Electrolux sells 60 million home appliances per year. By combining energy efficiency measures with greener materials, such as biobased refrigerator interiors, the group is slashing both production and usage emissions.

With living standards improving around the world, demand for appliances is on the rise: a billion people without refrigerators are set to buy their first in the next 15 years. In 2015, residential refrigerators in developing countries stood for approximately 10 percent of global electricity consumption in households. Old models, which may consume three times more energy than modern ones, are common in emerging economies; the energy efficiency of their future appliances will likely be of pivotal significance for the climate. According to IEA estimates, energy efficiency can provide up to 50 percent of the reduction in carbon emissions needed to meet the two-degree climate target, and appliances clearly have a key part to play.

A renowned sustainability leader

Electrolux has set ambitious climate targets to stay in line with the two-degree limit. More energy-efficient products is the most important measure, but transports, manufacturing and materials are also considered. Illustration: Electrolux.

In this domain, Electrolux is one of the most influential. As one of the major global appliance manufacturers, the company offers a wide variety of cooking and laundry products, vacuum cleaners, dishwashers and other products, and sells 60 million items per year. For twelve consecutive years, Electrolux has been recognized as a leader in the household durables industry in the prestigious Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI). According to the international non-profit CDP, the company is one of the top 5 percent corporate global leaders acting against climate change.

“Electrolux is recognized as industry leaders in the prestigious Dow Jones Sustainability Index. Our intention is to keep improving and make smarter and more resource efficient solutions available for everyone. In 2017, we launched our new company purpose ‘Shape living for the better’, which provides a clear direction for Electrolux for the years to come: to make life better by reinventing taste, care and wellbeing experiences, making life more enjoyable and sustainable around the world“, says Jonas Samuelsson, Electrolux President and CEO.

Electrolux has also joined the Science Based Targets initiative, by committing to emission reductions in line with the two-degree-limit; greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced from operations by 80 percent and from products by 25 percent by 2025 (with 2015 as the base year). The targets, now approved by the initiative, will be achieved with more renewable energy, improved product and material efficiency, and higher efficiency throughout operations and in the supply chain.

Energy efficiency classes of new refrigerators sold in the EU. (Source: GfK). Many appliances are labelled to show how they rank on an energy efficiency scale. The scale initally went from A to G, but since products have improved so fast, the categories A+, A++ and A+++ have been added. The poorer categories are no longer offered on the market. Today, the least energy efficient fridges sold in the EU are more than twice as efficient as the average fridge sold in 1994.

“We’re proud to be part of the Science Based Targets initiative. With these ambitious climate targets for 2025, we are strengthening our commitment to be a sustainability leader in our industry,” says Jonas Samuelson. “This is a natural addition to our target for an overall 50 percent reduction of carbon emissions from 2005 to 2020.”

”Since product energy use is responsible for over 80 percent of our climate impact, energy and water efficiency are top priorities. The Green Spirit program constantly optimizes energy and water consumption at our manufacturing sites all over the world. Reaching our 2020 targets would prevent the release of 25 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. We have reduced carbon dioxide emissions from production by 59 percent since 2005, and product energy use is down 40 percent.”

Recycled and biobased plastics

The trend of connectivity will contribute to even more efficient product use, the company believes. But greener appliances is not only a matter of energy management. Material efficiency is important, too. In 2008, the company launched a green vacuum cleaner made from 55 percent recycled plastic. Today, the products in the Green Collection contain up to 70 percent recycled and recyclable plastic, saving water and energy compared to virgin material:

” Electrolux has increased the use of recycled plastics with 15 times since 2011. CarboRec is a material developed by Electrolux based on recycled polypropylene and calcium carbonate. We use it in dryers, dish washers and washing machines. We used 7 400 metric tons in 2016, and our target is to increase the amount to 20 000 metric tons by 2020″, says Henrik Sundström, VP Group Sustainability Affairs, Electrolux. “We have been focusing on Europe, but are now widening our scope to our other markets.”

The 2020 target corresponds to a quarter of the total amount of polypropylene used by the company annually. To go beyond that threshold, the scarcity of quality assured recycled plastic on the market needs to be overcome.

The interior plastic in the new Electrolux concept fridge is made from sugarcane, with 80 percent smaller carbon footprint than fossil plastic.

“Home appliances are often 15-20 years old when they are retired; the plastic may not live up to the current chemicals legislation. That is why we are using recycled plastics from food packaging. There is always a risk that impurities in the recycled plastic cause flaws in the product”, Sundström explains. “We are working closely with our suppliers to secure a predictable raw material. Most important is knowing the origin – otherwise we don’t know which additives it contains.”

In parallel with recycled plastics, the company is exploring how bioplastics can be used in both products and packaging. In 2018, Electrolux developed a refrigerator prototype where all the visible plastic parts are made of sugarcane-based bioplastics, with 80 percent lower carbon footprint compared to conventional plastic. The material has been provided by NatureWorks, a world-leading supplier of biopolymers from renewable sources.

“We are very excited and proud to have developed the world’s first bioplastic concept fridge, which is truly groundbreaking. Our ambition is to develop even more innovative, sustainable home appliances that we might see on the market in the future”, says Jan Brockmann, Chief Operations Officer at Electrolux.

The article was published in September 2018.