The Master of the White Shirts

The name Edelweiß Ordel resonates throughout the region. The laundry firm has existed since 1954 and was based in the centre of Burg for many years. In 2010, the firm relocated to the business park. “We had too little space in our previous location to fill all of the orders that were coming in”, Managing Director Torsten Gerlach, who heads the company together with his wife, explained. The entire office and hallway area smells of freshly washed laundry, as might be expected in the case of a laundry service. Still, this “washhouse” bears little resemblance to what one conventionally thinks of when imaging an industrial laundry: There is no steam, no moisture in the air fogging up the windows and not a cauldron in sight. Nevertheless, there is something about the female employees, bustling about between mounds of laundry in their white smocks, which does recall a traditional production hall. Freshly washed, sparkling white laundry is stacked on transport trolleys. Lily-white men’s shirts hang off the peg, just waiting to be ironed. The mangle’s over-sized rollers suck wrinkled tablecloths and bed sheets in and spew them out flatly pressed. The washing machines rumble away and the driers do the same. The floor is bustling with activity and yet there is a certain level of tranquillity in the air.

Many of Edelweiß Ordel’s primary customers are nursing homes, but the company services hotels and private clients as well. Even hospitals send their valuable medical devices, such as compression stockings for the prevention of thrombosis and positioning aids, for cleaning to Burg. “We prefer to think of the company as a centipede because we realise that standing on one leg is not a sustainable business practice”, Torsten Gerlach noted. The laundry is shipped to Burg, often in cooperation with logistics services suppliers, from locations as distant as Leipzig, Bremen, Berlin, Rostock, Pirna and Brunswick and of course from regional business as well. Between two and three tonnes are washed per day in Edelweiß Ordel’s highly-modern industrial edifice. Compare that to the weight of a compact automobile which weighs about a tonne The workforce at Edelweiß Ordel consists of 25 women and only five men. “Traditionally this has been a career for women,” Torsten Gerlach noted. “That is why we make sure to operate within family-friendly working hours.” For that reason alone, he has never had to face a shortage of qualified employees. Word got around long ago that workers at Edelweiß enjoy not only job security but a workday which runs from 7:00 to 16:00 as well.

Gerlach’s “washerwomen” all work with their arms bare. It is warm inside, even comfortable, “but not nearly as warm as it used to be”, Torsten Gerlach recalls. Little by little, he restructured his laundry in such a way that the energy from the waste heat accrued during the washing, pressing and drying processes could be reused.

In a small room at the far end of the facility, Gerlach stands among boilers and aluminium foil-wrapped pipes. A deafening drone and rumble fills the air. “Here you can feel the warmth of the waste water”, he reveals. In the past, he always had to take care that the waste water that remained after washing was properly cooled so that it could be drained into the sewage system. Today he utilises the warmth of the waste water to heat up fresh cold water. “The process saves us a serious amount of cash”, Gerlach notes as he heads into the room which he refers to as the “steam centre”.

The steam centre is home to the new rapid steam generators, all of which are heated by natural gas. “These generators are a lot more effective than our old boiler, which had been fuelled by heating oil”, Gerlach notes. “For a small business such as ours, in which the generators are switched on and off with relative spontaneity, that just works out better”. This is especially true since the company used to consume up to 5,000 litres a month in heating oil and was regularly confronted with energy costs of around €2,500, a situation which was as expensive as it was unpredictable. A new building and major investment have made one thing abundantly clear to the laundry owner. “With personnel costs steadily on the rise, the only place to find real savings is to reduce energy costs”, he notes. No sooner said than done.

The steam centre, for example, is also where hot waste gases are recovered and used in so-called economisers to further heat up the fresh washing water. Consistent use of the flash steam which accrues is another key element in the proper utilisation of waste heat. As a final step, the residual warmth emanating from the mangle is added to the mix as well. In this way, the Edelweiß washing machines can operate without requiring much in the way of external energy supplies. In fact, a portion of the energy needed comes from the building itself, which is to say from its roof. That is because the Gerlachs have had a photo voltaic system installed and in doing so have been able to “produce 30 per cent of the electricity we use ourselves”, as Torsten Gerlach recalls with pride. Previously the firm required 1.8 kWh of energy, including heating oil and electricity, in order to wash one kilo of laundry. Today that number has dropped to 1.3 kWh per kilo.

This means that the changes have been kind not only to the wallets of business customers but to the environment AS WELL. Edelweiß Ordel has already been distinguished with several prises to that end. These include the Signal Iduna Environmental and Health Award as well as the Unternehmerpreis für nachhaltiges Unternehmertum und Ressourceneffizienz (Employer Prise for Sustainable Entrepreneurship and Resource Efficiency) awarded by the Allgemeine Arbeitgeberverbandes der Wirtschaft für Sachsen-Anhalt e.V. foundation.

Edelweiß Ordel’s commitment to the environment is on-going. The Danish firm Envotherm, a subsidiary of the Danfoss Group, is currently doing research on a pilot scheme the aim of which is to recycle wash water 100 per cent. Edelweiß Ordel’s engagement represents the German equivalent of this Danish research. “I cannot wait to see it turns out”, Thorsten Gerlach admitted.

Author/Photo: Anja Schlender

Wäscherei Edelweiß Ordel OHG & Co.
Lindenallee 25
39288 Burg bei Magdeburg
Management: Angela Gerlach, Torsten Gerlach
ph: +49 3921 988458