“It happened” begins a 2014 article in Consumer Reports magazine – a clothes dryer had finally received ENERGY STAR status. The manufacturer? Whirlpool Corporation. (6) It’s just the latest major development in Whirlpool’s long list of energy-related accolades – the company has been focused on environmental initiatives since at least 1970.
The first clothes dryer to receive the ENERGY STAR label was manufactured by Whirlpool.
Leading the Way: Early Efforts to Reduce Carbon Impact
Michigan-based Whirlpool Corporation is the leading manufacturer of household appliances with 2015 revenue of $21Bn. Its largest brands include Whirlpool, KitchenAid, and Maytag (3). Whirlpool first began focusing on its environmental impact in 1970 when it created a corporate office for environmental control (4). At first, its efforts were focused on improving the carbon footprint of its manufacturing operations. But the emissions used to manufacture a product are small compared the emissions required for consumers to use the product at home. The potential impact for Whirlpool was huge – in the U.S., nearly 17% of greenhouse gas emissions come from residential energy use (1). Indeed, in the 1990s, Whirlpool began to shift focus to the energy efficiency of its products.
In 1996, Whirlpool began voluntary participation in the ENERGY STAR label (2), a “seal of approval” for energy-efficient products launched by the Environmental Protection Agency (5). Requirements for a product to receive the ENERGY STAR designation are specified by product type. For example, ENERGY STAR clothes washers are approximately 25% more efficient than non-certified models (2). Whirlpool’s choice to pursue ENERGY STAR status is not purely altruistic. Studies find that consumers are willing to pay significantly more for an appliance with an ENERGY STAR designation – stemming from both consumer concern for the environment and personal energy cost savings. (1) Whirlpool Corporation has received 37 ENERGY STAR Awards in North America alone since 1998. (9)
The ENERGY STAR Label is a seal of approval issued by the EPA
Ongoing Focus on Impact
At the 2003 Conference of the Parties of the Kyoto Protocol, Whirlpool became the first appliance manufacturer to announce a comprehensive program to cut greenhouse gas emissions and committed to reduce its impact by 3%. The program would be focused on increasing energy efficiency of its appliances, but attention would also be paid to manufacturing and end-of-lif. As illustrated in the chart below, the vast majority of appliance carbon impact comes from the home use phase.
In a press release, Whirlpool took a strong stance on its plan to combat climate change. “Whatever political solution the global community agrees on with regard to the best mechanism for collectively addressing climate change, our company will continue its efforts to do our part, while at the same time bring unique, innovative and energy-efficient products to our customers,” said Tom Catania, Whirlpool’s vice president of government relations. (7)
The Way Forward
In recent years, Whirlpool has incorporated additional measures to reduce its impact on the climate. For example, they are currently building a wind farm near its Findlay, Ohio plant which will meet 22% of the plant’s electric needs. (8) It has also committed to zero landfill manufacturing waste by 2022 and has created an appliance recycling program, resulting in nearly 90,000 recycled appliances. (9)
A rendering of the forthcoming wind farm in Ohio
Going forward, how should Whirlpool continue to reduce its impact on climate change? The biggest change I would recommend is to continue to increase the percentage of products that are ENERGY STAR labeled. Of the 34 Whirlpool Corporation washers sold on sears.com, 30% are not compliant (10). Given that 93% of washer emissions occur during the use phase, this change should be the highest priority. Second, Whirlpool should increase its reliance on renewable energy. The wind farm in Ohio is a good first step, but Whirlpool should take a more aggressive approach to its utilization of both wind and solar energy. Although Whirlpool has made major strides in its own manufacturing, there is not a major focus on the sustainability of its suppliers – more diligence there is another opportunity.
In the sphere of household appliances, Whirlpool Corporation has been a model for increasing energy efficiency and has taken its impact on climate change seriously. Hopefully this is an effort that continues to be a priority for the company. (709 words)
(1) Factors influencing willingness-to-pay for the ENERGY STAR® label . 2016. Factors influencing willingness-to-pay for the ENERGY STAR® label . [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421510009171. [Accessed 04 November 2016].
(2) About ENERGY STAR | ENERGY STAR. 2016. About ENERGY STAR | ENERGY STAR. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.energystar.gov/about. [Accessed 04 November 2016].
(3)Whirlpool Corporation. 2015. Whirlpool Corporation 2015 Annual Report. [ONLINE] Available at: http://assets.whirlpoolcorp.com/wp-content/uploads/WhirlpoolCorporation-AnnualReport2015.pdf. [Accessed 1 November 2016].
(4)The Environment – Whirlpool MEA. 2016. The Environment – Whirlpool MEA. [ONLINE] Available at: http://mea.whirlpool.com/discover-whirlpool/sustainability/the-environment. [Accessed 04 November 2016].
(5) Government Will Offer Seal For Energy-Efficient Products. The New York Times, Retrieved from www.lexisnexis.com/hottopics/lnacademic
(6)Whirlpool Dryer: First Energy Star Dryer – Consumer Reports News. 2016. Whirlpool Dryer: First Energy Star Dryer – Consumer Reports News. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2014/06/first-energy-star-dryer-saves-energy-and-money/index.htm. [Accessed 04 November 2016].
(7)Whirlpool Corp. to Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 3 Percent from 1998 Levels | Business Wire. 2016. Whirlpool Corp. to Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 3 Percent from 1998 Levels | Business Wire. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20031210005389/en/Whirlpool-Corp.-Cut-Greenhouse-Gas-Emissions-3. [Accessed 04 November 2016].
(8) Whirlpool Corporation. 2015. Make Earth Day Matter Infographic. [ONLINE] Available at:http://assets.whirlpoolcorp.com/wp-content/uploads/Make-Earth-Day-Matter-Infographic.pdf. [Accessed 1 November 2016].
(9) Whirlpool Corporation. 2015. Whirlpool 2015 Sustainability Report. [ONLINE] Available at:http://assets.whirlpoolcorp.com/files/Whirlpool_2015_CSR_102716.pdf. [Accessed 1 November 2016].