How your appliances can reduce your eco-footprint
Modern tech combats climate change on local and global scales
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The amount of energy we use in the U.S. is somewhat staggering. To put it in perspective, a typical fridge uses more electricity each year than many developing countries. While climate change might have taken a backseat recently, it's still there, despite claims to the contrary—and reducing our personal energy expenditures is a good way to help combat it.
Most of our energy expenditure goes to heating and cooling our homes, but that's sometimes tricky to mitigate. There are definitely better and worse ways to stay cool despite rising global temperatures, but we currently don't have particularly energy efficient solutions when things get super hot or cold. Likewise, reducing the miles you drive can make a huge impact, but that's not always an option, and using public transit is less than ideal during a pandemic.
This is where appliances come in. Appliances account for a significant percentage of your home's total energy consumption, to say nothing of other resources. Making sure you're getting the most from your appliances can be an easy place to start if you're looking to reduce your carbon footprint.
How appliances can help reduce your carbon footprint
For starters, if you've been putting off replacing your ancient dishwasher or refrigerator, buying a new one might actually be much cheaper than keeping the old one going. Today’s Energy Star–certified refrigerators can use up to 40% less energy than a standard fridge from 2001. Likewise, older dishwashers use far more water and heat than modern models—and the really cutting-edge stuff uses chemical reactions to dry your dishes instead of old, inefficient heating coils.
Modern improvements don't just stop at using less energy, however. When you think about making eco-friendly changes, you might not realize how much food waste contributes to the problem. The UN estimates the annual carbon footprint of global food waste is 4.4 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent. While the U.S. is working to mitigate its food waste problems on a country-wide scale, you can also work to reduce your own personal food waste. For starters, try composting.
But, when it comes to appliances, there are a lot of bad fridges out there: One of the most common problems we find during our lab testing is that less-expensive refrigerators tend to have more erratic temperatures than mid-range or high-end models. These temperature fluctuations are bad for the longevity of your food, and they can cause it to go bad much faster than it would in a calibrated fridge with stable temperatures.
There are also some newer trends in food storage that can help your food keep longer, like filtering out ethylene gas that can wilt your veggies before their time, or getting an alert when you've accidentally left the door open.
Tips for getting the most out of your appliances
Making small changes to how you use your appliances can also add up over time—and often they're super easy changes to make. Here's a few tips for how you can shave down your carbon footprint a little:
- Leave a gap as wide as your hand between the fridge and the wall. You'll cut your power use by up to 10%.
- Place frozen foods in the fridge to thaw. They give off cold to the fridge and thus save electricity.
- Wait until food has cooled down before putting it in the fridge.
- Use cold water and cold water detergents in your washing machine and dishwasher.
- Don't hand wash your dishes. A dishwasher uses significantly fewer resources to keep things clean.
- Air dry your laundry when possible.
Individual actions are important—but so is acknowledging the scale of the problem
Whenever we talk about climate change, it's important to keep a sense of scale. It's easy to make small changes, like bringing reusable bags for your groceries, and feel like you're making a difference.
Interestingly, this mindset can actually be harmful, because while it does help you feel better about things in the short-term, it can also make climate change seem more trivial to fix than it actually is.
For example, the reusable bag solution saves about 5 kg of carbon dioxide emissions per year. Compare that figure to cutting meat out of your diet (saves 300–1,600 kg/year), or carpooling (saves 1,000–5,300 kg/year), and also keep in mind the total scale of the problem: On average, carbon dioxide is emitted into the air at a rate of about 2.57 million pounds per second. Offsetting that with reusable bags would require purchasing 500,000 years' worth of groceries every second—and that would only exacerbate our food waste problems.
While reducing your own carbon footprint won't stop climate change by itself, it's important to remember our individual choices can have an effect—even a great effect.
Communicating about eco-friendly habits is one of the more effective ways to get others thinking about their own carbon emissions, and it can potentially create collective-scale action to shift cultural norms. On a larger scale, this can make it easier to elect leaders with progressive climate change platforms; on a smaller scale, even if you only convince one person to reduce their emissions, you've still doubled your impact!
Support manufacturers that combat climate change
If you and all your newly eco-friendly pals are having trouble creating meaningful climate change at the ballot box, remember that you can also vote with your wallet. Again, companies operate on such a massive scale that even small efforts to reduce emissions can have a big impact. Supporting companies that are trying to make a difference can really help contribute to large initiatives that create significant change.
For example, in 2019 Bosch launched over 1,000 projects worldwide that saved 210,000 megawatt hours—the annual electricity consumption of 65,000 German households.
When it comes to large initiatives, Bosch, in particular, has really taken up the mantle of combating climate change. The German company is currently on track to become carbon neutral before the end of the year, which would make them the first major industrial enterprise to achieve complete carbon neutrality. Bosch is also spearheading projects around the world to help other manufacturers reduce their emissions.
Bosch is not alone. Other manufacturers have also made pledges to make large-scale changes for the sake of the environment: S.C. Johnson, the company that likely makes most of your home cleaning products, has replaced nearly all of its coal power with natural gas and cut millions of pounds of waste; Samsung has started to replace plastic packaging with sustainable materials like recycled items and bio plastics.