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.

Press release – online retailers unready for 1 January rule change

Retailers unready for EU’s 1 January consumer labelling shake-up

Amazon and Ebay both lose court cases on new rules in 2014

8 December 2014 Brussels – Amazon is among the online retailers being told by the EU to display energy labels next to TVs, fridges, ovens and other products from 1 January to make it easier for consumers to find the most efficient products.

Amazon and Ebay are well aware of the new rules, having already lost early stage court cases in Germany [1]. But Ecommerce Europe, representing more than 25,000 online traders, told the press in late November that most of its members had not taken steps to ready their websites [2].

Online stores have displayed some elements of the EU energy label for years, but have never been required to show the colourful A-G energy label as an image. With more and more trade moving online, the rules were updated, and officially published in the EU’s official journal on 5 March 2014 [3]. These require labelling only for models being sold for the first time after 1 January, with voluntary labelling of all other products covered under the EU Energy Labelling Directive, in order to fit round product cycles.

MarketWatch co-ordinator Frances Downy said: “Energy labels are respected by shoppers who see them as a reliable guide to how power-hungry appliances are. Taken as a whole, this nets Europeans billions in energy savings and lower bills. Some online retailers already let customers filter products by how energy efficient they are. We hope the rest of the pack get their act together quickly in time for January 1.”

MarketWatch is an EU co-funded NGO campaign inspecting over 150,000 products in 660 online and street stores in ten European countries, as well as lab testing suspicious products to check for manufacturer compliance. A survey of over 200 retailers in 11 countries in late 2013 and early 2014 found that an average 62 percent of online products had missing or incorrect EU energy label information [4].

Ends

Notes

[1] MarketWatch summaries of the cases against Ebay and Amazon.

[2] Ecommerce Europe statements to ENDs Europe.

[3] EU directive

[4] MarketWatch press release

New rules will help shoppers reduce their energy bills

Incoming EU rules will require online retailers to show helpful energy labels alongside new products from 1 January 2015.

Physical stores are required by law to display energy labels on fridges, TVs and other appliances, but online stores could ignore the label so long as they provided certain information. With sales shifting online, the rules are changing.

Websites will likely show a ‘nested’ version of the label – a snippet from the label positioned near the product price, with more information available if users hover, mouse click or physically touch, in the case of mobile devices, the label snippet. The European Commission has put in place detailed rules to ensure no funny business here.

The rules are only mandatory for new models after 1 January 2015, but manufacturers may chose to supply digital versions of labels for existing models earlier and retailers may or may not host them. We hope they do.

More inspections start soon

MarketWatch will soon kick off a second round of retailer inspections covering 110 physical shops in 11 countries and the same number online. Internet checks will follow physical checks this time round in order to vet for a change of rules for online labelling from January. Shops that scored badly last time will be visited again and negotiations with individual retailers and member state authorities continue. The campaign has added vacuum cleaners to the list of products to be checked following newly introduced labels for this product group. We’ll also be keeping an eye out for A class washing machines that should not be entering the market after December 2013, and that the standard cotton programme on tumble driers carries a ‘standard cycle’ indication required from November 2014.

The 101 of MarketWatch’s product test programme

Which product groups will MarketWatch put through exhaustive lab tests to see if they truly are as efficient as their energy labels claim? Why is MarketWatch even testing when this is a job done by government departments? Tom Lock certification manager at the UK’s Energy Saving Trust, takes us through the next stage of the MarketWatch programme – what it will entail and the products that will be tested.

A few years ago the European Commission recognised the need for an extensive market surveillance of energy-using products after research showed that one in five products across Europe were presenting misleading energy saving claims.

Over the next year or so, MarketWatch will test on two levels: a screening of ten product groups for signs that products do or don’t meet energy efficiency legislation, such as Energy Labelling and Ecodesign Directive rules, and in-depth lab tests.

From September, the screening of 100 products investigating their energy performance will begin. This will cover tumble dryers, dishwashers, washing machines, televisions, vacuum cleaners, domestic lighting, set top boxes, electric ovens, fridges and the horizontal standby off-mode. Screening tests have been devised by MarketWatch then peer-reviewed by outside experts to ensure they are as robust as possible.

Following the screen testing, we will then select 20 products for the full laboratory testing. These products have not yet been confirmed but we’re keen to make sure that they resonate with consumers as ‘iconic’ home appliances. We will be using a number of Europe’s finest specialist laboratories for this stage, with these labs being selected based on its suitability for the different product groups.

During this phase of the project, we will be liaising with government agencies to ensure we complement their work rather than repeat it. We’ll also be encouraging them to make use of our results. We will engage with firms shown to be selling products that do not meet their energy label claims, and we reserve the right to name them as a deterrent for others, something national authorities themselves do.

We are confident we can count on the backing of industry groups like CECED, whose head earlier this year called for better market surveillance. This will ensure a more level playing field to benefit the majority of firms complying with the law.