By Lauren Kubiak
In the heart of industrial Ohio, in a region best known for its history as a major railroad hub, stands an equally important economic powerhouse: a Whirlpool Corporation manufacturing plant. The largest washing machine factory in the world, the facility prioritizes the production of energy-efficient appliances that save money and energy while creating jobs.
Critical to Local Economy
Operated by Whirlpool since 1952, the Clyde factory has always played an integral role in the region’s economy. Originally constructed as a multi-product manufacturing plant in 1880 to produce fire trucks, cars, furniture, signs, and more, Whirlpool purchased the facility in 1952 from Clyde Porcelain steel, and the adjacent Bendix Corp. washing machine facility in 1954. Since then, the factory has increased in size by a factor of 10, with large workforce – and larger output – increases following.
Today, the 2.4-million square-foot facility employs 3,400 workers. Thirty miles of overhead conveyer belt snake through the factory, carrying items like stainless steel tubs and porcelain-coated basins above the manufacturers working below. Every four seconds, another machine is completed, and the workers have turned out 155 million washers since 1952.
All told, Whirlpool, headquartered in Benton Harbor, Michigan, boasts a 10,000-person workforce across Ohio, prioritizing the development and production of energy-efficient products that save consumers energy and money. Whirlpool’s focus on energy efficiency, beyond supporting manufacturing jobs, also creates jobs in the broader economy.
Energy Efficiency Key to Economic Success
Appliance efficiency has been core to Whirlpool’s products since the 1970s, when the company began emphasizing technological improvement to achieve greater resource productivities in the face of heightened energy and water constraints. Thanks to the company’s ingenuity and federal and state appliance standards, today’s clothes washers, dishwashers, and refrigerators use more than 75 percent less energy than the machines did in 1972. Whirlpool’s appliances save water, too: its clothes washers use 73 percent less, and its dishwashers 64 percent less, on a gallons-per-cycle basis.
Appliance efficiency standards have played a key role in these technological improvements and in our overall residential energy consumption. In 1980, household appliances like washing machines, refrigerators, and dishwashers made up 59 percent of residential household energy use; by 2007, that number had dropped to about 15 percent, a drop largely attributable to efficiency gains but also to increases in other end uses like consumer electronics and air conditioning. Ohio and other states also benefit from strong economy-wide energy-efficiency standards that support the purchase of efficient appliances that cut down energy bills.
Not only do energy and water savings help consumers, but they help Whirlpool’s bottom line, and its focus on energy-efficient appliances helped it keep jobs during the recession. While many other companies were forced to cut significant portions of their workforce to stay afloat, Whirlpool maintained the majority of its Clyde workforce, thanks in large part to establishing a production line of one of its most energy-efficient appliances: its front-load washer.
How Energy Efficiency Creates Jobs
“We saved some jobs by doing front load,” said plant manager Dan O’Brien. “Consumers love the ultra-efficient machine,” which has a door on the front instead of the top. This style of washer uses a lot less water and energy and is gentler on clothing than a traditional washer with an agitator. The product helps Americans struggling to pay their energy bills, and adding this production has enabled the factory to minimize layoffs. As Whirlpool ranks as the 30th-largest employer in the state, saving jobs had significant impact on Ohio – and America’s – overall workforce.
In addition to the factory workers themselves, energy efficiency creates jobs in many other areas of the economy. Because consumers saving money on their energy bill instead spend money on things like hamburgers and haircuts, which support more jobs per dollar than the electricity sector, increasing energy productivity boosts overall employment. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy estimates that the appliance, equipment, and lighting efficiency standards in place in 2010 generated 340,000 jobs.
Efficiency Standards to Drive Future Savings, Jobs
And efficiency will continue to boost employment: in May of this year, the Department of Energy (DOE) implemented a new set of consensus efficiency standards that were negotiated by a group of manufacturers, consumer advocates, and efficiency groups that will save consumers a net of $20 billion in energy and water costs, without compromising consumer choice. Over the lifetime of each clothes washer, consumers will save an average of $350.
While significant progress has been made, there are still further efficiency gains to be wrung out of washing machines. Striving to achieve them will clean our economy in more ways than one.
This post originally appeared on NRDC’s Switchboard in 2012.
Photo credit: Whirlpool