When you hear the term “cleantech”, you might think of exotic products dreamed up by eccentric entrepreneurs with visions of changing the world. In many cases, that stereotype wouldn’t be far from the truth. But one of the most important examples of cleantech is probably standing unobtrusively in your own kitchen, doing its work day in and day out while it reduces your family’s environmental footprint. Chances are you don’t often pay it any notice, much less admire how well it does its job.

The most energy-efficient refrigerators on the market today use about 70 per cent less electricity than a 1992 model, the result of a concerted effort by manufacturers to meet market demand for better products that use less energy. Refrigerators are among the most energy-hungry appliances in the home, so improving their efficiency adds up to big environmental gains as well as lower costs.

Some 188 million appliances in European homes are more than ten years old, and replacing them would save an estimated 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide—the main culprit behind global climate change—each year. That’s more than the entire Swedish car fleet produces.

When the environment is important to consumers, it becomes important to business. Reduced carbon emissions used to be a bonus argument appealing to a small slice of the consumer market; today it’s often a strategic selling point.

Cecilia Gustavsson, responsible for vacuum cleaners at Electrolux Sweden, says: “We felt that the market was ready for a cleantech vacuum cleaner. Until now, the focus has been on the wattage of the vacuum cleaner, where high wattage equates to better cleaning performance. But that compares to choosing a car by finding out which one uses the most petrol. Dust pick-up capacity is what counts in a vacuum cleaner.”

Electrolux has manufactured vacuum cleaners since 1921, although little remains from that original vacuum cleaner compared to the model Gustavsson is talking about, the Ultrasilencer Green.

More than half of the body of the vacuum is made of recycled material from cars, and energy consumption is extremely low. Thanks to a newly developed suction fan unit and a new type of nozzle, it’s as powerful as a 2000W vacuum cleaner, but uses 33 per cent less energy.
That adds up to several hundred kilos of carbon dioxide during the vacuum cleaner’s life cycle.

Improving sustainability is profitable, too. Electrolux estimates that its products with the best environmental performance, including the Green Range, accounted for 17 per cent of sales and 22 per cent of gross profit in 2007.

Published in February 2009