The Manufacturer’s Dilemma: How to Reduce Water Usage When You Need to Run 250 Washing Machines

The Manufacturer’s Dilemma: How to Reduce Water Usage When You Need to Run 250 Washing Machines

Whirlpool Corporation Makes Water Savings a Priority
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Whirlpool Corporation Makes Water Savings a Priority

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Friday, March 27, 2015 - 3:30pm

Ronald Voglewede
Global Sustainability Director, Whirlpool Corporation

For 104 years, Whirlpool Corporation has been doing well by doing good. In 1911, when our company began on the shores of Lake Michigan, household chores took most of a family's day. Now, because of our home appliance innovations, millions of families around the globe have more time to do what matters most - spend time with their family and friends.   

But with more than 860 million appliances in the United States alone, we recognize that our industry also has a huge environmental impact. Which is why Whirlpool strives to incorporate energy efficiency into everything we do. Many of the appliances we make today are more energy efficient than the appliances we made five years ago and 10 years ago. For example, our clothes washers use 73% less water than those made in 1975, while our dishwashers use 64% less water.

Whirlpool is proud to be a responsible steward of the environment while also embedding sustainability into our products and processes to reduce our overall environmental impact. The challenge is achieving these goals without asking consumers to compromise on performance. For example, a dishwasher that uses significantly less water would likely require much longer cycle times to actually get the dishes clean. Most consumers would not embrace a dishwasher that ran for hours and hours and hours.

So we continue to embrace innovation that will enable us to save water in other impactful areas of our business. We’ve made tremendous progress over the past few years and see these initiatives as just one part of a larger sustainability vision to reduce our impacts in the “birth,” life, and end-of-life of our products while helping our customers do more with fewer resources.

Water Reclamation Near our Lake Michigan Global Headquarters

Currently our Washer Reliability Lab, located in St. Joseph, Michigan, uses between 33 - 35 million gallons of water annually in the testing of laundry washer products. While we fully recognized the opportunity to decrease our water consumption, we also are constantly focused on product quality. Whirlpool Corporation has more than a century of manufacturing quality home appliances across the globe. This process includes stringent testing of our products -- putting our washing machines through their paces each and every day.

Two of our product engineers have developed a new water reclamation system in which the water used in lifecycle testing of the washers will be diverted through a filter process and then pumped back into a holding tank. This filtered water will then be recycled back through the system for reuse in the washer testing.

The engineers have devised a way for our system to turn off the city’s water feed to the lab’s 250 test stations while turning on the recycled water system. The reclamation system monitors water quality parameters and automatically adds small amounts of clean city water as needed.

The reclamation system went live last week -- just days before World Water Day. We estimate the system will reduce our water consumption at this single location by 80% or 27 million gallons of water per year. The annual projected savings for the company are $175,000, with $140,000 from reduced water and $35,000 from reduced hot water heating costs.

That’s just one example of how Whirlpool is able to do well by doing good. We also work to manufacture appliances that use less water and to use less water as we manufacture them.

Helping Our Consumers Save Water Across the Globe

Based on our product lifecycle analysis, the majority of the environmental impact of our products comes from their years of use in the home. This is why Whirlpool continues to take an even more active role in educating consumers on the value of replacing their old appliances and creating value for our global consumers to access and buy resource efficient products.

In North America, the KitchenAid Architect® Series II Dishwasher with our AquaSense™ Recycling System uses up to 33% less water without sacrificing cleaning and drying performance*. In Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the Whirlpool 6th Sense Powerclean Dishwasher boasts similar results. Both models rely on a special reservoir that allows water used in the final rinse to be reused for the prewash in the next cycle, this dishwasher uses only six liters of water per cycle.

Whirlpool Latin America launched the Brastemp brand Ative! 12 Serviços dishwasher to consumers in Brazil, equipped with a Smart Sensor that minimizes water waste by calculating the exact amount of water needed for every load depending on how dirty the dishes are. The product is also able to wash dishes for up to 12 people and has the exclusive Aquaspray technology - a quick rinse system that allows for dishes to accumulate between meals, eliminating possible odors, until the product is fully loaded.

Global Facilities Slash Water Usage

Initiatives to cut back on water consumption in our Whirlpool Latin America facilities in 2013 resulted in a savings of 69,000 cubic meters of water - the equivalent of 18,227,872 US gallons. This translated into a 10% reduction in overall water consumption. Several projects were implemented at our Latin America locations, including the capture and use of rainwater, the reuse of treated water and continued investments in water quality so the reclaimed water can be used in more processes. Current uses for the repurposed water include cleaning system interiors and products before painting, using the water inside refrigerators to test the the cooling process, and even some basic plant operations such as like flushing toilets.

In India, initiatives to reduce water consumption in our manufacturing facilities enabled savings of more than 88,000 kilolitres (23,247,140 US gallons) in 2013. Several projects were implemented at our plants with an emphasis on reuse of treated water. The Faridabad Plant installed an Ultra Filter to reduce the level of BOD (Biochemical Oxygen Demand) in water, allowing for the reuse of treated water as input for the Reduced Osmosis (RO) system in the plant. The output from the RO system is then reused for paint processes in the same facility.

As the global leader in the home appliance industry, our winning portfolio includes some of the most preferred appliance brands in the world and we sell products in more than 170 countries around the world. While we’ve made significant progress in the last century, we are constantly challenging ourselves to broaden our impact and achieve stronger results.

*Compared to our most efficient model without AquaSense™ Recycling System based on published water usage.