owner of another dry cleaner and two customers to get their stories of individual struggle to be Green with their clothes. This gives us a broader picture.
The third main point broadens the picture to the industry as a whole. Otto paraphrases Ann Hargrove from the National Cleaners Association with an admission that change is slow. Most dry cleaners, she’s paraphrased as saying, are just handling perc and other waste differently. That’s a downer ending for a reader who cares about the environment, but it’s good for Eco. If you finish this story thinking most dry cleaners don’t care about the environment, you’re likely to walk away remembering the name Eco Dry Cleaner.
As much as I think this is a well-written business story, I am sad to say that the ending is weak. The last graf could work just as well as the last graf of the third main point. Otto could have come full circle with a quote ending from Widmer. That’s probably what I would have done.