Chilled to perfection
Katy Brown, Dan Welch and Jane Turner check out the fridge manufacturers to discover who’s cool, and who’s left out in the cold.
What’s in this report?
This report looks at the ethical records of the main manufacturers of fridge-freezers. It also gives an overview of websites and labelling designed to help consumers choose lower impact models. We’ve focused on fridge-freezers in order to compare roughly like-with-like on energy efficiency and price. However most of the companies also make freezer and fridge-only models.
The EU Energy Label is a great example of how labelling, legislation and consumer pressure can come together to drive up standards. Over the past 15 years, European manufacturers have dramatically increased the energy efficiency of domestic appliances by about 20% every four years. Most refrigerators sold in the EU today consume as much as 70% less than they consumed a decade ago.(4) The Energy Saving Trust (EST) has claimed in the past that if every household in the UK replaced their old fridge-freezer with an ‘EST Recommended’ one, electricity equivalent to the output of two typical power stations would be saved each year.
If only it were that simple. Energy efficiency, however, does not sustainability make. The most obvious reason why is the ‘rebound effect’. In short, as the cost of energy for any service falls you can use more of it for the same money – or spend the money saved on another, energy-using service. So as fridges and freezers become more energy efficient, so the average size of the appliances has increased. Ten years ago the average European fridge-freezer was roughly half the size of those sold in the US. Today, large US-style ‘food centres’ are increasingly fashionable – sporting gadgetry from wine coolers to ice-makers. And as we’ve got used to heating our houses to 21C throughout the year (except for the estimated four million UK households in fuel poverty) we expend more energy keeping our fridges and freezers cold enough.
Beyond the ‘rebound effect’ there is the amusingly named ‘Khazzoom-Brookes Postulate’ – a theory named after its economist inventors that energy efficiency actually drives the increase in demand for energy. They argue that as services that use a lot of energy become more energy efficient they also become more financially attractive. So if the energy efficiency gains provided by better refrigeration technology aren’t lost by households upgrading to US-style brushed-steel double-doored giants, they’ll be lost instead to home cinemas, electronic picture frames and e-books. Between the mid nineteenth century and today, global energy efficiency has increased by roughly 1% a year, whilst energy use has increased exponentially. Which is not, of course, an argument against energy efficiency – it’s to say that energy efficiency is not in itself enough to drive cuts in carbon emissions.
Sociologists of sustainable consumption Elizabeth Shove and Dale Southerton have studied the social history of the freezer.(7) They make the point that technologies do not exist in a vacuum, fulfilling natural needs. Rather, products such as freezers co-evolve over time with everyday practices, such as shopping, cooking and eating, and with social changes, such as an increasing proportion of ‘housewives’ entering the work-force, the growth of supermarkets and car ownership. So the freezer was first marketed to store seasonal gluts of home produce. But it enabled a frozen food industry to develop, which began to change the way we shopped, cooked and ate.
According to Shove and Southerton, “If the freezer is ‘necessary’, then it is so not because it is necessary to have frozen food, but because it has become increasingly important to manage time and domestic labour in ways that only freezers allow....” Today, say Shove and Southerton, “the freezer is perhaps best seen as a ‘time machine’.”
Forty years ago only 3% of the UK population owned a freezer – by end of the twentieth century more than 96% of UK households had one or more. In the ‘70s and ‘80s the freezer moved from the garage to the kitchen, a labour-saving device for the modern household, typically enabling working mums to freeze batches of homemade cooking. Over the last twenty years the fridge-freezer has become ever larger to accommodate ready meals and convenience foods. But even as freezers promise to help people cope with busy, harried lives, say Shove and Southerton, they lock their users into certain practices, habits and infrastructure.
What this suggests is that if we are serious about sustainable consumption we need more than better products. We need to unstitch a whole set of relations between products and what people do in everyday life and stitch them back together into a pattern that supports sustainability.
We explore some of these issues a bit further in the Alternatives section below.
How can I find the most efficient model?
The website www.sust-it.net is probably the best source of environmental information across a range of electrical product areas including under-counter fridges and freezers, upright fridges and freezers, chest freezers and fridge-freezers. Products are ranked by efficiency – for fridge-freezers by dividing the model’s electricity usage by its capacity. The top ten products of the fridge-freezer manufacturers covered in this report are presented in the Energy Saving Models table below. The site is updated regularly so check it out before you buy if you can. Do bear in mind though that this site ranks on efficiency rather than absolute energy use, and you should try and buy the smallest appliance you can manage with (which may not be a fridge-freezer at all but a fridge with an ice box – or none at all – see Alternatives). Smaller appliances tend to be less efficient, but as long as you go for one of the most efficient models in that range, your appliance will generally use less energy in absolute terms than a more efficient but larger model.
The EU Energy Label
The now familiar EU Energy Label rates energy efficiency in colour coded classes between A and G. With most cold appliances already in the A class, fridges and freezers now have additional classes A+ and A++ (which gain sustainability points on our ratings table). By law, the label must be shown on all refrigeration appliances, and a recent EU decision means that adverts promoting technical specifications of fridges should also indicate the product’s energy consumption or energy label.
A+ are at least 25% more efficient than standard A models and some A++ appliances are up to 60% more. The label must also display the actual energy the appliance uses, which is shown in kilowatt hours (kWh) per year. This figure is useful for comparing, for example, two A+ rated fridges. Remember, if they are different sizes they will use different amounts of energy.
The Energy Savings Trust
The Energy Saving Trust’s Energy Saving Recommended endorsement scheme aims to promote greater energy efficiency by identifying and endorsing the top 20% of energy-efficient products across a range of categories. Fridge-freezers must be rated A+ or above and manufacturers must be compliant with the WEEE Directive in order to be certified. The scheme has a comprehensive compliance testing programme and products which fail are either retested or removed from the scheme. Of the brands included in this report AEG, Bosch, Candy, Electrolux, Hoover, Hotpoint, Indesit, Liebherr, Miele, Siemens, Smeg and Whirlpool all have Energy Savings Trust recommended models. Details can be found on the organisation’s website or by contacting them via the details in the Links section below.
EU Eco-label ‘Flower’
At the time of writing no UK models were awarded the EU Eco-label ‘Flower’. The ‘Flower’ requires A+\A++ and better over all environmental standards, including recylcability and take-back policy.
Using less energy
• Avoid installing a fridge or freezer next to a kitchen range, radiator, oven, dishwasher, or in direct sunlight.
• Try to keep your fridge/ freezer around three- quarters full as the food retains the cold, but too full and the air can’t circulate.
• Only dried and cooled food should be placed in the fridge/freezer. Warm food in the refrigerator causes the temperature to increase in the short term, and long term the resulting ice build-up increases power consumption.
• Optimum temperature in a fridge is approximately 4 °C; power consumption increases more than proportionally when a lower temperature is maintained.
• Keep the door shut! Opening it for 10 seconds can mean the fridge takes 40 minutes to cool to its original temperature so try to keep it to a minimum
• The condenser grills at the back of your fridge or freezer should have plenty of ventilation space around them and be cleaned periodically to keep them dust free and working efficiently.
• Regularly defrost freezers as ice deposits considerably reduce the efficiency of
cooling and increase power consumption. This means that even a class A freezer will operate with the efficiency of a class B or class C appliance if it is not properly defrosted.
• Poor sealing of refrigerator door allows energy leaks. Tightness of the seal may be tested by inserting a piece of paper between the door and the refrigerator casing. If the paper is difficult to pull out, the seal is satisfactory. To maintain a good condition of the seal, clean it regularly with a wet cloth.
• If a refrigerator is out of use for a long period of time, e.g. during the holidays, it is recommended to switch it off, or to activate the holiday program function offered by some modern refrigerators.
• Insist on a hydrocarbon model, often labelled ‘CFC & HFC free’.
• Buy an appliance with the best energy rating you can (A+ or A++).
• ‘Two control’ fridge-freezers allow adjustment of the two units separately and allow you to turn the fridge off and leave the freezer on when you go on holiday.
• Choose the smallest possible model that suits your needs.
• Freezers consume the most energy of all refrigeration products so try to do without one if possible. Chest freezers tend to be more energy efficient because the cold air does not escape when the door is opened.
New fridge, old fridge?
Often our buyer’s guides for durable goods recommend considering whether you actually need to replace the item in question or whether to buy second hand. In the case of fridges and freezers however replacement with a new, more energy efficient model may actually be the best thing to do environmentally as these items require so much energy to run. A 2005 study asked the question: ‘Accelerated replacement of refrigerators and freezers – does it make sense?’(9) The authors conducted a full life cycle analysis of new models, assessed the differences between appliances of different ages, and finally compared the further use of old appliances with the acquisition and use of a new one. They found the answer to be yes – it’s better to buy a new one – as long as the new models were A+ or A++.
Critics argue however that there has been insufficient research as yet into the energy use over the whole life cycle of these products and the embedded carbon in fridge-freezers has yet to be properly calculated. With much of the research into the life cycles of these products funded by the industry itself (including the study cited above), it creates suspicion when the subsequent results support the view that buying new is best. That’s not to say that if you have an old inefficient fridge you shouldn’t replace it, but that if you have for example an A-rated fridge, upgrading to A+ or A++ may not necessarily be best.
What to do with the old one?
In an example of the law of unintended consequences, ozone-depleting refrigerant chemicals CFCs and HCFCs were phased out in the 1990s in favour of HFC, a super-greenhouse gas. Today fridge-freezers using greenhouse-friendly hydrocarbon refrigerants are readily available.
Last year, European manufacturer group CECED adopted a voluntary recycling standard to deal with ozone-depleting and greenhouse gases in appliances. The group is urging governments and the EU to adopt the standard in regulations. The UK has failed to set a minimum standard for the recovery of ozone-depleting substances from old fridges – five years after the Environment Agency promised to do so.(8)
CECED members listed on the main table are: Beko, Bosch\Siemens, Candy, Electrolux, Fagor, Gorenje, Indesit, Liebherr, Miele and Whirlpool.
So, since old fridges in particular will contain harmful greenhouse gases, it is of paramount importance that they are disposed of correctly to try and avoid these substances leaking into the atmosphere.
After several years of too-ing and fro-ing, in 2007, the WEEE regulations on waste electrical goods came into force in the UK. While they do impose more responsibility on industry for recycling they are hardly revolutionary from the public’s point of view. If you’re buying a fridge-freezer the retailer may offer to take back your old one – or they might not. They are only obliged to inform you of your local drop-off point (probably the council tip as it always was). Retailers may also offer a collection service, which they are allowed to charge for.
The Furniture Re-use Network
Whether you’re looking to dispose of your existing fridge or to buy a reasonably priced second-hand one, the Furniture Re-use Network (FRN) may be able to help. The FRN is the national body which supports, assists and develops charitable re-use organisations across the UK . Its main aim is to reduce poverty by helping households in need access furniture, white goods and other household items at affordable prices. According to the Department for Work and Pensions, four million children in the UK live in households that cannot afford to replace worn out or broken furniture and three million children live in households that cannot afford to replace broken electrical items.
There are approximately 400 re-use organisations with social and environmental aims across the UK. The sector is small but growing and is developing partnerships with local authorities to collect bulky waste. Many of these organisations are able to reprocess electrical items in line with Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment (WEEE) regulations. Your local re-use organisation can be found on the organisation’s website or by contacting them via the details found in the Llinks section below. Only fridge-freezers with a minimum of a C rating (and other minimum requirements) are re-sold, and though they mostly re-sell A and B rated models, A+ rated models are not a complete rarity.
It is possible to rent many white goods, including fridges and freezers, from companies such as Dial-a-TV which covers much of England. Rental Deals is a website which compares rental companies across the UK to find the best price and service available in your area. Free repair or replacement service comes as standard. See Links for contact details. Prices depend on the make and model. Some offer a rent-to-own price as well although, beware, this can lead to you paying over three times as much for the product in the long run.
Lease services, as opposed to shifting products, create an incentive for durability and efficiency – the absolute opposite of planned obsolescence. Until relatively recently leasing on consumer durables was commonplace. Leasing enables the supplier to capture the benefits from life cycle savings in its business model, and gives it much more flexibility to incorporate components in its products that are designed for recycling and reuse. Some forward-looking manufacturers are moving to a leasing model – perhaps most celebrated is the industrial flooring company Interface.
Make your own evaporative cooler
It is possible to buy solar powered electric refrigerators, but these are expensive and don’t eliminate the issue of the energy generated in their production. There are many designs for non-electric refrigeration systems, some more complicated than others. Here is one of the simplest we have discovered.
Take one large, unglazed terracotta pot and a smaller unglazed terracotta pot. Put the smaller pot inside the larger one and fill the space between them with coarse sand and then saturate the coarse sand with water. Put a couple of layers of wet hessian over the top to keep the heat out. The water moves by capillary action into both unglazed pots and evaporates from the inside and outside of the clay surface. These devices, simple in both design and construction, are said to work remarkably well.(10)
Traditionally larders were purpose built for the cold storage of food. Many have now been converted into bathrooms or kitchens, and central heating systems installed, though it is possible to restore them to their original purpose. Cold cupboards are another option. Basically they involve piping cold air from outside into an insulated cupboard, good if there is no outside space, but they require quite a bit of work and in many cases may not be practical.
Further information on evaporative coolers and how to install a cold cupboard.
Share a fridge!
In an increasingly atomised society people tend to live in close nuclear family units and more and more people live alone. This leads to greater energy use on many levels – through central heating, cooking for one rather than many, and refrigeration. If the efficiency gains of larger refrigerators were shared between more people and only used for essential items this would lead to massive reductions in the energy used for refrigeration. This challenges the very way we live, rather than just what we buy and is not something that can change overnight. One step towards this change on an individual level is by getting involved in setting up a housing co-op – Radical Routes is an organisation that can help (see Links).
Environmentalist Anna Harris has lived without a fridge in a variety of settings for some years now, here she explains how and why.
“I first lived without a fridge in a squat in winter. We didn’t have any electric so couldn’t run one, but quickly found living in a house heated by one gas heater, where you could see your breath, that one wasn’t necessary. Later when I lived in a rented house for which we had to buy white goods we didn’t get a fridge or freezer – deciding we would if we couldn’t get by without one, not really being able to afford one straight away. We used a pan of water in a dark corner to store soya milk and vegan mayo in. Sometimes in summer we would choose between black tea and toast for breakfast, or cereal and milk and white tea, as the soya milk went off sometimes with just two of us living there.
Now I live in a vehicle off grid, and although the solar panels generate enough electricity to power a fridge, I don’t need one. Being vegan means I have less to put in a fridge to start with and much less chance of food poisoning. I have to consider whether things will get eaten quick enough, but my two dogs help with that. I have a pan of water for the soya milk, eat vegan cheese in a couple of days, pick salad fresh from my garden and eat ice cream all at once! Now when I go to someone’s house and they have a fridge I can hear it all the time and wonder whether they really need to use all that energy, to freeze food they forget they have. I think that I probably waste less food without a fridge, than I did with one, as you are aware of it as its visible, rather than assuming it will be fine as it’s in the fridge and missing the point that you need to eat it quick. Sometimes it gets a bit difficult because food is often sold in large quantities, like 12 waffles, so food like that becomes a treat for when there are friends round.”
www.rentaldeals.co.uk 0844 414 2624
Energy Saving Trust
www.energysavingtrust.org.uk, 020 7222 0101
PO Box 108, Huntingdon, Cambs PE28 2PP.
0845 603 9778, www.dialatv.co.uk
Furniture Re-use Network
48-54 West Street, St Philips, Bristol BS2 0BL.
0117 954 3571, www.frn.org.uk
Radical Routes Enquiries
c/o Cornerstone Resource Centre, 16 Sholebroke Avenue, LEEDS LS7 3HB.
0845 330 4510 or 0113 262 9365
2 http://pr.euractiv.com 01/04/09
3 www.euractiv.com Parliament rejects downgrading ‘A’ energy label 06/05/09
4 www.beyonda.eu 18/05/09
5 ENDS Report 397, February 2008, p 19
6 Monbiot, G. Heat 2006 p.60
7 Shove, E. & Southerton, D. “Defrosting the Freezer: From Novelty to Convenience” Journal of Material Culture, 2000 (5)
8 ENDS Report 397, February 2008, p.19
9 Accelerated replacement of refrigerators and freezers – does it make sense? Ina Rüdenauer and Carl-Otto Gensch, Öko-Institut e.V. - Institute for applied ecology (Germany)
Unless otherwise stated, criticisms in the Human Rights column are for operations in oppressive regimes.
Electrolux is described as the UK's top maker of household appliances. Investor AB which has 29% of the voting rights and 13% of the share capital of Electrolux. The armaments mark is attributable to Investor AB's investment in defence manufacturers,(5) whilst its human rights mark is attributable to the sale of arms by some of these companies to oppressive regimes, as well as operations in oppressive regimes by many of the companies in its portfolio, including Electrolux.
Gorenje Group Household appliances make up nearly 80% of this Slovenian company's sales. It also makes kitchen and bathroom furnishings, bathroom fittings and ceramic tiles.
Panasonic Corp is one of the world's top consumer electronics makers. The company is a leading manufacturer of 'energy guzzling plasma TV panels (see Digital LCD TVs report) and built the world's biggest plasma TV in the US with a seven foot high screen. This Japanese company is set to merge with Sanyo later this year.
Siemens and Bosch are two German companies which jointly produce domestic appliances. The joint venture was set up in 1967. A charitable foundation, Robert Bosch Stiftung, holds 92% of shares in Robert Bosch GmbH. Siemens is one of the largest electronics and industrial engineering firms in the world. Its Voith Siemens subsidiary is involved in the Three Gorges dam project in China - the largest hydropower plant in the world. The massive project sets records for number of people displaced (more than 1.2 million), number of cities and towns flooded (13 cities, 140 towns, 1,350 villages), and length of reservoir (more than 600 kilometres). The project has been plagued by corruption, spiralling costs, technological problems, human rights violations and resettlement difficulties, according to the NGO International Rivers.(19)
Glen Dimplex Group along with LEC includes household names such as Morphy Richards and Roberts Radios. The company has no public environmental reporting.
Liebherr With a turnover of 7.5bn euro in 2007, Swiss-based Liebherr is a wholly family-owned business. The Group's aerospace business manufactures systems for commercial and military aircraft including fighters and combat helicopters.(6) It also produces mining excavators and trucks for the mining industry. Its enormous 360 tonne capacity trucks have been used in the exploitation of the Canadian tar sands.(7) Ethical Consumer has launched a campaign calling for a boycott of companies involved in or supplying equipment to tar sand development. Despite its size the group has no publicly available environmental reporting.
LG Group Korean LG Group was one of several companies criticised in 2005 for having major investments in Uzbekistan,(1) a regime notorious for its human rights abuses. According to a 2007 Corporate Watch report some LG refridgerators contain the nanomaterial 'BioSilver' or 'BioShield'(2). The company has also been criticised for workers' rights abuses at supplier companies in China,(3) for evading over $200 million tax in India in 2006,(4) and for involvement in military supply.(5)
Miele Family-owned and run Miele (with a 2.81bn euro turnover in 2008) has excellent environmental policies and reporting, narrowly missing best rating due to lack of independent verification of its 2008 Sustainability Report. Its US subsidiary is listed on a document detailing all US Department of Defence contracts over $25,000 for 2007.(8)
Koc Holdings Turkish Koc is involved with supplying specialist electronics for military applications through its Beko Elektronik subsidiary,(9) as well as manufacturing military vehicles through its Otokar subsidiary.(10) The group is also involved with the fossil fuel sector, running the 8th largest oil refinery in Europe, as well as natural gas distribution operations.(11)
Samsung is a major manufacturer of military equipment, producing tanks, armoured vehicles, artillery, amphibious assault vehicles and fighter aircraft.(12) The company has been criticised for subcontracting to a Chinese manufacturer accused of gross violations of workers? rights.(13) According to Corporate Watch, various Samsung products, including refrigerators, contained nanomaterials.(2)
Whirlpool In 2006 Whirlpool was one of a number of large US corporations accused of buying pig iron from a supplier which had been implicated in the trade of iron produced in Brazil by slave labour.(14) The company's current supply chain policy forbids using subcontractors that do not comply with its code of labour standards (which forbids all use of forced labour), earning Whirpool a middle ranking from Ethical Consumer in this category.(15)
Fagor and Mondragon The Fagor brand of fridges is made by a workers' co-operative, which is a member of Spain's Mondragon Corporacion Co-operativa (MCC) – the biggest grouping of employee-owned co-ops in the world. MCC began life in the town of Mondragon in 1956 when a group of five young engineers were encouraged by their socialist priest, Father Jose Maria Arizmediarrieta, to set up a co-operative to make paraffin cooking stoves.(17) Since then MCC has grown to become Spain’s seventh largest industrial grouping, with around 160 co-ops, and which now accounts for 4% of the GDP of the Basque country. As well as white goods, it has interests in everything from supermarkets and finance to car parts and sporting guns.
MCC has become the focus of some attention during the credit crunch. Its policy of cross subsidising loss making co-ops during a downturn and re-employing redundant workers within a 50km radius is proving a coherent alternative to free-market dogma. It also has a pay cap on managers of eight times that of the lowest paid worker.(18)
In terms of corporate responsibility, MCC has failed – thus far – to blend global ethics with co-operativism in quite the same way as the UK Co-operative Group and others. Overseas manufacturing plants in China and elsewhere are, for example, not run on the co-operative model, and MCC’s supply chain policies appeared to be not particularly convincing. Its environmental reporting also appeared to be less good than some of the better purely profit-making producers in this report.
1 www.ethicalcorp.com 20/07/05
2 Corporate Watch June 2007 Nanotechnology: undersized, unregulated and already here
3 www.business-humanrights.org 10/01/07
4 SOMO The High Cost of Calling: critical issues in the mobile phone industry 11/06
5 Jane’s International Defence Directory 2007
6 http://investing.businessweek.com viewed 15/05/09
7 www.liebherr.com/lh/en/113153_94491.asp 15/05/09
8 www.defenselink.mil/dodgc/defense_ethics/resource_library viewed 17/05/09
9 www.beko-elektronik.de viewed 27/0707
10 www.koc.com.tr viewed 19/06/07
11 ww.koc.com.tr viewed 19/06/07
12 www.samsungtechwin.com viewed 07/01/09
13 www.business-humanrights.org viewed 11/01/07
14 www.bloomberg.com viewed 02/11/06
15 www.whirlpoolcorp.com viewed 08/05/09
16 Amnesty InternationaI website July 2007, BBC News website August 2006
17 www.iisd.org/50comm/commdb/desc/d13.htm viewed 18/5/09
18 The economist – All in this together March 26th 2009
19 http://internationalrivers.org/en/china/three-gorges-dam viewed 20/5/09