Household Sustainability

Household Sustainability

Challenges and Dilemmas in Everyday Life

Chris Gibson, Carol Farbotko, Nicholas Gill, Lesley Head and Gordon Waitt

The authors engage critically, and constructively, with the proposition that households are a key scale of action on climate change. They confront dilemmas of practice and circumstance, and cultural norms of lifestyle and consumerism that are linked to troublesome environmental problems – and question whether they can be easily unsettled. The work also illuminates the informal and often unheralded work by households – frequently the poorest – in reducing their environmental burden. This important book is critical to understanding both the barriers to household sustainability and the ‘unsung’ sustainability work carried out by householders.

Chapter 7: Laundry

Chris Gibson, Carol Farbotko, Nicholas Gill, Lesley Head and Gordon Waitt

Subjects: economics and finance, environmental economics, environment, climate change, environmental economics, environmental sociology


Underlying household cleaning practices, such as laundry, are many complex social and moral assumptions. This chapter discusses changing patterns in laundry technologies and cycles in Western societies. The dilemma of keeping clothes clean is often expressed in simplistic terms of consumer choices between washing machine technologies (Davis 2008; Hustvedt 2011; Katayama and Sugihara 2011) or the chemical composition of different deter- gents (Laitala et al. 2011). Government policies in some countries include labelling of energy and water efficiency rating of washing machines and regu- lating the toxicity of detergents. Nevertheless Laitala et al. (2012, 228) argue, ‘increased washing frequencies and the amount of clothing we own in Western societies potentially offsets the technological improvements’. This chapter gives particular attention to the taken-for-granted cultural assumptions that sustain distinctions between ‘dirty’ or ‘clean’ clothing (see also Chapter 3). Understanding laundry practices and what is categorized as ‘dirty’ or ‘clean’ is not constant, but rather constantly changing within and between societies. Keeping clothes clean is exemplary of how everyday norms contribute to household consumption of water and energy, even amongst households that are knowledgeable about and committed to sustainability.

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