IFA 2019: How Climbing Mount Everest Has Changed the Way White Goods Are Being Made

By Rob Clymo on at

Plastic waste is everywhere and that, whether you care or not, is a big problem for all of us. It’s also a huge source of irritation and frustration, particularly for Hakan Bulgurlu.

Now, unless you’ve got a keen interest in white goods then you might not know who Hakan Bulgurlu is. He is, in fact, CEO of Arçelik, which is the parent company to 12 leading home appliance brands. Beko and Grundig are two well-known examples here in the UK.

And, at an inspiring keynote speech at IFA last week, he outlined plans to try and stem the rising tide of plastic waste that is rapidly ruining our planet. While this might seem a little bit at odds for a company that produces lots of products that have plastic in them, and are often wrapped in more plastic for delivery purposes, Hakan’s vision appears to be a noble one.

Indeed, the CEO has been so fired after seeing plastic waste drifting in the seas at his favourite and once unspoilt holiday location that he is on a mission to make Arçelik an example of how something can be done. During the course of his talk the CEO highlighted new products that the company has developed in order to combat the issue of plastic.

More impressively, he is also keen to share knowledge and technology resources with competitors in the home appliances industry who want to climb onboard. And, following a successful ascent of Mount Everest, Hakan has used this life-changing experience to drive his passion further. While there might be too many people climbing mountains as far as we’re concerned, the CEO has been inspired to make Arçelik a game-changing business as a result.

“Everest was a life changing experience,” said Hakan the day before his talk. “It's very difficult. But it was more about the discipline, preparation and planning over the past year to do it. The whole point is to raise awareness for climate change. And time alone on a mountain really allows you to reflect on this. What you realize is your mind and your body is capable of so much more. I'm definitely a better person. More humbled.”

Hakan’s vision is gaining momentum. Arçelik has some 1,500 people working in R&D alone at numerous locations around the globe. This intensive research and development strategy has resulted in several new ideas aimed at tackling environmental issues. One of the most interesting that Hakan spoke about was the production of the world’s first washing machine that has a built-in synthetic microfiber filtration system.

Available in 2020, the system aims to reduce the amount of plastic fibres from our clothes that get flushed down the drain and, ultimately end up in the world’s oceans. This fine plastic waste is not only polluting the waters but it’s also getting into the food chain. The new technology, Hakan explained, will block 90% of the microfibres from entering water sources and will be captured in a filtration box inside the machine, which can then be recycled.

“I'm most proud of is the microfiber filter,” said Hakan when we spoke to him prior to his keynote speech. “That's a huge thing because nobody's focused on it. It's actually a problem for the fabric industry to solve, not ours. People are more aware of plastic pollution, but many don't understand the microfibre issue. 60% of clothes are made from oil. And, unfortunately, fast fashion makes them in a way where these fabrics disintegrate in the wash. So you wear an item of clothing five or six times then throw it away, and get a new one. It's really terrible for the environment.”

“The filter was an idea that we generated two years ago. Of course, nobody really likes the idea in the industry because it adds cost. But, I thought if we can do something about it then we need to act. And, this filter gets about 90% of the microfibres and the filter itself is recyclable. It's the world's first washing machine to do that. You’ll send us the filter back and we will recycle it. We’ll give you an empty new one every six months.”

The CEO didn't stop there however. He outlined how the company has developed a washing machine tub that can be made from recycled PET bottles. So far, he explained, some 25 million of the things have been repurposed and while conceding that the 250 tonnes of plastic was a drop in the ocean, it was a step in the right direction. Arçelik has also developed a fridge that is made using less harmless bio-based plastics. Similarly, the company is repurposing old fishing nets – 640,00 tonnes of these things are lost every year – which he explained are actually perfectly suited for creating a nylon-based material used in oven parts.

Another interesting revelation was the solar fridge that Arçelik has been working on in order to address the issue of off-grid locations that need refrigeration options like the rest of us. This works by using DC voltage instead of AC and is more efficient than a traditional refrigerator. It should be ready to go into production early next year.

“I'm happy I did it,” added Hakan reflecting on his Everest experience. “But I would never do it again.” Does it make him want to work less and focus on enjoying life more though? “It actually makes me want to work more, because I see that I have a responsibility. I have 35,000 employees, and it's a big platform to drive change. So it's an opportunity. I also believe that driving sustainability is a business model. If you if you look carefully, you'll see everything we're doing is actually stemming from this idea to either give people healthier options or to do things better for the environment. It's all connected.”