By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Apr 21, 2008 at 5:26 AM

If things look a little greener around here this April, there's a good reason. Our editorial staff is busy expanding the ideals of Earth Day into a month-long celebration of energy conservation, alternative transportation, recycling tips and about a million ways you can be a better friend to the planet. Welcome to Green Month, Milwaukee.

Tomorrow is Earth Day, and many businesses across the country are gearing up to be extra green this week. But let us not look past the many companies that strive to be environmentally friendly every day of the year.

Kansas City, Mo.based company GreenEarth Cleaning, for example, patented a liquid, environmentally-friendly silicone dry cleaning solution as an alternative to the industry's chemical cleaning staple, perchloroethylene, known as "perc."

GreenEarth began licensing its eco-friendly product to the dry cleaning industry in 2000, and now has 1,300 affiliates worldwide, including the Brookfield-based Natural Cleaners. Owner Marilyn Fleming was GreenEarth-certified in 2002 and has since opened four other area locations in Bayside, Hales Corners, the Third Ward and on East Capitol Drive, near Outpost Natural Foods Co-op.

Unlike perchloroethylene, which is classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a pollution hazard, GreenEarth degrades into its three natural components: SiO2 (essentially liquid sand), water and carbon dioxide.

As the obviously environmentally benign choice, why then are only two percent of all dry cleaners in the U.S. -- 700 of 30,000 -- working with GreenEarth?

"There is a requirement to switch out your machine to one that is capable of running GreenEarth," says GreenEarth president Tim Maxwell. "But it really comes down to the physical parameters of the industry staple, perc. As a solvent, it is an excellent de-greaser and a good cleaning agent. The problem comes from the fact that some baggage comes with its environmental legacy. The debate that we hear in the industry is, 'Yes, we may hear that the public is concerned and yes, we may hear that it degrades into some nasty things if it's spilled, but I'm a good operator and I wouldn't let that happen here.'"

Maxwell says it's this lack of proactive thinking in the industry that will be the inevitable downfall of some businesses.

"The challenge of the industry is that there are probably too many dry cleaners trying to get a piece of a smaller and smaller pie," he says. "People are wearing less dry-clean only garments than in the past, yet there are more dry cleaners than there every have been. And we're seeing the customer base wanting that perfect garment, but also becoming more and more concerned with environmental issues and doing traditional servers in a greener way."

Maxwell says GreenEarth is a very gentle way to clean. It doesn't have a harsh chemical reaction with dyes and with fabric softeners and special component of garments.

"You get a garment that is softer, brighter, with no odor what-so-ever and we're doing it in a way that is less environmentally obtrusive."

But, the question on everyone's mind is, does it work as well as perc? Maxwell says yes.

"Our affiliates feel it cleans better than perc, even if it's not as aggressive. The International Fabric Care Institute did a study for 14 months and found that it cleans just as well as perc."

In addition to Natural Cleaners, GreenEarth has six other Wisconsin-based affiliates: Best Cleaners in Cottage Grove, Packard Way Cleaners in Cudahy, Sew Clean in LaCrosse and in Onalaska, Best Cleaners of Madison in Madison and Martinizing Dry Cleaning in Racine.

Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”