Laundromats, on the surface, may appear to be uninteresting places. But not to Jamil Shaikh.
Shaikh has owned the Moffett Laundrymat, tucked in the shopping center on Moffett Boulevard and Cypress Point Drive, for about 20 years. To this day his enthusiasm about the business -- recently certified as a green business by Santa Clara County -- is palpable, and he can talk at length about it and the customers that come through.
Shaikh is a human relations commissioner for the city, and owning a laundry facility is his way to keep in touch with the community. "I do my outreach right here," he says.
Even though he has a day job as an engineering consultant, he is often seen at Moffett Laundrymat, chatting with customers like the Army colonel who likes to clean the place while waiting for his clothes, or the engineer who sketched out plans for a medical device that Shaikh later read about in a magazine.
Lately, Moffett Laundrymat has earned Shaikh the respect of local environmentalists. On Nov. 17 he will receive an award from the mayor for his efforts.
Shaikh was not even aware of the county's green business certification when he set out to extract every bit of energy efficiency from his operation that he could afford. In fact, he never really thought of himself as an environmentalist. Growing up in Pakistan, where he couldn't afford to waste the water he carried home, conservation was a way of life.
"I was just brought up that way," he says.
Many of his conservation efforts are commonplace. By installing more efficient fluorescent lights and fixtures, he's cut electricity use for lighting by a third. He put timers on the lights and the water heaters so that the place "goes to sleep" at night and no energy is wasted. "Every little bit adds up," he said.
Despite major price hikes in energy over the last five years, Moffett Laundrymat's energy costs have risen only slightly because of his improvements.
Shaikh doesn't use window cleaner to wash his windows. Instead, he uses old newspapers soaked in water, then recycles the newspaper. He said the ammonia from the news print provides all the cleaning power needed, and pointed to the clean windows as proof. He's even talked the neighboring businesses into doing it.
The outreach doesn't end there. Shaikh has been going to other laundromats, one as far away as Redwood City, to teach the owners there how to save money, energy and water. He says he doesn't subscribe to the "every man for himself" business philosophy. Whatever you do, he says, "it comes right back to you."
The philosophy seems to be working, because Shaikh has never had a major crime occur at his laundromat, even after it was left unattended late at night with the doors open. The two liquor store owners next door, appreciative of the help he's given them over the years, will call him if they see anything going on.
Customers appreciate Moffett Laundrymat too, and not just for its energy efficiency. Scott Pankonen, washing his clothes there on Monday, said he's found no other machines that remove detergent as thoroughly as Shaikh's do. That's because they're high-tech machines that spin over 1,000 times per minute.
That's important to Pankonen, because he has an allergic reaction to the traces of detergent left by other machines. "I used to break out with hives," he said.