Product Life Cycle and End of Life
We continue to make progress to a more circular business model by mitigating our products' environmental impacts with a life cycle approach. In 2020, we partnered with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and other member companies to jointly develop a universal and consistent framework to measure circularity. The Circular Transition Indicators (CTI) tool was developed to help businesses in different industries worldwide to measure and improve their circular performance. Using the tool, companies can scope and prepare the assessment, interpret its results, understand risks and opportunities, prioritize actions and establish SMART targets to monitor progress. We are currently implementing the tool across Whirlpool Corporation by engaging with internal stakeholders to establish targets and measure our progress toward circular products. By making our products more circular, Whirlpool will drive increased resource efficiency, drive demand for recycled materials, and lower our use of natural resources.
The sustainability team also uses Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology to assess potential and quantifiable environmental impacts associated with a product. We formed a dedicated team in 2018 that is working toward integrating this methodology with the product development process. The team has conducted assessments on products in five out of seven Whirlpool Corporation product categories so far. These assessments help identify opportunities for improvement, inform decision making, and can determine relevant indicators of environmental performance. Because products within the same category have similar impacts throughout their life cycle phases, we focus on analyzing key products that provide a comprehensive view of impacts in the life cycle and inform improvements for each category.
During the use phase, we reduce the environmental impacts of our products in three ways:
- Repairs: We offer repair services to keep products functioning properly, thereby increasing the longevity of our products. A study from the industry group APPLiA—Home Appliance Europe—found that about 81% of requests for repairs in the EU result in actual repairs. This dramatically reduces the number of products being disposed of and extends their useful life.
- Return centers: Similarly, we work to avoid final disposal of products through return centers. We have six return centers in the U.S., one in the U.K., and one in Canada. These centers collect products, give them a grade, which determines whether to refurbish them or use them for parts, and then resell the appliances that are functional. In 2020, the U.S. return centers processed about 205,000 appliances, and over 104,000 were refurbished and resold.
- Service offerings: We also have products that are marketed as a service, allowing us to control the whole life cycle. In Latin America, we have water purifiers that are rented rather than purchased. We perform maintenance services during the use phase of the water purifier, and, when a customer is finished using the product, most of the products are returned to us, refurbished and provided to another customer. In some cases, we reuse the parts, or, if not possible to reuse, we properly dispose of the unit. These water purifiers improve water safety for our consumers, and the rental model includes service and filter replacement, which simplifies the process for them. All of these programs aim to lengthen the usable life of our products and keep them out of waste streams.
3 END OF LIFE
At the end of life (EOL), we aim to ensure that all products are recycled to the fullest extent possible.
In Brazil, in February 2020 a national decree was published, regulating the structure, implementation and operation of the take-back system for domestic appliances. The decree puts into effect a five-year escalating set of goals for the collection and proper recycling of home appliances starting in January 2021.
The Decree sets forth that companies that do not adhere to the collective model of the take-back system through management entities, must prove to the competent environmental agencies the individual implementation of the take-back system. In Brazil Whirlpool adhered to ABREE—Brazilian Association for the Recycling of Electronic Waste and Appliances.
In 2020, Whirlpool led with ABREE a strong interface with the Brazilian government to understand the complexity of implementing the take-back system for home appliances in the country, including the creation of the Performance Monitoring Group (GAP) aiming to implement federal-level of the collect system from 2021 onwards.
ABREE represents more than 85% of the total volume of waste to be collected in Brazil, which makes it one of the largest entities responsible for the proper disposal of electronic waste in the world. In the State of São Paulo, the sector's target for 2020 was to collect 26 tons of electronic waste, and we surpassed this amount, collecting and treating approximately 50 tons of electronic waste.
For regions where there is a lack of infrastructure for take-back programs, Whirlpool works with retailers and other third parties to find ways to recycle and reuse our appliances. We continue to explore ways to make our products easier to recycle and be recycled at their end of life.
Technology & Innovation Inclusive
of Design for Environment
The environmental footprint of home appliances spreads throughout their life cycle, from design to end of life. We aim to reduce our products’ environmental impacts by providing our consumers with products that are designed using materials with the lowest environmental impact possible, that are efficient in electricity and water consumption, and that can be easily recycled at the end of their life. By designing for efficiency, we can further help consumers decrease their energy and water use, saving them money, time and effort. Similarly, by using safe and environmentally sustainable materials, we give consumers peace of mind that their products are well made.
During the design phase, we aim to maximize energy and water efficiency, increase the use of recycled materials and phase out hazardous substances. We do that by applying our Product Attribute Leadership Scorecard (PALS) to new products. PALS is used by our marketing and engineering teams to inform the early stages of product design and includes energy and water consumption and materials efficiency. Using recycled materials and packaging alternatives has the potential to decrease product costs and may further reduce the environmental impact of our products.
Our Global Material Compliance Portal allows us to proactively manage substances of concern across our complex supply chain.
Critical Materials Management
Our Critical Materials Management team ensures that all of our products are in line with regulations to phase out hazardous materials and are safe for our consumers to use. Our restricted materials list is fully integrated into the sourcing and design processes to ensure compliance from the start. In 2020, the EMEA supply base fully transitioned to our new Global Material Compliance Portal, which allows us to proactively manage substances of concern across our complex supply chain, focusing on high-risk applications and suppliers. This tool will be deployed to all other regions in 2021 and will allow us to request Full Material Disclosure from all suppliers. Our goal was to request Full Material Disclosure from 100% of suppliers by 2020. While we were not able to send the request to all suppliers, we completed the implementation of the Global Material Compliance Portal and will finalize the deployment by the end of 2021.
Over time, we aim to replace all EPS across our packaging and other disposable materials with more sustainable options. In EMEA, we were an industry leader with our EPS-free packaging solutions for some of our IKEA cooking products and dishwashers. In 2020, we held the first sustainable packaging innovation event virtually in order to challenge both incumbent and new suppliers of packaging solutions, raw materials or technologies to bring forth new ideas. The event was an opportunity to investigate and explore new sustainable options in packaging, and a part of Whirlpool Corporation’s pledge to continuously improve all of the company’s products and processes. These key innovations, which we are developing, will help keep products safe throughout the transportation process while decreasing the amount of waste after the product has arrived. Internally, we have developed a scoring mechanism to holistically evaluate the various parameters of sustainable packaging, including circularity, Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programs and regulatory roadmaps.
Sustainable Packaging Playbook
We created a Sustainable Packaging Playbook in 2020 to continue driving packaging innovation and solutions in order to significantly reduce our environmental impacts and set target improvements, allowing our global platform engineering teams to ask the right questions at the right point in the product development process.