Washing hands with cold water can save 1 million tonnes of emissions, Reckitt reports

If everyone in the UK switched to washing their hands in cold water, which is just as hygienic as warm water, the country could reduce annual CO2 emissions on a par with taking 285,000 cars off the road, according to a report released today by COP26 Principal Partner, Reckitt. And exposing people to facts about the damage caused by climate change made them more likely to wash in cold water, the study by makers of leading hygiene brand Dettol found. 

People in the UK wash their hands 10 times a day on average, according to the study, Changing Habits for our Changing Climate, and over half habitually use hot water. If everybody only used cold water, thereby avoiding using energy to heat the water, the country could avoid generating the equivalent of 1.33m metric tonnes of harmful COemissions per year – equal to driving 3.3 billion miles. That is approximately 50 percent more than all the cars in Glasgow in a year. 

The research also tested the effects of a range of messages on consumer behaviour and found that more than twice as many Britons were likely to intend to use cold water once exposed to facts about climate change. This suggests that brands can play an important role in helping the public adopt more climate conscious everyday behaviours.

The behavioural study of 6,000 people in the UK, Australia and India exposed different groups to different messaging and compared them to a control group. Key results from the study include:

  • Prior to seeing messaging, four in five people thought soap and hot water was effective for washing hands, compared with only one in five who thought soap and cold water was effective.  
  • All messages were effective in shifting intended behaviour but in the UK, the most effective message more than doubled the proportion of people who said they would wash their hands in cold water, from 22% to more than half (51%). That message emphasised damage caused by climate change as well as individual values and responsibility for protecting the planet, which proved more effective than messages about saving energy.
  • The study also shows that consumers are receptive to hearing from brands about how to protect the planet.

Volker Kuhn, president hygiene at Reckitt, said: “At Reckitt, we are taking big steps to combat climate change – starting by reducing emissions across our business and supply chain, and innovating to ensure our products are more sustainable. But this study shows we can go further by using the power of our brands to inspire people to change their behaviour. Our purpose-led brands like Finish, Durex, Vanish and Dettol are helping people to make small changes to their everyday behaviours that collectively will have a big impact. This is another step on our long-term journey to engage two billion people in our partnerships, programmes and campaigns to drive positive social and environmental change by 2030.”  

The study was undertaken following recent analysis from the Climate Change Committee which showed that, whilst the overwhelming majority (87%) of emissions reductions achieved between 2009 and 2019 required no behavioural change, more than half of the emissions reductions required between 2020 and 2035 will need behavioural changes to take effect.

Findings from Changing habits for our changing climate: How leading brands can shape our everyday behaviours to protect the planet will be presented at COP26 as part of Reckitt’s programme of events as Principal Partner and Hygiene Sponsor.