In a push to shrink environmental impact while helping wash clothes for 116,000 homeless Australians, Brisbane-based not-for-profit Orange Sky is fitting out its entire laundry van fleet with solar-powered equipment and battery banks.
The sustainability project will see the removal of diesel generators from a fleet of 28 laundry and hybrid laundry and shower vans, as well as introduce the Waru Dryer, which is the world’s first clothes dryer to use fuel-powered air heaters and solar-powered batteries.
In a launch coinciding with World Homeless Day today, the installations will reduce electrical consumption by up to 90 per cent per shift and cut greenhouse gases by up to 70 per cent. To date, Orange Sky has a fleet of 36 laundry vans, with eight already using the new solar and battery technology.
Speaking with Business News Australia, Orange Sky co-founder Nicholas Marchesi said the Vehicle Upgrade Project was another step forward in delivering a more resilient and impactful service.
“In Australia, what we see is people from all walks of life come to Orange Sky. The last census found that the highest rate of emerging homelessness is women over the age of 55,” said Marchesi, who won the 2022 Brisbane Young Entrepreneur Sustainability & Social Responsibility Award alongside his co-founder Lucas Patchett.
“Since the start of this year month-on-month we’ve done more washing than ever before. Whether that be due to people suddenly becoming homeless in a natural disaster - like what we saw in Southeast Queensland and Northern New South Wales - or whether it be through people not being able to afford rent through the rising cost of living.
“I think we are seeing financial hardship and also displacement happening at rates we haven't seen before.”
Founded in 2014, Orange Sky began as a passion project between Marchesi and Patchett, who together installed a few washing machines and dryers in the back of their old van and visited parks around Brisbane to wash and dry clothes for free.
Since then, the charity has provided homeless Australians with more than 1.9 million kilograms of free laundry and 20,000 showers across 36 service locations.
In 2019, Orange Sky launched its services in New Zealand, where it currently has a fleet of four vans to help those doing it tough.
“Those [vans] will be upgraded as well,” Marchesi said.
“Over the next couple of years, we want to triple our volunteers. We’ve currently got 2,500 volunteers across Australia and New Zealand and we built our software platform to manage [them].
“Since COVID, we've recruited 50 per cent of our volunteers. The other half have been with Orange Sky for a long period of time.”
When asked about when the upgrades would be completed, Marchesi confirmed it would be finished “as soon as practically possible.”
“One of the key barriers to the upgrades is that they do cost a fair bit of money and we have to get around the country to upgrade them,” he said.
“We've committed to upgrading them all, but working with our partners and our volunteers and our friends to do that in the most realistic timeframes.”
“These upgrades mean we can help an estimated 1,000 additional friends every year.”
Below is the full list of the Orange Sky Vehicle Upgrade Project features:
- Upgrading the vehicles to run equipment off a solar-powered battery bank, removing the generator completely
- Replacing all existing dryers with 'Waru Dryers' – which was created by Orange Sky’s innovation team over the past 12 months
- Installing two new washing machines - featuring a faster spin and a spin-only cycle option
- Repositioning the washing machines and dryers for easier access for volunteers and friends (users will no longer need to climb inside the van to put their washing and drying on)
- Introducing a new simplified control management system for volunteers
- Installing new automatic detergent pumps that have reduced servicing requirements and provide a more reliable dose
- A bigger, easier to use and more robust awning
- Repositioning the hose reel to minimise trip hazards on shift.
Get our daily business news
Sign up to our free email news updates.