When leaving a keynote address at a consumer tech show of any shape or size, some of the typical feelings or emotions that one might experience are genuinely wowed (at the product launch), relieved (that it’s over), and perhaps sleepy (having sat through another boring product pitch). Rarely—if ever—would I say that I’ve gotten up from my chair or cardboard box seat and felt inspired. But that’s exactly the type of emotion that Hakan Bulgurlu, the CEO of Arçelik, inspired in a fair majority of those in attendance for the final IFA 2019 keynote.
Perhaps an unknown name on its own, Arçelik is the holding company for some of the biggest home appliance brands in the world, including Beko, Blomberg, Grundig, Defy, and Dawlance—as well as some of its own name brand appliances in the Turkish market.
Whatever your level of familiarity with any of those brands, Arçelik is a name that everyone in the appliances industry and wider consumer tech market needs to learn and remember. When we someday talk about where the conversation changed around the impact that the products we use can have on the environment and overall health of Mother Earth, we’ll be able to point to Arçelik and Bulgurlu—perhaps even more specifically to this keynote at IFA 2019.
It was on stage here in Berlin that Bulgurlu brought to the global audience’s attention just how dire the global climate crisis is, and, more specifically, the ways in which Arçelik is doing its part and working to correct the immense problem we all face.
Arçelik operates on a mission statement that reads simply “Respecting the World. Respected Worldwide.” In living out that mission, Bulgurlu and the company have decided to put words into action by developing not only products themselves that are sustainable, but manufacturing processes and supply chain relationships that reflect those same principles. To be clear, this isn’t some instance of a company stepping onto a soap box and preaching about sustainability for the sake of drawing attention to itself. The way it came across during Bulgurlu’s keynote, it’s clear that this is something that is truly important to not only the CEO, but Arçelik as a whole.
“Sustainability used to be seen as a nice to have…today sustainability is a way of life, and it is a business model,” Bulgurlu said. “I believe customers are willing to pay more for sustainable products. … The way to win in the long term is to do the right thing.”
A survey he cited during the keynote, which included input from 30,000 consumers, showed that 62 percent said they would prefer a brand or product that promises “to do the right thing” for the planet, even if it costs a little bit more.
But it’s not like Arçelik is focusing all of this attention just so it can charge more for appliances that claim to be sustainable. Rather, they’re pouring R&D dollars into its manufacturing facilities and production technology to find ways to produce these products at more affordable price points, and in more efficient and sustainable ways. And to that end, Burlgurlu noted that the company’s recently opened Romanian production facility has been designated as a “lighthouse” facility by the World Economic Forum. That designation highlights the facility is an example of what sustainable, efficient production facilities ought to look like.
Those efforts on the production and R&D side are also starting to now pay dividends on the product side as well. Here at IFA, Bulgurlu announced a number of new sustainable products, some of which are consumer-ready, and others that are still in development but well on their way towards full-time production.
On the consumer-ready side of things, Arçelik has a solar powered refrigerator. A product that typically costs thousands of dollars and requires batteries and power inverters in order to function, the company found a way to shed the batteries and inverters, bringing the cost of their fridge down to a few hundred dollars. A product like this, Bulgurlu said, will be able to serve a market like South Africa where 70 percent of the population lives with low or no power—giving them access to a refrigerator for their food and medicine.
Further, Arçelik is using recycled plastics to manufacture products. To date, they’ve used more than 25 million single-use plastic water bottles in the production of washing machine tubs, and recovered fishing nets are being used in their ovens. They’re also developing a refrigerator that is made out of 80 percent recycled plastic and 20 percent food waste. The latter product isn’t quite consumer ready, as the cost is still considered too high for their liking, but it’s on the way.
Bulgurlu said. “Imagine burying your fridge in your front yard and there’d be no fridge there in five years,” Bugurlu said. “Where people see plastic waste, we see value, we see something that can be used in a different way.”
Another major area of sustainability that Arçelik is focusing on is microfiber plastics. According to Bulgurlu, roughly 1 million microfiber plastics fall off of our clothes during a single load of laundry. And from there, they get funneled out into drainage systems and dumped into oceans where they wind up in the stomachs of fish and other crustaceans—follow the food chain and you’ll understand why this is a concern. Governments, he said, don’t have the technology or filtration systems to handle this problem right now.
But Arçelik believes it does.
In order to address that challenge, Bulgurlu dropped perhaps one of the most unique announcements to come out of IFA 2019: the world’s first washing machine with a built in synthetic microfiber filtration system. According to Bulgurlu, the machine can filter out 90 percent of microfibers that fall off of clothes during a typical wash cycle.
“If we’re in a position to do something about it, we have to do something about it,” he said.
But going even a step further, he said that Arçelik is willing to share this technology with anyone who’s willing and wishes to use it. “We’re keen to work with any stakeholders … to further this technology,” he said. That means opening the filtration system up to other manufacturers so they can employ it in their own products, and research organizations so they can continue to develop and improve the technology.
Arçelik’s drive is simple, yet supremely powerful. They want to use their expertise and their platform to create products that make the world a better place. And not just because it sounds cool and may sell a few more products. But because it’s the right thing to do.
Bottom line: Watching that vision and the company’s mission take shape on the IFA Keynote stage was easily one of the most inspirational things I’ve experienced at and IFA I’ve been to.