For Ron Voglewede, Global Sustainability Director at Whirlpool, “doing the right thing the right way” is the only way, “because there is no right way to do the wrong thing.” For Voglewede, the ‘right thing’ means being net positive — where the resources that we produce are at least equal or greater than the resources that we consume; the ‘right way’ requires looking at all stakeholders using systems thinking. In order to do the ‘right thing the right way,’ Voglewede has found that one needs to work on three levels: optimize, innovate, and transform.
Optimization at Whirlpool has focused on eliminating the tradeoffs between energy/water efficiency and performance, i.e. creating more efficient products without compromising on product capacity, footprint, and product features. In the past 10 years, Whirlpool has, for example, been able to design washing machines and refrigerators that are 50-75 percent more water- and energy-efficient, at a lower cost, with more capacity and features, and better performance.
However, optimization is incremental and, as such, is limited. Innovation on the other hand allows you to drive resource efficiency through “step function change,” Voglewede says. Two product innovations at Whirlpool include a dishwasher that stores the last rinse of a cycle for the pre-wash of the next cycle, and that uses 33 percent less water; and a ventless heat pump dryer, which with a matching washing machine reduces energy by 73 percent — the product drains the water by ‘dehumidifying’ clothes and is also gentler on them. Innovation in dryers is essential as the dryer is the number-one energy-use appliance in a home.
Since last summer, this team of teams has already achieved 80 percent reduction in air leakage, 925 percent better attic insulation, and natural gas elimination. In terms of the energy rating, the team changed the rating of the house from 177 to 1, and it is now moving into the net positive realm; the average house in the US has a rating of 100. The next big challenge for the team is water. To tackle this, Whirlpool announced today a partnership with Kohler Co., a leading expert in designing water-efficient products.
Understanding the energy-water nexus is however not simple. Rob Zimmerman, Sr. Channel Manager of Sustainability at Kohler, pointed to several challenges on which the team is currently working: how to capture greywater on site and treat it for reuse; how to optimize among the different products using water and energy; how to harvest rainwater on a small site, while addressing seasonality in rainfall and water consumption; and how to treat human waste on site.
ZImmerman also pointed to the interrelation between the house system and the broader city system — for example, how can water reduction at the house level affect the city drainage system, which uses water to transport sewage?