Electrolux: ‘Sustainability is part of our DNA’
“It starts from the root of the company, but it doesn’t end with us,” explains Luke Harding, General Manager of Electrolux UK and Ireland, as he talks to Jack Cheeseman about helping consumers live more sustainably at home with their appliances, and why it’s so important to tackle climate change now.
The world today is constantly changing due to the influence of global megatrends, and these create challenges for many businesses – but they also bring about enormous opportunities. The topic of sustainability is extremely pertinent right now with the COP26 summit having recently taken place in Glasgow, Scotland.
World leaders and negotiators from across the globe gathered to agree on a path forward for tackling global warming. The Glasgow Climate Pact set out plans for countries to cut emissions further and faster in the next decade. Crucial other decisions were also reached, on accelerating the shift to clean power, on how international carbon trading should work, and on how much money rich nations should funnel to poorer countries to support their efforts to deal with climate change.
To say that businesses will be affected by these forward-thinking objectives is an understatement. However, many are already on their way to achieving their own goals to reduce their environmental impact and help towards fighting climate change.
Electrolux is one such global manufacturer taking a lead on this. Last year, the company launched its new sustainability framework, For the Better 2030, that includes ambitious intentions to create better solutions, better living and a better company to ensure it remains at the forefront of developments throughout the next decade and beyond.
Electrolux has several key aims, including zero carbon emissions from its factories and sites around the world by 2030; product ranges containing at least 50 per cent recycled materials by 2030; developing appliances that use less water, as part of its work with the 50L Home Coalition; and using its voice to inspire and educate consumers towards a much more sustainable way of life.
This last point has been evidenced most recently by AEG (part of the Electrolux group) with the launch of its new Pre-Loved with Care campaign – encouraging people to buy at least one item of pre-loved clothing in place of something new this winter, helping to change the fashion throwaway culture.
In the UK alone, around 350,000 tonnes of clothing will go into landfill every year. But the brand teamed up with slow fashion campaigner, Venetia La Manna (left), to curate an exclusive collection of timeless, pre-loved pieces from One Scoop Store. Not only are all items pre-owned, cutting out the use of the thousands of litres of water that’s required to make a brand new garment, but they’ve also been washed with care in an AEG 9000 series washing machine before being shipped to their new home.
Through the campaign, AEG hopes to inspire people to live a greener lifestyle, by understanding the role washing machines can play in keeping clothes out of landfill. The AEG 9000, for example, has built-in SoftWater Technology that extends the life of clothing and helps reduce carbon, waste and water footprints by 20-30 per cent each.
“Yes we want consumers to consider buying pre-loved clothes, but actually we want them to care for their clothes in a way that will help them to last longer,” says Luke Harding, General Manager of Electrolux UK and Ireland.
Talking about how this campaign feeds in to Electrolux’s overall ambitions, ERT’s Jack Cheeseman sat down with Mr Harding for this exclusive interview. He says it’s all about educating consumers to make their wardrobe more sustainable. And AEG will be offering special laundry tips to help people think about their use of appliances.
“All this information is out there on multiple channels and our socials,” Mr Harding explains, “but from a retailer perspective they are our mouthpiece, communicating with consumers directly, and this is a crucial way for us to reach them.”
In 2018, Electrolux was one of the first companies worldwide to establish fully-approved science-based targets to reduce absolute CO2 emissions by 80 per cent in operations; it has already been cut by over 70 per cent. Also, in 2019, Electrolux President, Jonas Samuelson, joined the Climate Action Summit in New York to pledge net zero emissions throughout the supply chain and the full value chain to help bring down global temperatures to 1.5 degrees. More recently, the manufacturer signed a letter with 600 companies calling on the G20 leaders to take action.
“Sustainability has always been part of our DNA,” Mr Harding continues. “We are a leading voice and we have a unique position to lead by example. We are driving very hard across all areas of the business and our forward strategy is very clear.
“It starts from the root of the company, but it doesn’t end with us; ultimately our appliances end up in consumers’ homes and we want to continue our impact even post-purchase and help consumers take action now.”
Q: How important is it for your sustainability messages to reach the end consumer?
Luke Harding: Consumers are citing sustainability as a key attribute they look for more and more in the products they purchase. Our research shows that over 50 per cent of consumers consider themselves climate conscious and they believe they can have a positive impact on climate change. At the same time, almost 30 per cent of consumers don’t quite understand how they can make a difference, or they don’t have the knowledge about appliances.
As a brand we feel the responsibility to impart our expertise through the consumer chain, and working with our retail partners we have a key role to play to pass the key information on – through training and detailed product information on AEG appliances and how consumers can live more sustainably.
Q: Electrolux aims to reduce carbon emissions in its operations. How will you achieve that?
LH: We are already well on track to achieve this. Since 2015 we have reduced our emissions in production by 70 per cent; by 2025 we are committed to getting to 80 per cent. But the work never ends! We are making changes in every facet of our business across the globe.
One of our other key targets is to use 50 per cent recycled plastic by 2030. The materials we use as a manufacturer are extremely important, so it’s not just about reducing the use of virgin plastic but ramping up the use of recycled materials. And you’ll see some big moves from us in that area in the coming months and years.
Elsewhere, it is important to us that our products are can be maintained with spare parts and servicing so they don’t always end up in landfill. And we welcome the Right to Repair legislation that came out earlier this year that supports this.
Q: How does product design play a part in achieving these targets?
LH: Through the user interface on our products, we can start to educate consumers surreptitiously. For example, the QuickSelect function on our dishwashers demonstrates very clearly the sliding scale between a quick wash or an ‘eco’ wash. Clearly the cleaning process can be sped up by either soaking the dishes in the sink, or adding more detergent or more heat in the dishwasher; but that is effectively adding energy as it works harder to scrub stains at high heat. Alternatively, although it can take more time, the ‘eco’ setting can be gentler and still produce the same results.
So we are constantly nudging consumers and giving them options to consider a longer, but more eco-friendly wash option.
In laundry, SoftWater Technology in the AEG 9000 series (left) cleans and softens water before it goes into the drum, so the detergents work optimally at low temperatures and consumers can comfortably wash clothing at 20 or 30 degrees, instead of 60. Dropping the temperature on a washing machine saves around 60 per cent on energy bills, but it also makes their detergents work better and their clothes last longer.
Also, AutoDos technology ensures consumers have just the right amount of detergent in their wash cycle, and again this helps clothes so they don’t fade.
And in our hob range, our intelligent induction hobs have SenseBoil that automatically knows if the water in the pan is boiling over and it lowers the temperature to a simmer. This means the pan isn’t kept boiling and using more energy that it needs to.
I think sometimes consumers see sustainability as a bit of a sacrifice, but these are classic examples of today’s technology really helping make it easy; it’s a win for the planet and a win for the consumer!
Q: How important is it to make changes now to be more sustainable, both at home and in business?
LH: I think we all have a responsibility to make a difference. I find it fascinating that when I was growing up my parents would be turning light switches off around the house because they wanted to save money on household bills. Now I’ve got young kids and they’ll call me out if I leave things on unnecessarily around the house, or if I drive to the shop to get a pint of milk rather than walk.
I believe it is the next generation that is going to hold us to account on what we do now; they are already really curious about change, which is great. It is becoming so clearly apparent that actually we do need to make some serious changes, and if not now, then when?
Q: What do you do in your own home to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle?
At home we always wash on 30 degrees wherever possible, and sometimes we use steam refresh instead of always washing clothes – they don’t always need a ‘proper’ wash after every wear.
I’ve also made a commitment to not buy any new clothes for 12 months. I made a promise to my daughter (who buys pre-loved clothes already); I was telling her about our Pre-Loved with Care campaign and I felt I had to do my part and put my money where my mouth is! But these types of recycled goods stores are popping up more and more in towns and cities across the UK. Even brands like Selfridges have launched a pre- loved section now – it’s called re-Selfridges – so it’s definitely catching on.
Q: What is your sustainability vision for Electrolux in the years ahead?
LH: Our overarching ambition is to achieve climate neutrality in operations by 2030, and the full value chain by 2050. Not only do we want to enable consumers to live a more sustainable life, but we strive to be a better company and the highest amount of responsibility we place on ourselves to run our business in better ways in all aspects.
Electrolux is not just a company but it is part of the society in all the countries in which we operate, and we need to inspire and empower our consumers to live better and more sustainably.