Green Washing: A Step towards Sustainability

washingmachine

Mayor of Mumbai called me urgently on a Sunday morning. His interview was scheduled in the evening with Times Now. This interview was to be a big breaking news.

In the interview, Mayor was to make a major announcement regarding actioning sustainability for the city of Mumbai. The proposed action was a secret and no one knew Mayors mind. Before giving the interview however, Mayor wanted to consult me. After all he was to face Times Now’s Arnab Goswami.

After the initial pleasantries, Mayor asked “Dr Modak, do you have a washing machine at home?” I said “Yes, I do but it’s rather old now. I need to buy a new one”.

Mayor asked “In that case which washing machine would you buy?” I did not understand the relevance of this question to the interview or to Arnab Goswami.

I said “I would buy the cheapest. Or the one that gives a deal or a discount e.g. Buy a Samsung washing machine and get 50% discount on a microwave”

The Mayor wasn’t pleased with my (practical) answer. He looked a bit disappointed.

“What if were to ask you to choose between a Top loading and Front-loading washing machine?

Given my problem of back pain and bending difficulty due to spondylitis, I said that I will prefer to buy a Top loading washing machine. But I wondered how come the Mayor picked up these technical terms. May be a LG salesman visited him recently

Mayor continued “Do you know that Front Loading Washing Machines use 40 to 60% less water, 30 to 50% less energy and 50 to 70% less detergent than the top-loaders! These machines cost a bit more but if you considered “life cycle costs” then the front loading  machines will be cheaper and environment & energy friendly”

I told the Mayor that this fact is well known, In Europe, more than 90% of washing machines are front-loaders, compared with less than 5% in the U.S. Americans are essentially dumb or insensitive or consumptive people. Europeans are not because they simply cannot afford to be ignorant. Indian’s are everything of the above.

Currently, the washing machine market in India is estimated to be about 30% of the total Rs 16,000-crore home appliances market, which is of about Rs 5,000 crore.  An estimated 2.5 million new washing machines are sold in the market every year. The front loading washing machine category contributes only10% of the overall washing machine market.

Mayor read out this statistics from a flyer that was on his table by IFB. IFB is one of the major manufacturer of front loading washing machines

Imagine if all washing machines were of Front loading type in Mumbai. Mumbai has some 5 million families. Let us assume that 20% of these families have washing machines. If used every day, this would amount to a water consumption of 50 m3 a year per family. Now instead of a top loading machine if front loading machines are used, then this would amount to a reduction of at least 10 m3 of water consumption a year. This would lead  to saving of at least 10 million m3 of fresh water and a reduction of 8 million mof wastewater. Incidentally, we supply 250 million mof water every year Mumbai, then there will be at least  4% water use reduction. If front loaders are promoted or made mandatory then this saving could easily reach a double digit figure crossing 10%.

Mayor was ready with such calculations.  Impressive I thought.

I told him that he should highlight the energy benefits as well. Front loading machines consume 30 to 50% less energy per load. So there will be less consumption of electricity, lower emissions of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) and more importantly saving in moneys.

The typical top-loader machine spins at about 600 rpm (revolutions per minute). Many front-loading machines spin faster -1000 rpm to 1600 rpm. This forces more water out of the washing. Therefore, front loaders reduce drying time and energy input needed for drying. Of course natural drying should be preferred to save electricity

“So what’s going to be the breaking news Mr. Mayor” I asked

Well, I am proposing the following. For the next 6 months, front loading washing machines will be promoted. Taxes on these machines will be lower than top loaders. In the next six months, I will organize a ban on the top loading machines. No retail white goods shop will be able to stock a top loading machine. There will be surprise raids and if a top loader is found, then there will be heavy fines levied. In a year, you would find that 80% of the washing machine users will be front loading category. Instead preaching sustainability on the concept, I would rather like to be focused and specific

That’s amazing move Mr. Mayor I said. And it’s rather bold. No city in the world has such an action plan. Tell Arnab that Green Washing should be the first step towards Mumbai’s Sustainability.

Mayor was pleased with my statement – he liked it and noted it down. “I will say exactly this – and you phrased it very well for me.” He thanked me profusely.

I left Mayors bungalow and was driving home. On my way, I saw an outlet of Vijay Sales – one of the large white goods retail chains in Mumbai. I stopped by to see how people select washing machines.

In the section of washing machines, I saw mostly women. Men were somewhere else – in the TV, mobile phone and computer sections – watching TV programs for their entertainment and asking some stupid questions to the salesmen.

I asked the woman who had decided to buy a front loading machine. “Madam, what is the advantage of this machine? “ The woman first looked at me suspiciously and when convinced of my innocence said “Only this model fits into the space I have in my “passage” between the kitchen and the toilet. No other model fits! I was disappointed as I thought she would tell me the advantage of reduced water and energy consumption and her commitment to sustainability

I reached home and called my Professor Friend. As usual he had a new point to make.

It’s just not the machine, but a lot depends on how you use the machine. Professor said. This matters significantly in machine’s “use phase”. Men in the house in particular need to be trained. A recent study reveals that more than half (58 %) of British men ‘can’t use a washing machine properly’ because they find the panel of the machine ‘confusing’. According to this research, 16 to 24 year olds are most reluctant to do their own laundry, the most popular excuse being not knowing what buttons to press (40%). So even the best washing machines with good water and energy efficiency do not get optimally used! Tell me how many of us, read the book of instructions (that is written in six languages) or ask for a demo of the washing machine – whether top loading or front loading. (See http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2340216/Half-men-use-washing-machine-properly-quarter-figure-switch-on.html).

We often make a wrong choice of the capacity of the machine, forgetting family size and requirements. We tend to underload or overload the machine and generally latter.  Overloading damages the drum bearings and belt. An overloaded washing machine fails to clean fabric properly because there is not enough room for movement in washer and so detergent and water cannot reach evenly to every garment.

I thought Professor made an important point. We need to learn how to use the washing machines properly – mere technology perspective is not enough to practice sustainability

The Professor continued

And did you know that the type of detergent is different for front load and top load. Wrong detergent choice can lead to multiple wash cycles to wash clothes properly leading to wastage of water and electricity. Always use the manufacturer recommended detergent to wash clothes.

Conventional detergents are comprised of a concoction of fragrances, endocrine disruptors, neurotoxins and potent cancer-causing chemicals. Most detergents have signature fragrances which are designed to impregnate and stay in clothes. The so called “aroma” of the washing chemicals can be hazardous.  According to research by the University of Washington, when scented laundry detergents and fabric softeners are used, dryer vents emit more than 25 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) per load, many of which are classified as hazardous air pollutants. Oddly, detergents with less hazardous chemicals have lower cleaning efficiency (See Comparative Study of Detergents in India-A Step towards More Sustainable Laundry Meena Khetrapala et al at http://journals.du.ac.in/ugresearch/pdf/J15.pdf). .

I was amazed with Professor’s inputs. I decided to call up the Mayor and update him immediately with this information so that he can make interesting points in the interview. But by then the interview had already begun.

Arnab was asking questions to the Mayor on the water and energy related woes in the Mumbai city. The threat to city’s sustainability was brought out. Mr. Mayor fielded all these questions. He then  elaborated about his idea of focusing on the washing machines, reasons why front loading machines were important and how the switch could help to achieve major reduction in water and energy consumption with the co-benefit of reduction in the GHGs. He made a strong environmental and business case. Finally, he rolled out his one year plan of the “phase out”. He even made a case that his suggestion should be included as a part of India’s INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) that will be discussed in the COP meeting in Paris. I was really impressed with Mayors extrapolation of the idea to the national and international scales.

He ended with a statement Green  Washing should be the first action step towards Mumbai’s Sustainability.

I however saw that Arnab Goswami was not impressed. He said he does not like impositions to the public on which washing machine to use. “That’s utter infringement of consumers freedom” he said. Sustainability cannot be forced upon or legislated.

Then with his characteristic pause, he asked “May I ask you Sir what happens to the top loading washing machines that you will phase out? Where will they go? Will they find a place in Mumbai’s slums or suburbs or at the landfill? Do you have an end of use of washing machine plan in place?”

The Mayor was really uncomfortable with this question and was not able to answer. He looked stunned with this “googly”

As if this was not enough, Arnab asked the Mayor in his high pitch voice. “And what about the fact that your son-in-law is on the Board of Directors of front loader washing machine maker – IFB, Are you not hand in glow to promote IFB’s front loading machines on the garb of sustainability? This is not green wash –but indeed  a hog wash. The Nation would like to know” He demanded

Mr. Mayor’s face turned white with sweat on his forehead. He muttered “there is something wrong in the transmission of sound ” He  opted to exit the interview.

And that turned out to be the real big breaking news!

 

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6 thoughts on “Green Washing: A Step towards Sustainability

  1. Your blog came in exactly at the time when Kiran and I have having heated arguments for the last two days about which washing machine to buy.

    I will make Kiran go through your blog, just for a tickle.

    Let’s see the effect of your blog on her-more confused or wiser?

    When we eventually manage to buy one, I will inform you about the wisdom that was behind its selection.

    Like

  2. Front loading machines do have an advantage over top loading machines. We found out when we switched from top loading to front loading. Good article that also brings out importance of unsafe detergents and need to read operations manual carefully

    Like

  3. Thanks Zarasp.

    There are many hidden messages in this blog, apart from providing technical information

    1. You need a focus and a combination of economic and political instruments to push the agenda on Sustainability
    2. Sustainability however cannot be legislated. It cannot be imposed.
    3. Sustainability is material.
    4.Sustainability means a change. And you need a plan to manage this change in an environmentally sound and socially acceptable manner
    5. Its not just technology or new equipment, Behavior change also matters. Awareness plays a critical role.
    6. In the life cycle perspective, “Use phase” of the product is often important
    7. There are many stakeholders to sustainability. And there are going to be vested interests even for the common good.

    Washing machine was used only as an example with a pun on “Green Washing”

    Regards

    Like

  4. Respected sir,
    Using which washing machine top or front loading will be personal choice and as u said sustainability cannot be imposed, but your blog made me to rethink which and how technology should be used, enabling all people to satisfy their basic needs and enjoy a better quality of life, without compromising the quality of life of future generations.
    thank you sir

    Like

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