100+ product tests imminent

MarketWatch will start product check-tests in the coming weeks, purchasing 100 appliances from around Europe and running them through expertly-devised tests developed by independent consultancies, in liaison with national authorities. We’re a little behind schedule here, following a second round of expert input to complement work already undertaken. First up though, we’re putting the finishing touches to our list of target products, informed by a long list of intelligence sources. MarketWatch wants to involve outside civil society interests, so further intelligence from such groups is welcome. The finale will be full-blown lab tests of the most suspicious products followed by dialogue with manufacturers and media.

Shop inspections forge ahead

A second major phase of street level shop inspections by MarketWatch project partners is nearing completion, with 110 shops scrutinised to see if energy label and Ecodesign information display rules are being followed. Most shops not doing so well last time have been revisited, and new ones selected from the shop types suspected of having lower compliance rates. We’re waiting a little before carrying out similar checks online, since new rules from 1 January need a bit of time to bed-in, as they only concern new products. It was thought that many online retailers are not ready for the change, but we’re working together with individual shops, industry associations and the authorities to improve matters where we can, since this will surely help consumers be better informed and better able to find the most energy efficient appliances. Expect our second retailer report in Spring. A third round of shop visits will take place in Autumn 2015.

Missing information; missing the point

The final results of the ATLETE2 project came as quite a positive surprise to most working on Ecodesign and energy labelling. The project brought together manufacturers, NGOs, energy agencies and academics to see if washing machines, an important energy using appliance, were complying with Ecodesign and Energy Labelling Directive rules. And what a result; 100% compliance rate with energy and resource use declaration, and no machines falling outside of the minimum requirements set out in the ecodesign regulation. Quite an improvement on the findings from the ATLETE I project. This is for sure good outcome! Manufacturers are respecting the directives and Europe is enjoying the benefits of a reduction of energy consumption. As a partner in the ATLETE2 project, ECOS can certainly see why this is a good thing, but does this tell the whole story?

Here is the further breakdown of compliance rates on the washing machines tested:

  • 92% overall compliance rate for functional performance class and parameters;
  • 84% overall compliance of the product fiche and ecodesign information requirements about product documentation;
  • 38% compliance with ecodesign specific information on products within the booklet of instructions;

However, perhaps most surprising is that when all requirements are taken into consideration we find just 30% overall compliance when including all individual parameters (70% was missing at least one piece of required consumer information). Most of these non-compliance issues revolve around a lack of information that is supposed to be supplied to the consumer, and the specific non-technical requirements for washing machines. So, at least in this study for washing machines, where are the manufacturers failing? Below are the most common elements found to be missing. Some appliances had just one failure, while others had several of these:

  • no indication, or indication not in line with the standard, of the standard 60°C cotton programme and of the 40°C standard cotton programme;
  • no indicative information for the main washing programmes at full or partial load about: programme time, remaining moisture content, energy and water consumption;
  • no indication of the power consumption of the off-mode and of the left-on mode;
  • no indication that the  standard programmes are suitable to clean normally soiled cotton laundry;
  • no  recommendation on the type of detergents suitable for the various washing temperatures.

Whilst meeting the primary concerns of energy and water consumption should indeed be lauded as success, consumers may feel let down by the 70% failure rate of the information and generic requirements. We would argue that this is no small matter.

These machines, similarly to all kind of tests pursued in the laboratories conditions, are tested in a very specific format and under very specific and controlled conditions across the whole of Europe. This format is known as EN60456:2011, and it is designed to test in a repeatable and reproducible way and with the intention to , where possible, reflect the everyday use of the washing machine; how most people use a machine that have a basic knowledge of its functional capacity. This EN60456:2011 will identify which energy rating a machine receives so it can be given a label like this:

washing mahcine label

The problem is, that the letter rating (A++ for example) is largely based on the energy consumed during the cycles of the standard 60°C cotton programme and of the 40°C standard cotton programme, washed at both full and partial load (the other aspects include the size of the machine, standby mode energy consumption, ‘off-mode’ energy consumption, and the duration of the cycle. The calculation also assumes a rate of 220 standard wash cycles taking place per year) – precisely the information that is most often missing from the product.

This raises the issue: can the full potential of the energy label be reached if consumers are unaware of its most efficient cycles? And what savings are lost as a result of a lack of information?   Furthermore, what happens to the energy savings when a machine is labelled as highly efficient in a particular mode, but then is used in another mode as the consumer is unable to identify this particular mode? A recent article on water heaters has shown that there can be potentially significant losses for the environment and consumers when water heaters are tested in one mode and frequently used in another.

If we assume that a machine is tested in its most efficient mode (why wouldn’t the manufacturer have the machine tested in its most efficient mode and get the best energy class rating?), then we can also assume that all other cycles and modes either consumer more energy or more water, or both. How then can the consumer use this mode if it has not been identified to them? Without this knowledge, it is possible that there will be an increase to the cost of running the machine for the individual, but also collectively the expected savings from these regulations are reduced.

So whilst we must commend the efforts so far of manufacturers, we argue that there is still more to be done. 100% sounds impressive, but, to draw an analogy, who takes a quiz, gets 6 out of 10 questions right and then trumpets ‘I got 100% of the 6 questions right’? 100% compliance with part of the labelling requirements is not 100% compliance with the law, which is there to protect consumers and guarantee a level playing field for manufacturers to create and ably market better and better products. We call for the market surveillance authorities across Europe to continue to take action in identifying and bringing remedy actions to ensure both consumer rights are protected, and that the energy savings that are vital to our environment are realised. We also commend the manufacturers who are taking action and ensuring that all requirements are met, and we look forward to a positive collaboration in the future

Alun Jones co-ordinates market surveillance activity for ECOS, which helps steer the MarketWatch project.

MarketWatch recently added Atlete2 results to its websites. For more on Atlete2, read the project leaflet, or visit www.atlete.eu/2

Court tells electronics giant to get labelling right

Germany’s biggest electronic retailer recently lost a court case brought by one of MarketWatch / Markt-Checker’s regional partners VZ RLP. The consumer group took Saturn-Mediamarkt to court over five cases where its brochures had an inaccurate declaration of the energy consumption for televisions. The court handed down a cease-and-desist order. The company faces a fine of up to €250,000 if it repeats the mistake. For more information, click here.