At the Good Steward Campaign, we're advocating for big changes on big issues. Sometimes though, the smallest, simplest ideas can make a world of difference for hundreds, thousands, and even millions of lives. Below is a profile of someone who had a simple idea to not only create a more sustainable world, but to help others as well.
Wash Cycle Laundry: A Small Company Making a Big Difference
Gabriel Mandujano never thought he would be in the laundry business. The 29-year-old’s passion lies in economic justice and sustainability. He started his career working to revitalize neighborhoods like West Philadelphia, and as an advocate for sustainable transportation in Mexico City.
Mandujano wanted to change the world—not the sheets. But when one of his friends suggested he start an environmentally-friendly diaper service, he got curious. His research led him to disturbing facts that most people don’t think about when they head to the Laundromat. The laundry industry is responsible for massive water and electricity waste, and lags far behind in sustainability.
But Mandujano also saw great possibilities. The laundry industry could serve as a perfect gateway into the workforce for people who typically struggled to find work—like the folks he’d worked with in West Philly. The industry had lots of entry-level service jobs—and lots of opportunity for growth.
Something clicked. For someone who had spent years working to bring economic development to low-income communities, it seemed like an opportunity that was too good to pass by.
Mandujano founded Wash Cycle Laundry on a shoestring budget in 2010. Today, the company hauls more than 6,000 pounds of laundry a week—by bicycle. The staff then washes the laundry with local, non-toxic detergent, using high-efficiency machines that slash water and energy use by 30 percent.
Most importantly, Wash Cycle Laundry creates pathways out of poverty. Mandujano worked with Philadelphia’s Workforce Development Corporation to hire people directly out of the public assistance system. Today, half of his full-time employees are former welfare recipients who, he says, are thriving in their jobs.
But his efforts go beyond just hiring workers. At Wash Cycle, the goal is to help people build careers. As a student of workforce development, Mandujano recognized that getting people into jobs was only the first hurdle.
“If you go from welfare to a minimum-wage job, it’s often easier to got back to welfare than up to the next rung on the career ladder,” he observes. Low-wage service jobs too often fail to encourage career development. That’s something Mandujano wants to change.
At Wash Cycle, he does it by encouraging workers to become problem solvers, and by helping them build skills that will take them to the next level.
“We spend our time building our workers’ assets instead of addressing their deficits,” he explains. “Our supervisors take the time to find out about the career goals of each employee and then we offer them ‘stretch’ assignments to help them build those skills.”
For Tracey Martin, a 45-year-old mother of three, Wash Cycle gave her the chance she needed to get back into the workforce and thrive. Martin came to Wash Cycle through Philadelphia’s workforce development center. She’d spent four years fruitlessly looking for a job while she raised her youngest daughter, now nine. Martin went to nearly 200 job interviews but still couldn’t find work.
When Mandujano hired her as an entry-level laundry operator, she expressed interest in taking on a leadership role—so he put her in charge of researching the possibility of opening a new facility site. Today, she manages that site.
“I’d never managed a store before in my life,” Martin says. “My boss trusts me to be in charge. He believes in me and he pushes me. I’m so proud of myself.
Investing in his employees certainly hasn’t hurt Mandujano’s bottom line. The company is thriving—it has doubled its staff since it opened in 2010 and Mandujano has plans for further expansion in 2012.
“It’s great to save a gallon of water,” says Mandujano. “It’s even cooler to see people grow into management roles and leadership positions they haven’t taken on before.”