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issue: June 2008 APPLIANCE Magazine

Appliance Line
Sustainability Is Just Getting Started

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Tim Somheil, Editor

Meeting national standards looks easy compared to sustainability demands that could be coming from retailers.

Tim Somheil, Editor

Some retailers are now developing sustainability guidelines for their hard goods suppliers. Soon enough, those may turn into broad-based restrictions. OEMs that want to sell their products through these retailers will eventually be required to document, and show continuous improvement, of their sustainability efforts.

Sustainability Inc.

“Sustainability Inc. Principles, Practices, and Pathways” was the theme of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) annual meeting, held in April in Ft. Myers, FL, U.S. AHAM knows well enough that sustainability is an issue that appliance OEMs must address.

AHAM brought in two speakers from the retail world: John Kasberger, senior vice president and general merchandizing manager–kitchen and bath for Lowe’s Companies, Inc., and Alan Epler, merchandise manager of small appliances, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Both speakers described their companies as being at the “just-getting-started” stage of instituting sustainability measures across their organizations.

Both companies want to make their stores more sustainable by cutting energy use and producing less waste. Both companies want to sell products that meet consumer demands for being environmentally friendly. Energy efficiency is a given.

In fact, energy efficiency may be key to consumers’ desire for sustainable products. As shell-shocked as they were by years of inexplicable gas price fluctuations, U.S. consumers seemed to finally respond when gas topped $3.00/gallon, and the SUV market was hit hard as a result. Now we’re at $4.00/gallon.

Consumers, I believe, feel largely helpless. The government isn’t solving the problem. The gasoline companies deny responsibility. Every day the media try to chart responsibility for gas prices, but public confusion continues to grow.

But consumers are not completely helpless—they can and are buying energy-saving products. Avoiding SUVs is the obvious example. The gas savings provide consumers with a clear-cut improvement to their personal finances. The average consumer is not going to stop thinking about energy efficiency when he/she gets rid of the gas-guzzler.

Energy efficiency is just one of the high-profile issues, and I can’t guess how well the average consumer delineates issues like global warming, hazardous substances, emissions, recycling, etc.

I do know all those issues are present in the public consciousness at a higher level than we have ever seen before. Consumers are responding, marketers are responding, and organizations are responding.

Hazardous Substances, Standby Power, and More

Many electric housewares suppliers are already delivering product to meet Wal-Mart expectations. In this issue of APPLIANCE magazine, our report from the 2008 Home and Housewares show describes appliances for the U.S. market that greatly exceed Energy Star energy-efficiency levels at the same time they address hazardous substances concerns—Alen Corp. describes its air purifier as the first lead-free unit in the U.S. market. TTI is making vacuums with battery-charging electronics to greatly reduce standby-power use.

Being a Sustainable OEM

Floor-care appliances maker Bissell Homecare Inc. is clearly ahead of the pack in terms of developing sustainability strategies. The company put together its internal ForEver Green Team in 2005 to address sustainability.

Bissell president and CEO Mark Bissell was at the AHAM annual meeting in April, part of the panel discussion, “Sustainability: What It Means to Your Company and Customers.”

“We’re researching, communicating, and implementing strategies to improve our environmental practices through product design, packaging, supply chain, and the operations of our facilities,” Bissell told AHAM meeting attendees. “It’s a broad statement, and the challenge has been for us to execute on some very specific goals.”

The results are embodied in the Little Green cleaner, described in the Housewares show report. It makes heavy use of recycled plastics and packaging materials.

In fact, Mark Bissell described how the company is taking a cradle-to-cradle look at its product development: exploring ways to minimize environmental impact of products by coordinating even the recycling of products at their end-of-life for use in new products.

The company has much to learn about merging sustainability concepts with appliance engineering and manufacturing. As Mark Bissell said at AHAM, Bissell Homecare is another company that is just getting started down this road.


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