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The dirty truth of housework: how sharing the load can clean the world up.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed in their July 2022 report that the UK’s female workforce is booming. 15.7 million women work in the UK today, 2 million more than in 2010.

As society changes and many more women go out to work every day, our society has increasingly become cash rich and time poor. A solution is to outsource and automate. Grocery shopping, house cleaning, childcare; can we now outsource our laundry and ironing chores without exacerbating our climate anxiety?

In this article, URBAG explores how women can overcome patriarchal norms threatening to compromise their rise and critical mission to tackle climate change.

Back to business

As the memories of the pandemic fade into the background, business comes into the foreground. The surge of people returning to work has reignited domestic and work-life tension.

Even though the 'Work From Home' - WFH - movement continues, the flexibility for contemporary corporate citizens to balance their domestic chores with business objectives has been challenged.

Whilst we may wash away our stains, washing away our environmental guilt may not be as easy as pressing the start button.

Women, a driving force of sustainability

According to a survey of 1,000 small business owners conducted by the National Association of Small Business Owners, women-owned businesses were more likely to prioritise sustainable practices, such as energy efficiency and waste reduction.

Women are driving innovation in sustainability and creating new technologies and business models that are sustainable and profitable.

According to Forbes, “When Venture Capitalists invest in women, they make more money. Research has shown that female leadership can impact business performance and overall growth. In a survey of more than 350 startups, Mass Challenge and BCG found that women-run businesses deliver higher revenues, equating to more than twice as much per dollar invested.”

Women are time poor, cash rich and just hanging on.

Despite this societal change and a sharp increase in the women workforce, the European Institute for Gender Equality finds that housework is the most unequally shared of the three most common forms of unpaid care.

The report highlights that "employed women spend about 2.3 hours daily on housework; for employed men, this figure is 1.6 hours. Gender gaps in housework participation are the largest among couples with children, demonstrating an enduring imbalance in unpaid care responsibilities within families."

In her book Equal Partners: Improving Gender Equality at Home, Kate Mangino writes that 'In different-sex relationships, women do around 65% of the physical household work. Chores that are routine – cooking and cleaning, for instance – tend to fall to women, while intermittent chores, such as sorting out finances or mowing the lawn, are more likely to be done by men. “This means that the unpaid female role’s to-do list is relentless'.

Consequently, women may scale back on their work endeavours to focus on home life, especially if childcare is on the table.

Household chores is not a family affair anymore

Women were never meant to be doing it all.

Did you know that outsourcing chores could make you as happy as getting an $18,000 raise, says Harvard Business School assistant professor Ashley Whillans in her Time Smart book? Research shows that 'people who prioritize time report greater happiness than people who prioritize money'.

So it wouldn't come as a surprise that the European Institute for Gender Equality finds that women have started to outsource more and more household chores. "Outsourcing cooking, cleaning, ironing, gardening, caring for pets, etc., has grown because there are more women in paid jobs and little headway has been made on men assuming more unpaid care duties at home (Barone and Mocetti, 2011; Forlani et al., 2015; Raz‐Yurovich, 2014; Raz-Yurovich and Marx, 2019)."

This new trend will reinvigorate the dry-cleaning and laundry services market, says market research publication Technavio, which forecasts a market growth driven by an increasing labor force participation of women.

Outsourcing can also redirect women’s energy and focus back to driving the sustainable business agenda.

Outsourcing household chores without exacerbating our climate anxiety.

The dry-cleaning industry, as we all know, is not that clean. Challenges are at play, namely heavy use of dangerous chemicals i.e. perchloroethylene, commonly known as PERC, and single-use plastic.

The industry is slowly shifting though, and will continue to green-up as the community and clientele pressurise them more.

Here are some steps you can take

a) Ditch the plastic!

Early findings of a nationwide research that URBAG is conducting show that more than 80% of dry cleaners in the UK would welcome clients who bring their own garment bags to avoid using single-use plastic covers.

So, bring your reusable suit bags with you next time to drop off your laundry. Or grab a tote/garment bag combo so you do not have to remember to bring extra bags with you. Make it easier and more convenient.

b) Find a greener dry-cleaner

Laundry and dry-cleaning services are greening their operations, switching their PERC use for more environemental friendly products.

Look for dry-cleaners who use techniques such as wet cleaning, liquid carbon dioxide cleaning and silicon-based solvent such as GreenEarth Cleaning which is basically liquified sand (SiO2).

Celebrating Women in Business

Over the last few months, URBAG has been speaking to fellow female entrepreneurs and change makers. To read more on female entrepreneurs who are tackling the world’s problems :

1- Mojca Zupan, Founder of Planetcare, share her story as founding the first washine machine filter that captures microplastics, and shares her ambition to create a closed-loop system and upcycle microfibers partcles into insulation mats for houses

2- Billie Toussoun, Director of Chelsea Green Valet shared her views on how the dry-cleaning can help tackling the plastic waste issue in that industry

3- Kelly Moir, Director of Impact and Sustainability at BT Enterprise, explains the importance of pro-environmental nudging in the workplace and the critical role that corporations play in driving behaviour change.

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