Why washing in cold water is good for your clothes — and the planet – POLITICO

Doing laundry is a regular chore in our lives. Perhaps for this reason, we don’t think much of its impact on the environment.

“People don’t think about it — but they should,” says Sundar Raman, Chief Executive Officer for Fabric and Home Care at consumer goods company P&G.

The vast majority of carbon emissions in laundry — a staggering 60 percent based on the European average — comes from heating water in the washing machine. “The single most important action someone can take to reduce emissions in laundry is washing in cold,” Raman says.

At a time of soaring energy bills and a worsening climate crisis, something as simple as reducing the washing temperature can reduce the impact on the environment and on consumers’ pockets.

POLITICO Studio spoke to Raman to learn more about how P&G is working to decarbonize laundry at every step, from innovative ingredients to products that are easier to transport.

Click here to read the first article in this series, authored by P&G.

POLITICO STUDIO: Why is it important to think about the impact that doing our laundry has on the environment and why should consumers care?

Sundar Raman: The laundry process — taking care of our clothes, washing them, cleaning them — has an impact on our planet.

The biggest emissions impact comes during the in-use phase, thanks to the energy required to heat the water in the washing machine. In fact, this is the number one contributor to the carbon footprint of laundry.

But washing clothes at colder temperatures can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of laundry. There are clear benefits for the environment as well as an immediate benefit for consumers due to reduced energy consumption.

PS: If it’s as simple as washing in cold water, why are people not doing so already?

SR: People are actually already doing some of their laundry loads in cold water, because they don’t want the heat to affect their clothes or the colors to fade.

But for some clothes that require a deeper clean, consumer perception is that you Haven to use warm or hot water. This is the primary barrier to why people don’t wash more clothes in cold water; they’re afraid of whether their clothes will come out clean or not — which is, after all, the primary reason why people do laundry.

There are four cleaning vectors for laundry: time, temperature, movement (the mechanical action of the machine) and ingredients (the cleaning power of detergent). So, it’s a balance among these four vectors. While thermal energy in the water can contribute to cleaning, you can deliver performance at lower temperatures if you improve the other cleaning vectors. This is why we continue to innovate our formulas with high-performing ingredients.

PS: Is there a solution? Does it come with trade-offs?

SR: One of the biggest misconceptions about addressing sustainability is that sustainability must come with a trade-off. This is one of the reasons why technological progress is key.

For P&G, innovation is our lifeblood. This is what we do for a living. We have scientists who innovate to solve problems and we look at sustainability as an opportunity. That’s a design brief for innovators in our R&D departments and our partners. We approach them with this challenge that we need to work on as a team, which is developing products with superior performance that can get clothes clean in cold water.

It’s a science-based approach to innovation, which can unlock the best of both worlds. Consumers can still get the clean clothes they want and have a positive impact on the environment. The need for performance and environmental sustainability doesn’t need to be contradictory anymore.

PS: What do you mean by ‘sustainable innovation,’ and can you talk us through some of the ways you are implementing this?

*Simplified LCA breakdown, based on European average.

SR: Simply put, it means developing formulas that achieve superior cleaning performance with less impact — to decarbonize laundry at every step. To achieve this, we have an innovation road map to help us deliver safe, more sustainable and high-performing ingredients that enable cold washing.

There’s also so much nature and biosciences can teach us about how things work at different temperatures. Our brands, such as Ariel, translate this into the ability to clean more efficiently using inspiration from nature.

For example, P&G scientists, in partnership with Newcastle University, discovered enzymes used by microorganisms that live on cold water seaweed. Our Ariel brand has further developed these into innovative powerful enzymes, called Purezyme, that are highly effective at removing sticky soils from fabrics, even in cold water. That is literally biomimicry. It came from nature and it could be replicated in a detergent context.

PS: More and more consumers nowadays worry about the products they use, how safe they are and how many chemicals they contain. What’s your take on that, and where do P&G products fit in this debate?

SR: Safety is one of the first things that consumers think about before bringing products into their homes and that’s not going to change. Our number one priority is delivering safe products that are effective: to be able to innovate using safe and sustainable ingredients that deliver a superior clean.

So, it’s not just the outcome of the product, but it’s also what goes into it. There is a misconception that naturally derived products are safer. This is not a given — natural ingredients can be harsh or cause reactions.

The approach our brands take is to achieve more with less. So, only using the ingredients and volumes of ingredients that are absolutely necessary — nothing more. It’s important that detergents do the job in cold water. If they don’t then we fall victim to overcompensating behaviors — such as washing in hot temperatures, rewashing garments, overdosing cleaning products, prewashing and so on — because of an imbalance of the cleaning vectors. So, if you have to compensate for underperforming ingredients, then are you really having a better impact on the environment?

PS: What’s the role of policy, especially the role that product labeling can play, in helping people make better choices?

SR: Consumers use labels to decide the right choice for them. Labels need to educate, share information and empower them.

Policy is wide-ranging and it sets the boundary conditions, putting the consumer at the center. A fundamental role of policy is to enable innovation. In a laundry context, there’s a huge opportunity for the sector to solve these problems together through public-private partnerships.

For example, ingredients account for about one-fifth of the carbon footprint of laundry in Europe. Brands need to act on that for sure. But it’s incomplete without understanding their impact on the in-use phase and what that means for consumers when they use the product. Performing products that enable sustainable washing habits make a real difference. Detergent ingredients are a critical part of labeling, but so should be what happens when you use them in your washing machine and therefore the impact you have on the environment.

PS: Beyond encouraging consumers to switch to washing in cold water, what other innovations have P&G implemented to decarbonize laundry?

SR: We are making progress on ingredients, working closely with partners and academics to find new low-resource or even carbon-negative ingredients that are safe for people and the planet. We are also making progress on packaging and are on track to achieve full recyclability in early 2023 for our Fabric Care business in Europe.

Plus, there’s significant progress around manufacturing and transportation. The new Ariel Pods® ECOCLIC® box, for example, was designed so that 51 percent more washes could be transported per pallet. That means a 19 percent drop in trucks on the road and a saving of up to 5.7 million km of travel per year — the equivalent of 7.5 journeys to the moon and back! These are all examples of the contribution of fabric care to P&G’s overall 2030 and 2040 commitments.

But solving sustainability challenges is a big task and we cannot do it all alone. That’s why partnerships are important. We welcome the help of everyone out there who is willing to work with us to find solutions in this space, and we have created a dedicated website for anyone to submit ideas that can help us achieve our goals.

.