Energy Efficiency Label

As part of the research for these guides, Ethical Consumer has looked at the shocking state of online energy labelling and found a number of companies are dodging the rules and failing to provide the proper energy information online at the point of sale.

Online sales now account for 53.5% of money spent on major domestic appliances. Since 1995, appliance retailers have been required by EU law to display the EU energy label which we are now all familiar with.

From 2015, this requirement was extended to online retailers after complaints from some groups, including Ethical Consumer. Online sellers must now show either full energy labels, or a ‘nested arrow’ with just their rating (e.g. ‘A+’), which, when clicked on, takes you to the full label.

However, it only takes five minutes on the internet to start wondering where all the labels are.

Image: Energy efficiency label

Many sites missing labels

When Ethical Consumer looked at the seven largest online retailers for electrical appliances between 19th and 22nd January 2018 – Currys, Argos, Amazon, John Lewis, Euronics, Hughes Electrics and AO.com – it found that none of them appeared to be consistently complying with EU rules.

AmazonHughes Electrical and Argos all listed products for which neither energy label nor ‘nested arrow’ could be found. No energy labels were found at all on the Hughes Electrical website, though it did have its own comparisons for energy costs.

Examples were found on all seven websites, in which a product was displayed with an energy rating, but no energy label. [6] Rules were flouted particularly frequently in the cases of cookers and fridges.

Where Amazon did provide an energy label, in product images, these were sometimes found to have been reformatted. Important information like actual energy consumption and water use was lost, despite stipulations that labels must not be modified by retailers. Instances were also found in which Amazon provided two different figures for the ‘energy usage’ of a product. 

Not a new issue

It seems that this is a long-running issue. In 2016, MarketWatch found that only a quarter of white goods sold online in the UK were correctly labelled. Half had no energy information at all.

Energy labels are often not displayed on the manufacturers’ websites since they are only a legal obligation at the point of sale. This is why it is important for retailers to make sure they give consumers the facts. This situation is clearly not acceptable. Online sellers need to be clearly showing all the energy efficiency information that bricks-and-mortar sellers are required to show.

The rules on online labelling need to be enforced but resources for consumer protection bodies have been cut both nationally (Consumer Direct closed in 2012) and locally (Trading Standards Offices).

Only buying from sites where labels are properly displayed is another way to campaign for change. Amazon and Hughes Electrical appeared to be the worst offenders.

Company statements

We contacted the companies following the research for their comment.

Amazon told us 'All Marketplace sellers must follow our selling guidelines and those who don’t will be subject to action including potential removal of their account. The products in question are no longer available.'

Our response: we checked the product pages highlighted in the original research, and found that these had been removed from Amazon’s website since we informed them of the problem. However, we found several other pages which still did not comply with EU law, including some products which were said to be 'Dispatched from and sold by Amazon'. 

AO.com told us "we take the EU rules around energy labelling very seriously. Following this research, we have reviewed our process and will ensure that the small number of products that didn’t comply now follow the regulations."

Our response: we checked the product page highlighted in the original research, and found that the energy label was still unavailable, although an additional data sheet had been added  to the product page. Further examples where AO.com had failed to comply with EU law remained unchanged. 

Argos: “we’ve looked into it and the examples you have shared are no longer available from Argos. All our current product pages highlight the energy rating and we’re working to ensure the energy label is always displayed in a compliant way.

Our response: We checked the product pages highlighted in the original research, and found that these had been removed from Argos’ website since we informed them of the problem. However, we found several other pages where Argos had still not complied with EU law. 

John Lewis: “Whilst the vast majority of our products are in line with the energy labelling regulations, we have recognised that a small number of products do not the display the energy label and we are therefore addressing this as an urgent priority.”

Our response: we checked the product pages highlighted in the original research, and found that these had been removed from John Lewis’ website since we informed them of the problem. However, we found several other pages where John Lewis had still not complied with EU law. 

Curry's, Euronics and Hughes Electrical all failed respond to our questions. 

Image: Energy efficiency label

More on energy efficiency

The dominant theme in our appliance guides is energy efficiency.

Because of European legislation, washing machinesdishwashers, ovens and fridges all need to display an energy efficiency label.

Unfortunately, there is no energy label for kettles or microwaves. Ethical Consumer’s position is that all products that consume energy should have to display an energy efficiency rating and label.

The EU Energy efficiency label was first introduced in 1995 and gives products a rating based on their energy consumption. It is a mandatory label and the rating is based on data supplied by the manufacturers themselves.

Energy labels show how an appliance ranks on a scale from A to G according to its energy consumption. Class A (green) is the most energy efficient and Class G (red) the least. Currently, once most appliances of a given type reach Class A, up to three further classes can be added to the scale: A+, A++ and A+++.

Due to improved energy efficiency in many products, more and more appliances are ranked within the A+, A++ and A+++ grades. This has proven to be confusing for consumers so the decision has been taken to phase out these rankings by 2020. The new grading system will revert back to the A to G rankings (without the A+, A++ and A+++), although this scale will run alongside the current grades for some time until completely phased out. There is no indication to date that the government plans to drop these labels in a future Brexit scenario.

Cooker and kettle manufacturers are lagging some way behind when it comes to improving energy performance. Only two models of cooker get the top rating for energy efficiency, whereas eight brands of washing machine got the top energy efficiency rating for all models made. Most fridge brands sold some models that got the top rating.

Because of the increases in energy efficiency in the fridge and washing machine market, some manufacturers are now using an unofficial labelling that indicates how much more efficient their products are above the current top rating of A+++.

The label also shows the product’s actual energy consumption, usually given as kilowatt hours per year (kWh/yr). Other data relating to capacity, water consumption and noise levels may also be given, depending on the appliance.

We have to be careful not to fall victim to the rebound effect. This occurs when you buy an energy efficient machine but your energy usage, and therefore carbon footprint, doesn’t fall because you have unwittingly changed your habits and you end up using more energy than you expect to.

If we are serious about sustainable consumption we need more than better products. We need to change our behaviour. We can’t assume that owning energy-efficient appliances means we don’t have to use them carefully or even turn them off.

Cartoon: energy efficiency

Shortcomings of the Energy Label

An EU Energy Label can give you a good at-a-glance evaluation of how energy efficient a product is. But using it to decipher which product is the most energy efficient on the market may be less straightforward, for example, when a large number of models receive the same energy rating. In this case, the energy consumption (kWh/yr figure) is useful for comparing them.

  • The rating may be calculated in a way that’s not representative of how people use a product in real-life. For example, most people wash on 40°C normal cotton and synthetic programmes but the EU Energy label for washing machines looks at a weighted average of 60°C and 40°C cotton full and partial load cycles.
  • Two different-sized appliances could carry the same energy efficiency rating, but a smaller product will use less energy. You need to do a calculation to factor in its volume or capacity – divide kWh/yr by capacity to get kWh/yr per unit.
  • A smaller A rated appliance could use less energy than a larger A+ rated one. Check the energy consumption kWh/yr figure.
  • Which? tests have found huge differences in the energy use of similar-sized fridge-freezers with the same energy label.[2] 
  • The proliferation of A rated products (including A+, A++, A+++) is confusing to the consumer but these plus ratings will be pahsed out by 2020.

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