A long-term approach to Sustainability | Spotlight interview with Whirlpool

When it comes to sustainability, Whirlpool has long been ahead of the curve. The world-famous brand was the first home appliance manufacturer to establish an office of environmental control in 1970. The company continues to lead the way, signing up to the ten principles enshrined in UN’s Sustainable Development Compact and its wider Sustainable Development Goals in 2020.

We spoke to David Sherrington, UK & Ireland Energy, Environmental, Health & Safety Manager, to discuss how Whirlpool has worked with Axil to implement a leading waste hierocracy and achieve zero waste to landfill status, as well as the company’s wider sustainability work.

Do you feel you have a responsibility to continue to lead from the front when it comes to sustainability?

During Whirlpool’s 110th year, our maturity means we have a long view of sustainability. We’re building on a decades’ long commitment to sustainability, citizenship and inclusion, diversity and equity. We have recently received several external recognitions for those efforts, including being featured in Forbes’ 2021 List of “World’s Best Employers”.

71% of Whirlpool sites have achieved Zero Waste to Landfill Gold or Platinum status in 2020 and aims to achieve 100% by 2022. How hard has this been to achieve?

Axil has been key to Whirlpool achieving Zero Waste to Landfill at both our HQ and Yate Factory.

We outlined our needs, and the Axil team used all their skills and experience to ensure that we followed the waste hierarchy. That meant not just avoiding waste to landfill but actively seeking out better ways to then recycle – and doing so in a way that produced a better quality of waste stream whilst driving down costs for the whole operation.

Axil greatly improved the working conditions for the staff they took on, which helped turn the local teams into truly motivated teams, supported by attentive managers.

Through our Partnership with Axil, we have achieved the Zero Waste to Landfill standard at both our factory in Yate and our headquarters in Peterborough.

Since taking on the waste management at two of Whirlpool UK Appliances Limited sites, Axil has reduced the company’s general waste by 50% – the equivalent weight of 10 one-tonne Black Rhinos a month.

As well as significantly reducing general waste, which has been reclassified and captured as a recycling commodity, saving thousands of pounds for the company, Axil and Whirlpool have worked together to introduce new systems and processes.

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The UK Government is committed to recycling 65% of municipal waste and reducing the amount of waste sent to landfill to 10% by 2035. How does it feed into your wider sustainability goals?

Municipal waste is a combination of waste from households and businesses. It’s often mixed, compacted, and hard to derive quality recyclable materials from. 

With Axil’s assistance, we avoid waste going down this route as we seek to recover the inherent value in materials – that we view as resources rather than wastes.  Moreover, when we deliver appliances, we take back the old ones (as well as the packaging) and divert these potential wastes into materials that are recycled. 

Of course, recycling without using recycled content doesn’t close the loop, so we are actively exploring the use of greater percentages of recycled materials in our products and packaging.  In fact, “waste as a resource” is a philosophy we have adoptedas part of our World Class Manufacturing systems.

Aside from the environmental benefits of not sending waste to landfill, do you think manufacturers are making the most out of the ability to earn rebates from recycling materials?

There’s an old saying: “Where there’s muck, there’s brass.”  Getting value from “waste” requires an understanding of the waste markets at an international level.

David Sherrington, UK & Ireland Energy, Environmental, Health & Safety Manager, Whirlpool Corporation

What do you look for in a waste management partner?

You have to have great people that are motivated, management that knows the waste markets and are available to iron out early signs of problems, as well as an ethical and open way of working. It might sound like a Christmas list – but look no further than Axil would be our advice!

Do you think there is a need for companies to become more transparent about their waste and sustainability targets and what they are doing to achieve them?

Honesty is the best policy. Whirlpool also has an “Integrity Manual” that helps us maintain our path in a turbulent world – it’s our compass to ethical behaviour. 

Greenwashing is something we will avoid by being honest and partnering with independent organisations that will validate the work we are doing as we strive towards our Net Zero 2030 target for our Scope 1 and 2 emissions targets.

We have just partnered with PlanetMark, which will independently audit our GHG emissions. In April each year, we issue our Corporate Sustainability Report that goes into much deeper detail than we have space for here.

Is scope 3 an area companies need to focus more on?

Scope 1 & 2 covers the electricity and fossil fuels that we use directly – so it’s easier to make changes here as we are directly in control. We already use renewable energy across our 14 UK sites.

For manufacturers, Scope 3 often is the largest Scope to tackle.  Scope 3 relates to emissions of our products in use (for each appliance for ten years) – and we can only influence that. This measure is intended to drive efficiency in the energy that an appliance uses, which we are always striving to improve.

However, if an appliance uses energy, there is only so much that efficiency can achieve.  The only significant way to reduce scope 3 is by the National Grid swapping to a Net Zero system. This is planned for 2035 in the UK. 

Whirlpool operates the ReNEWW House (Retrofit Net-Zero Energy Water Waste) on the campus of Purdue University in the US. How ingrained is sustainability in overall product development?

Products can only truly be sustainable if they consider sustainability from conception, all the way to the sourcing of raw materials and energy, the process of manufacturing, packaging, transportation, ease of repair during use, consumer safety and, of course, recyclability at the end of life. 

Operating the ReNEWW House allows us to take the lessons learned here and drive them across our World Class Manufacturing processes, so sustainability is ingrained as part of the day job.

What do you think will be the key trends when it comes to corporate sustainability over the next few years? Where do you think companies might be able to go above and beyond?

We are starting to see a greater focus on financing sustainable organisations, the adoption of trusted, independent auditing to avoid greenwashing, and the push not for just being Net Zero but negative zero: returning the planet to better health by increasing biodiversity and better-integrating humankind into the web of life. And all this will need to be powered by a renewable energy revolution.

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