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Whirlpool is partnering up with global nonprofit to provide thousands of off-the-grid washing machines: 'It's an … empowerment engine'

It's easier to ship worldwide, and having the recipients assemble it will give them a greater understanding of how it works and how to fix it.

It's easier to ship worldwide, and having the recipients assemble it will give them a greater understanding of how it works and how to fix it.

Photo Credit: iStock

While most Americans rely on washing machines to clean their clothes, that's not the case everywhere: Over half of the global population washes clothes by hand. It's a time-intensive and physically demanding process that often falls disproportionately on women. 

But now, home appliance manufacturer Whirlpool has announced it's partnering with the Washing Machine Project, a global nonprofit, to deliver 10,000 manual, off-the-grid washing machines around the world. That will free up millions of hours and improve the quality of life for many people, according to the company. 

What's happening?

The Divya is a hand-cranked washing machine designed by Washing Machine Project founder Nav Sawhney. It's the world's first flat-packable washing machine, which offers two major benefits: It's easier to ship worldwide, and having the recipients assemble it will give them a greater understanding of how it works and how to fix it, per Sustainable Brands

The Divya machine also saves up to 50% of the water and 75% of the time compared with hand-washing. Among other benefits, reducing the water used in laundering clothes roughly in half will help free up clean water in regions where it may be scarce.

Within the next five years, Whirlpool and the Washing Machine Project will deliver thousands of Divya washing machines to people across the globe, positively impacting an estimated 150,000 individuals.

Why is a hand-cranked washing machine so important?

Sawhney named the machine after his former neighbor, Divya, a woman in India who first drew his attention to the issues of hand-washing clothing. While people in the U.S. typically pop in a load in less than five minutes and let it run, this chore without a washing machine takes an estimated 20 hours per week and about 1,000 hours per year. And the labor falls almost entirely on women and girls.

By distributing Divya washing machines, Whirlpool estimates within the first five years, that will free up 17 million hours for users — time they can then devote to educational pursuits, a part-time job, or other economic opportunities.

"This innovation is more than a washing machine; it's an educational and economic empowerment engine, especially for women and girls in developing regions," Sawhney said, per Sustainable Brands.

How does gender equality help the planet? 

Beyond the overall imperative to remove the unequal burden from women and girls, the Divya washing machine also helps connect the dots between women and climate. For example, according to the United Nations, women are key figures worldwide in farming — producing up to 80% of food in some areas — and are more likely to get involved in conservation, despite having less access to resources than men. 

Empowering women by providing them with more time, education, and financial resources could feed millions more people while still having a positive impact on the environment.

What is Whirlpool's overall sustainability plan?

Whirlpool has been around for over 100 years, and as a legacy company it's taking steps to sustainably innovate and benefit customers simultaneously. It aims to reach net-zero emissions by 2030 (for Scopes 1 and 2) and has already reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 25% between 2021 and 2022.

Recent sustainability projects have included a partnership with Habitat for Humanity to build climate-resilient and energy-efficient homes in the U.S., as well as instituting a repair service for KitchenAid appliances in the U.K. with a 10-day turnaround. Over 1,800 products have already been repaired or refurbished since the program launched in March, helping keep blenders and mixers out of landfills.

Whirlpool has also started developing a new material to replace toxic, hard-to-recycle polyurethane foam in its refrigerators — a move many eco-conscious buyers will be happy to support.

Bottom line: Whirlpool is showing other companies what's possible with some hand-cranked elbow grease — whether that's making homes more energy efficient or providing access to off-the-grid washing machines to improve the lives of thousands of people around the world.

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