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Behavior Change
Cross-Industry Collaborations Turning the Tide on Cold-Water Washing

Tide partnerships with everyone from appliance manufacturers and retailers to NASA and the International Space Station are helping us reduce the impact of cleaning our clothes.

As one of the largest and most recognizable names in the laundry aisle, Tide can use its scale to empower consumers to clean their clothes better — and more efficiently — in every sense of the word.

According to Tide, 40 million homes use its detergents — which means 40 million opportunities to help consumers make an informed transition to washing laundry in cold water as opposed to warm or hot water, which Tide and parent company Procter & Gamble (P&G) have researched in great detail.

The companies have found that a particularly meaningful way to educate consumers is through various channels of collaboration.

In 2022, Tide and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) worked with behavioral science consultancy Behavioral Insights Team (BIT) on a comprehensive review of existing published research and case studies on sustainable habits — including relevant consumer tests from P&G and best practices in climate change impact from WWF. The goal was to understand current impacts of consumer laundry habits, and the behavioral changes required to make a sizable dent in the environmental impact of household laundry.

“We’ve seen how small actions can add up to big impact, especially when addressing the use phase,” Marty Spitzer, senior director of climate and renewable energy at World Wildlife Fund, told Sustainable Brands®. “Sharing these research findings and the related cold-water case study will provide useful insights and guidance for all brands and consumers taking on the behavior-change journey.”

Through Tide’s own research, the company found that shifting consumer habits to cold water washing is the single most effective way to reduce the environmental impact of the chore without sacrificing clothing cleanliness or quality. That’s because a significant portion of the carbon footprint of a load of laundry is the use phase, largely driven by heating of water. Tide claims that a decade of North American consumers washing the majority (3 in 4) of their loads in cold water would save enough electricity to power all of New York City and San Francisco for over a year[1], or the equivalent of 27 million metric tons (MT) of GHG emissions.

However, the joint behavior change study found that there were a number of existing barriers standing in the way of those potential savings. Chief among them — a lack of education on the environmental impacts, awareness of solutions available and generally shifting long-established consumer habits and assumptions (like washing in warm/hot as the only means for sufficient cleaning).

“When Tide set a goal for three out of four washes to be done on cold by 2030, we knew we’d need partners to help us drive the change,” said Todd Cline, Senior Director of Sustainability, North America Fabric Care at P&G. “Within the first year of setting our cold-water ambition, we advanced a quarter of the way toward our goal — a promising signal that consumers were interested in making this shift.”

Collaborating to move the needle

Using findings from its collaboration with WWF and BIT and BIT’s EAST (Easy, Attractive, Social, Timely) framework, Tide began working at each of these pressure points to help consumers make the switch to predominantly cold-washing:

  • Easy: Tide began working with machine manufacturers — including Electrolux, GE Appliances and Samsung — to make cold wash an easier choice (or, even better, a default setting), including a partnership to launch the first Tide Cold Certified washing machines, which have a feature on them that Tide scientists have tested to deliver a better clean in cold with Tide compared to washing in cold without using the Cold Feature.

  • Attractive: Consumers are incredibly driven by potential cash savings, so Tide launched a campaign highlighting how washing in cold (with Tide) can save people $150 a year on energy bills[2].

  • Social: Connecting laundry to accepted social norms is a big bridge, and Tide launched a campaign with the NFL in which 16 teams washed one million pounds of filthy NFL laundry a year in cold water — the idea being that, if Tide and cold washes can meet the needs of the NFL, it’s more than suitable for everyday laundry.

  • Timely: Tide created more opportunities for collaboration and connection — such as a partnership with HanesBrands on a call-to-action found on clothing packaging, along with product sampling opportunities. Tide is also collaborating with Walmart to encourage consumers to turn to cold for the love of their clothes, their wallets and the planet through in-store product sampling and demos, digital advertising, in-store signage, social media promotion and more.

Tide’s partnerships to drive sustainable outcomes are even moving beyond the limits of our planet: Tide is working with NASA through a Space Act Agreement and the International Space Station National Laboratory to create a detergent suitable for the resource-constrained confines of space, and to understand how to translate those efficiencies back to Planet Earth. (This testing will continue on current and future space missions).

Further, nothing sends a message like a good celebrity campaign; so, Tide enlisted the help of Mr. T, Ice-T and Stone Cold Steve Austin in various TV ads to help drive the message home further.

The combined efforts seem to be working.

Tide reports that in 2023, the percentage of laundry loads washed in cold water in North America had risen to 57 percent — from less than half (48 percent) in 2020. Tide calculates that the shift to-date has already helped avoid nearly 4 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

The positive outlook is due in part to the laundry giant’s proactive approach to partnering to drive positive consumer behavior change; and it’s likely the brand will continue to leverage its scale and size to get more people washing on cold, and to inspire other brands — large and small — to join and help consumers reduce their household environmental impact in other ways.

[1]: By 2030 compared to a 2020 baseline

[2]: In non-HE washer, 8 loads/wk from hot to cold, avg electricity rate (13.3c/kWh)