Laura Piraino: A load of energy savings

A load of energy savings

By Laura Piraino on 03/13/2013

Did you know that most of the energy used to wash a load of laundry goes into heating the water? Ninety percent, in fact.

The city of Asheville is participating in one of the first multicity research and program-development projects of its kind, adopting new strategies to improve sustainability outreach with the Cool is Clean pilot campaign. Participating cities are using community-based social-marketing techniques, which bring together environmental education, behavioral psychology and marketing research to improve the design, content, messaging and methods of outreach engagement. A grant from the Urban Sustainability Directors Network provided funding for the pilot campaign, securing the support of Action Research, a community-based social-marketing consulting firm.

Washing laundry in cold water can significantly reduce energy consumption across the nation. The real or perceived barriers for choosing to wash in cold are relatively low: We all have to clean our clothes, most machines have a cold-water setting, and selecting cold does not require a new financial investment.

To better understand remaining barriers, benefits and opportunities for this laundry behavior, research was conducted through surveys and focus groups. Many conservation measures, such as washing in cold water, save money, so measuring and reinforcing those additional benefits in the educational content are important incentives. Neighborhood norms and testimonials also offered additional motivation, while marketing prompts — in this case, magnets — helped pilot participants remember that Cool is Clean.

Preliminary results show that those who received the Cool is Clean campaign materials in Asheville were significantly more likely than the control group to report using either mostly cold or all cold-water washes and had washed more loads of laundry in cold water in the last month (85.7 percent versus 66.1 percent). The treatment and control groups did not differ on any other energy-saving behaviors.

To learn more about the Cool is Clean and other outreach campaigns from Asheville’s Office of Sustainability, visit

Laura Piraino is the sustainability outreach specialist for the city of Asheville’s Office of Sustainability. Piraino has a background in sustainability program development, education, fundraising and marketing. Prior experience includes work with the Blue Ridge Sustainability Institute, the Sierra Club and her own consulting firm, Post Carbon Services of Asheville.