Greening Your Laundry Habits

Freshly Washed Towels with Bottles of White Distilled Vinegar

Greening your laundry habits may be easier than you think. Laziness and using fewer products are the keys to success.

Doing laundry is a habit, something you do routinely without giving much thought to it. Over the course of your lifetime, you will either do or contribute to thousands of loads of laundry. When you consider that everyone else around the country is also doing thousands of loads of laundry, you realize it all adds up.

Laundry Habits and the Environment

Each load of laundry uses water, electricity, and possibly natural gas. So does making washers, dryers, and laundry products and their containers. If you use liquid laundry products, which consist mostly of water you are paying for diesel-powered semi trucks to transport extra water and then flushing it down the drain. Recycling plastic and cardboard containers are better than tossing them in the trash, but recycling also uses energy and creates waste.

All the substances that you flush down your washing machine, toilet, sink, shower, and bathtub end up in at a sewer treatment plant, unless you have a septic tank in which case your wastewater percolates into the ground. Sewer treatment plants primarily attempt to remove solids and kill pathogens before pumping the remaining effluent into an ocean, lake, river, stream, or aquifer. Although many natural and synthetic compounds are broken down in water, not all are. The more substances wastewater treatment plants have to deal with the more energy and chemicals they use to clean the water.

Here are some easy actions you can take to green your laundry habits.

Laundry Laziness Policy

My sons introduced me to the concept of laundry laziness.

Upon arriving at their college dorm rooms, the quickly abandoned most of the laundry habits I had taught them and laundry piled up until they would run out of clean clothes. When I asked them why they did not do their laundry every week, they responded with something like, “I have better things to do or I’m lazy.”

That got me to thinking about my own laundry routine. One thing led to the next, I began questioning everything about laundry habits and wrote about it in the post Laundry – Laziness is Good.

The drought in California forced my hand. At one point, our small town’s water supply was running dangerously low so conserving water was critical. My sons’ laundry laziness strategy seemed like a good water saving measure so I began doing only full loads of laundry and only when it became absolutely necessary.

I discovered that I could actually survive without doing small loads of laundry to wash my favorite jeans.

Laundry laziness is easy to implement because all you need is a slight change in mindset. Doing fewer loads of laundry might even save you money.

Using fewer laundry products will also help you green your laundry routine.

Use Fewer Laundry Products

Depending on how many different products you currently use to wash and dry your laundry, using fewer or in some cases, different products can substantially reduce your laundry environmental footprint.

One of the unexpected results of the drought was that I was laser focused on what we were putting down our drains. That is why I ended up standing in front of my laundry cupboard one day surveying its contents and sighing.

My collection included several different laundry detergents (you know for different fabrics), bleach, color safe bleach, an oxy additive, both a stick and a spray for pre-treating stains, liquid fabric softener, and washing machine cleaner (for the high-efficiency washer).

As I stood there, I asked myself “Do I actually need all these products to get our laundry clean?”

The answer was “I doubt it.” My next thought was “Why did I buy all this stuff in the first place?” followed by “Aha, advertising got me.” I see myself as an intelligent woman capable of making informed choices, but apparently, I had been easy prey for shrewd laundry product advertisers. Thank goodness, I came to my senses before laundry scent booster found its way into my shopping cart.

I decided to try using fewer products, which would mean fewer chemicals and other substances going down our drains or being in contact with our skin 24/7.

The first challenge was using up the products I had on hand. I did not want to dump the products I no longer wanted down the drain or toss them in the trash because that would not be environmentally sound and would waste money. Since I had bought some products in bulk, and am I now using them sparingly, I probably have enough bleach and pre-treating spray on hand to last for at least a decade.

Ditching fabric softer for distilled white vinegar was a major change for me. I buy vinegar by the gallon and transfer some into a smaller bottle which makes it easier to pour into the fabric softener dispenser of my washing machine.

Vinegar effectively removes odors and acts as a softener. The towels and clothes might not be quite as soft and fluffy, but they are soft and thankfully, they do not have that cloying “fresh laundry” smell. When static cling occurs, I just shake it out. Vinegar also keeps the washing machine clean.

I wish I had changed to vinegar years ago, but oh well.

Go look at your own laundry shelf or cupboard and then decide what products you can do without and which ones you want to change to a more environmentally and people friendly version.

Consider adopting a laundry laziness policy and then enjoy having extra time to do fun things instead of laundry.

Reader Note: If your washer is over ten years old, you could be using twice the amount of water of newer more efficient washers that also use less electricity. Old electric or natural gas dryers are also less efficient than newer models. However, I am not advocating replacing appliances that are currently in good working order. When it is time to replace your washer and dryer, consider buying water and energy saving models. Look for the ENERGY STAR label.

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Greening the U.S. Federal Government – Executive Order 13514

Starting with George Washington, U.S. Presidents have issued over 15,000 executive orders to date. Do U.S. federal agencies actually fulfill these directives?

I pondered this question while writing the previous post, Green Legislation – Obama Administration, which included a summary of Executive Order 13514 – Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance.

President Obama Participating in Signing Executive Order 13514 on October 5, 2009 - Photo: Peta Souza, White House
President Obama Participating in Signing Executive Order 13514 on October 5, 2009 – Photo: Peta Souza, White House

Some readers may be able to relate to CEOs, executives, and managers handing down the private sector version of executive orders in the form of company-wide or department-wide edicts, directives, or mandates. In my experience, sometimes we followed directives to the letter, other times half-heartedly, and sometimes not at all.

Does the President garner more cooperation than a corporate CEO does? The answer is probably “It depends,” but the President as the Chief Executive of the United States does have the backing of the U.S. Constitution.

I thought it would be fun and informative to find out what actions federal agencies have taken to comply with the directives of EO 13514. Below is a summary of what I learned during a brief investigation.

Executive Order 13514 – Overview

The U.S. federal government occupies over half a million buildings, operates more than 600,000 vehicles, and purchases over $500 billion in goods and services each year 1, which enables federal agencies to make enormous reductions in carbon emissions, water use, and fossil fuel consumption, while using their considerable buying power to influence greening the government supply chain.

President Obama issued Executive Order 13514 – Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance on October 5, 2009, directing federal agencies to lead the country towards a clean energy economy and reduce greenhouse gases by greening their own operations.

The actions and targets outlined in EO 13514 cover a wide range of measures including reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing energy efficiency, using renewable energy, conserving water, diverting waste from landfills, improving building performance, and buying environmentally preferable goods and services.

Graywater System at U.S. Airforce Hurlburt Field, FL - Photo: U.S. Air Force
Graywater System at U.S. Airforce Hurlburt Field, FL – Photo: U.S. Air Force

Federal departments and agencies affected by EO 13514 include the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Energy, Homeland Security, Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, the Social Security Administration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and others.

Note: EO 13514 uses the federal government’s fiscal year (FY) calendar, which begins on October 1 of one year and ends on September 30 of the next.

Executive Order 13514 – Oversight and Information

The Council on Environmental Quality and Office of Management and Budget jointly oversee EO 13514 implementation and compliance.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security January 2014 Sustainability / Energy ScorecardThe Federal Facilities Environmental Stewardship and Compliance Assistance Center is a one-stop-shopping website providing information, tools, data, status reports, and guidance to assist federal agencies in addressing and fulfilling EO 13514 requirements.

Individual agency scorecards and strategic sustainability performance plans were relatively easy to locate, but I could not find a dashboard or report summarizing progress made to date on a federal government-wide basis, except for energy-related goals.

Executive Order 13514 – Interagency Collaboration

EO 13514 designated various agencies to work together to develop tools and guidelines to assist all agencies. A few examples are below.

  • The DOE led the development of a GHG emission accounting tool and procedure for measuring and reporting progress.
  • The GSA and DOE prepared guidelines to aid agencies in improving fleet energy performance.
  • The EPA led the effort to create guidelines for working with vendors on greening the supply chain.

Executive Order 13514 – Strategic Sustainability Performance Plans

Each agency created a sustainability plan outlining the actions it is taking and intends to take to achieve its goals and comply with EO 13514. Agencies publish scorecards and updated sustainability plans annually.

Progress on Energy Goals

The federal government is the largest energy consumer in the U.S, therefore, reducing fossil fuel use, increasing energy efficiency, and increasing renewable energy use will not only reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions it will save taxpayers billions of dollars.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Goals

EO 13514 requires each federal agency to establish a GHG emission reduction goal based on 2008 estimated emissions and achieve the goal by 2020.

The GHG emissions reduction goal consists of three categories:

  • Scope 1 – direct GHG emissions from federally owned or controlled sources, including fuels, burned on site and vehicle emissions.
  • Scope 2 – indirect GHG emissions from the offsite generation of electricity, heat, or steam purchased by federal agencies.
  • Scope 3 – indirect GHG emissions related to agency activities including vendor supply chains, delivery services, and employee travel.

Federal agencies established their 2020 targets in early January 2010.

On January 29, 2010, President Obama announced the aggregated federal agency goals are to reduce direct GHG emissions by 28% and indirect GHG emissions by 13% by 2020.

As of September 30, 2013, the federal government had reduced direct GHG emissions by 17.2% seemingly on track to meet the 28% goal by 2020 and had exceeded the 13% goal for indirect GHG emissions with a 19.8% reduction.

U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory South Table Mountain Campus, Golden, CO - Photo: Dennis Schroeder / NREL
U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory South Table Mountain Campus, Golden, CO – Photo: Dennis Schroeder / NREL
Petroleum Product Use Reduction Goal

Agencies operating a fleet of least 20 motor vehicles are required to reduce consumption of petroleum products by 2% annually through 2020. I could not locate a government-wide progress report on petroleum use.

Renewable Energy Goal

President Obama raised the bar on renewable energy on December 5, 2013, by issuing his Memorandum on Federal Leadership on Energy Management, which requires each agency to obtain 20% of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020, beginning with 10% in 2015.

Federal agency renewal energy use was at 9.2% of total energy use in September 2013.

My research indicates that at least in the case of EO 13514 federal agencies do take presidential executive orders seriously.

Greening the U.S. federal government is good for the planet, people, and taxpayer wallets.

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References

  1. Congressional Research Service – Executive Order 13514: Sustainability and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction, by Richard J. Campbell and Anthony Andrews, December 3, 2009

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