Research: Consumers Can Make or Break Green Products

Question: Which uses less water—an efficient dishwasher or washing by hand? It’s not as simple a question as you think.

New technology often saves neither labor nor resources—unless human behavior too is modified. For example, a survey of average hours spent doing housework between 1920 and 1970 found almost no change in the number of hours worked, despite several “labor saving” devices—washing machines, dishwashers, and the like. What happened? When washing clothes became easier, people did it more often. Advertisers, eager to sell new products, fueled the frenetic pace of home chores with guilt about invisible germs, spotty dishes, and dirty ovens.

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Back to the dishwashing problem. Treehugger.com’s analysis found that unless homeowners are perfectionists when hand washing, dishwashers use less water and electricity. But it’s a narrow lead. What if the ease of use of a dishwasher encourages the homeowner to run two loads a day, where a family washing by hand uses the same coffee cup twice and does one load?

Sociological factors, in other words, play a key role in a product’s success at reducing resource use. A super-efficient dishwasher--used in a conscious way, could have double the ecological footprint savings over one that simply exacerbates wasteful lifestyle habits.

Image credit: Whirlpool

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