Laundry, Sufficiency and the Climate Pact

Why a sufficiency-first approach to the Green Deal is needed for cities


I have two little boys and in our family photos they look like little angels. They are not. They are little savages. They fight, throw food, play in the mud and as a result I do A LOT of laundry and spend a lot of time thinking about laundry.

That’s why this article in LowTechMagazine.com resonated with me. According to the article EU Directives led to dryers becoming 72% more efficient between 1998 and 2012. The dryer I bought this year is even more efficient than that. Which is great, right? The EU has calculated that energy labels for tumble dryers will be able to “save up to 3.3 Twh of electricity by 2020, equivalent to the annual energy consumption of Malta”.

Kids playing in the mud, as kids do.

These are astonishing figures and a massive victory in the fight for efficiency. They are also, however, a failure in terms of combatting climate change.

How much energy would have been saved, how many emissions avoided, had we simply given everyone clothes drying racks?

Clothes drying racks are not about efficiency, they are about sufficiency.

This is a simplistic example of what we must do. Another example is the idea of replacing internal combustion cars with electric vehicles. They are more energy efficient – there’s no question. But we need the sufficiency outlook where we replace cars with walking, cycling and public transport.

We must move beyond efficiency and to sufficiency. It is the only way of delivering the daunting cuts in emissions that we have to deliver.

And this is where, from a cities perspective, Europe’s Green Deal has an important role to play.

The comprehensive plan due this summer to increase the 2030 emissions targets to 50% or 55% must include a strong element of sufficiency. That element, in turn, must be incorporated into nearly every aspect of the dizzying array of initiatives under the Green Deal.

To start, carbon budgeting will shine a light on expenditures that are simply too expensive in money and carbon to continue at local, national and EU level.

The assessment of the final National Energy and Climate Plans due in June must be viewed through the lens of sufficiency too.

The planned ‘Renovation Wave’, Industrial Strategy and Circular Economy Action Plan would all benefit from a sufficiency-first vetting.

But perhaps most importantly the Climate Pact must help instil the importance and absolute necessity of sufficiency with Europeans.

The Climate Pact, according to the European Commission, is crucial to the success of the European Green Deal because it needs the involvement and commitment of the public and of all stakeholders. The Commission will launch a European Climate Pact by March 2020 with a focus on three ways to engage with the public on climate action.

Cities are already leading the way on this. Michele Jacobs of Leuven 2030 had this to say about instilling a shared transition:

“The systemic change we need on different societal domains (modal shift, waste, consumerism and social equality) are more difficult to see. But we will only succeed when we have equality on a social level – at every level. Otherwise we will only succeed in polarisation. We need to take everyone with us. And it’s not just Leuven, but every city should get there.”

The role of the Climate Pact within the Green Deal must be exactly this – to bring every city and every citizen to a new outlook of sufficiency first. I’ll do my part with my two kids. But there is much more to be done.