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How Miele is encouraging consumers to buy less, but buy better

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In recognition of World Recycling Day 2022 we consider how German appliances manufacturer Miele is challenging throwaway culture with its sustainably designed goods.

To find out more about the current state and future direction of sustainability amongst Europe’s leading retailers and brands, download our latest Sustainability Report here.

German home appliances manufacturer Miele has always designed high-quality products that are built to last. In 2021, marketing by the global brand highlighted how long-lasting performance is good for the wider sustainability agenda. Its ‘Quality ahead of its time’ campaign is underpinned by its core values of craftsmanship, performance and sustainability – and an ethos that people should buy less, but buy better. It provides an interesting counterpoint to a throwaway culture.

Home appliances with energy rating labels have been sold across Europe for some time but Christoph Wendker, vice president corporate sustainability and regulatory affairs, Miele, thinks that in recent years this scheme has failed to live up to its promise of supporting the development of new products and changing consumer purchasing behaviour. “For many consumers, the energy label is an important source of information. However, it has recently offered little potential for differentiation, as the majority of appliances were to be found in the upper label classes,” he says.

This stagnation has been addressed by a revision of the system, but Wendker is noncommittal about its chances of success. “The new label is now supposed to offer more clarity and thus contribute to reducing energy consumption in Europe. As a manufacturer, we are not in a position to say whether this goal will be achieved in this way,” he says. Essentially, label programmes can have an impact only in conjunction with the actual consumption of energy by appliances in their daily, real-life use. For example, Miele designs its appliances to work as efficiently as possible in all programmes. This means the lowest possible energy and water consumption, with reasonable running times and, above all, the best results in terms of reliability, cleaning, drying and care, depending on the appliance category.

Although it would be difficult to put in place a system that reflects the full carbon footprint of manufacturing, it wouldn’t be impossible – just costly and possibly impractical for many appliances. For instance, the necessary data from procurement and product manufacturing are neither complete nor reliably ascertainable, given the wide ramifications for supply chains and the enormous differences in conditions in the supplier countries. In addition, there are limited possibilities for verification.

Miele also made a commitment to becoming climate neutral in all its locations from 2021 onwards. Wendker explains that the company’s plans are being guided by the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement – to limit global warming to well below 2°C, or better: below 1.5°C, compared with the pre-industrial era.

“To this end, the company joined the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) in January, committing to pursue a science based emissions reduction target,” he says. “This also includes long-term targets along the value chain, for example, in the procurement of materials, in the use phase of products and in disposal or transport (scope 3).” Wendker adds that to achieve CO₂ neutrality, Miele’s first step will be to significantly reduce direct CO₂ emissions (scope 1) – which are caused by heating, electricity and fuel consumption at its sites – followed by indirect CO₂ emissions from the electricity generated by energy suppliers (scope 2).

“Miele’s goal is to reduce CO₂ emissions calculated in this way by 50% by 2030 compared with 2019,” he explains. “With emissions of 90,000 tonnes of CO₂ in 2019, this corresponds to a reduction of around 45,000 tonnes. At the same time, Miele is converting its global power supply entirely to renewable energy sources. This involves more than 165,000 megawatt hours per year. In addition, we intend to save a further 30 gigawatt hours of energy by 2030 and thereby also permanently improve our own CO₂ footprint.”

The company is also working towards achieving a circular business model as part of its sustainability plans, following the launch of a circular economy action plan by the European Council back in 2018. “Miele supports this plan and has carried out various projects investigating how components from Miele waste appliances can be recycled,” says Wendker.

“Additionally, Miele is increasingly using circular models to increase the use of recycled and recyclable materials. One example is the vacuum cleaner product group and its accessories. Since 2020, we have been producing brushes, nozzles and suction brushes from recycled material.”

He adds: “At the same time, we have also extended our support for various projects that promote the circular economy. One of these is the WEEE-Harz project funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research, addressing the question of achieving a sustainable circular economy for electrical appliances in the Harz region. Miele has also been working with other manufacturers and players in the waste disposal industry since 2020 at the Dialogue Forum on Efficient Recycling Management with the aim of helping to further improve information exchange for efficient recycling.”

This article was originally published in the RX Sustainability report 2021. Download the complete report here and discover new business models that are developing out of the need for sustainable businesses, products and processes.

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