Whirlpool’s Director of Sustainability On How Everyone Can Drive Change

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As policymakers and the private sector begin to take action to address climate change and other environmental issues, the need emerges for every individual to take responsibility to his or her contribution. While changes at home can’t solve the many environmental crises we face today, they sure can help — especially when adopted en masse and combined with policy action.

With this in mind, TriplePundit is launching a special series to explore how every individual can take action on sustainability, in partnership with Whirlpool Corporation. We’ll offer practical methods to reduce food waste at home and work, touch on water and energy usage in America today, and explore ways to drive positive policy forward.

The series kicks off later today with a Twitter chat on America’s food waste crisis. Join TriplePundit, Whirlpool Corporation and our special guests — the Natural Resources Defense Council, Blue Apron and Zero Percent — to discuss the issues surrounding food waste in America and ways to move forward. Just follow the hashtag #FoodWaste3p at 11 a.m. PT/2 p.m. ET.

In advance of the chat, TriplePundit spoke with Ron Voglewede, global sustainability director for Whirlpool Corporation, to learn more about how the company is embracing sustainability and actionable ways consumers can do the same.

TriplePundit: For starters, can you tell us a bit about how Whirlpool is reducing its environmental footprint, from design to manufacturing? 

Ron Voglewede: Whirlpool Corporation has a 46-year commitment to sustainability. This commitment encompasses innovation and improvements in our product development, manufacturing and operations.

On average, the refrigerators, washers, dishwashers, and freezers we make today are more energy efficient than the ones we made five years ago and 10 years ago.

We also are targeting zero manufacturing landfill waste (sending no manufacturing or packaging waste to any landfill) by 2022. We have met this goal in one of our largest regions, Latin America, where all three manufacturing plants in Brazil have achieved zero waste to landfill.

Recently we broke ground on the installment of wind turbines at our facilities in Ottawa and Marion, Ohio, with the potential to make Whirlpool Corporation one of the largest Fortune 500 consumers of on-site wind energy in the United States. Collectively, we expect to generate enough clean energy to power more than 2,400 average American homes per year. The wind farm being built near our Findlay, Ohio, plant is expected to provide 22 percent of the plant’s electric needs, the equivalent to the amount required to power 300 to 400 homes.

3p: How is the company embracing circular economy design? 

RV: We embrace circular economy through reuse of materials from our products at end of life.  The recycled materials can be used to make other products such as furniture, food containers and playground equipment instead of being sent to landfills. We are actively recycling products in North America, South America and Europe.  We have also pioneered efforts to safely dispose of ozone-depleting refrigerants.

3p: How does Whirlpool’s product design help customers be more sustainable at home? Energy usage? Food waste reduction?

RV: Whirlpool Corporation has received 36 Energy Star Awards since 1998, for continued commitment to energy- and water-efficient products, more than any other appliance manufacturer in the U.S. and Canada.

The refrigerators we build today use 60 percent less energy than those built in 1980, while their capacity has increased by 23 percent. Our clothes washers today use 74 percent less energy and 43 percent less water than those built in 1992, while their capacity has increased by 42 percent.

Appliance design also allows us to address consumer behavior around food and food spoilage. For instance, we’ve designed refrigerators such as our Whirlpool Double Door French Door Refrigerator with better line of sight inside, so you can see what food you have before it goes bad. Newer refrigerators across our portfolio also have improved airflow systems that help preserve produce to keep it fresher longer.

3p: There are so many factors that influence sustainability in the home. Why should individuals focus on appliances? 

RV: The majority of the environmental impact created by an appliance occurs during its in-home use. Energy-efficient and Energy Star certified appliances can make a big difference in reducing that impact – which also translates to cost-saving on home utility bills.

To wit, a new Energy Star certified dishwasher uses less than half as much energy as washing dishes by hand and saves nearly 5,000 gallons of water a year. Over the lifetime of the product, an Energy Star certified clothes washer can save 1,100 kilowatt-hours of electricity, more than 2.5 million BTUs of natural gas, and 33,000 gallons of water.

No matter the appliance, focusing on those with sustainable features and energy output pays dividends for people and planet.

3p: Whirlpool partnered with Purdue University to transform an off-campus home into a living sustainability laboratory. Can you tell us more about this? What can everyday homeowners learn from the ReNEWW model home

RV: Whirlpool Corporation created the first lived in, fully-retrofitted, net zero energy, water and waste home — the ReNEWW House. Along with Purdue University, we’re transforming this 1920s bungalow into a world-class living laboratory and sustainable living showcase.

ReNEWW House will provide valuable insights for our homebuilder partners and customers on technologies that enable sustainable living. At this world class facility we’re collaborating with Purdue researchers to accelerate the development of the next generation of ultra-high efficiency appliances that increase core performance while lowering their impact on the environment and cost to operate.

3p: Research shows a growing number of individuals want to reduce their personal footprints and increase sustainability at home, but many don’t know how to get started. Any advice for them? 

RV: Taking a close look at your own food consumption and food waste is a great place to start. Reducing food waste has direct connections to a more sustainable future, with food waste currently accounting for more than 20 percent of America’s landfills and American families on average sending more than 400 pounds of food waste to landfills each year.

Identifying ways to store and organize food in ways that optimize preservation and prevent forgetting the food items you already have are two great ways to reduce your footprint. At-home composting and food recycling systems are another.

Appliances are, of course, another great way to increase sustainability at home. Replacing older, inefficient models with Energy Star certified offerings will dramatically reduce home energy use. This leads not only to lower utility costs for the individual, but also lower energy emissions — which contribute to improved environmental conditions for our planet.

Image credit: Pixabay

3p Editors

TriplePundit editors offer news and insights on sustainable business.

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