Efficiency labels: are they meaningful even if they do not always take account of the typical use?

This question is being answered by Dr Klaus Mittelbach, Chief Executive Officer of the German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers' Association (ZVEI), and Mr Klaus Müller, Executive Director of the Federation of German Consumer Organisations (vzbv).

FOR: Dr Klaus Mittelbach

Dr. Klaus Mittelbach, Vorsitzender der Geschäftsführung des Zentralverbands Elektrotechnik- und Elektronikindustrie (ZVEI)© Matthias Haslauer

Energy labels are a tried-and-tested instrument. They serve as an orientation for consumers in a segment that has become very complex. However, the media repeatedly ask whether the labels really take account of the typical use.

Why is this so? Labelling makes sense only if it has a real informative value and people can trust the information.

Measurement methods must meet three main requirements: they must reflect consumer behaviour, generate precise results, and their application must not consume too much time or money. It is not easy to meet all three requirements.

The first question is: what is meant by 'typical consumer behaviour'? The way people wash their clothes, bake or vacuum differs considerably throughout Europe. In addition, consumer behaviour is constantly changing. New detergents and textiles, for instance, change our laundry patterns. This must all be taken into account when measurement methods are developed, but always in view of the consequences in terms of quality and time/money consumed.

As for the measurement methods: they must of course generate precise results. Many appliances have already reached very high efficiency levels. The methods must ensure that the slight differences can be measured exactly and that the measurements can be repeated. In order to guarantee this, the methods are described in a very detailed manner. The measurement standard for washing machines, for instance, comprises about 180 pages. The measurement is therefore very time-consuming.

The market surveillance resources are in fact scarce. Market surveillance bodies are facing enormous challenges in view of increasingly complex measurement methods for a growing number of regulated products. Despite this, even more technical reviews would be desirable. Checks based primarily on written data from the manufacturers are not sufficient. In this context, the ZVEI supports the project on the review of measurement methods that has been commissioned by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy.

Measurement methods must meet all the requirements I mentioned. This is not always easy, and compromises are indispensable. The European standardisation bodies are successfully making great efforts to find solutions.

I am convinced that energy labels are meaningful: they serve as orientation for consumers in the complex world of household appliances.

Dr Klaus Mittelbach is Chief Executive Officer of the German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers' Association (ZVEI).

AGAINST: Mr Klaus Müller

Klaus Müller, Vorstand des Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverbands (vzbv)© vzbv - Jan Zappner

Energy labels: yes, but they must reflect the reality in consumer households.

More than 80 per cent of the consumers look at the energy label for electronic devices with the efficiency classes A+++ to G when they buy new products. The idea behind the label is good: consumers should be able to see at first glance which appliances are energy guzzlers and thus reduce their electricity costs. However, right now the label is not easy to use, and it is not always reliable. This is primarily due to the fact that the calculation methods often do not reflect the reality of household use. This ought to be changed.

One example: the most efficient washing machine is not of great use for consumers if the classification is only based on the machine's energy saving programme. Only half of all households actually use the energy saving programmes. Many consumers are not aware of the existence of these programmes or prefer shorter laundry runs. Other programmes consume more energy than suggested by the energy class and the related electricity consumption. Therefore energy labels are not useful as long as they are based on assumptions which do not reflect the reality.

Besides, it is not always guaranteed that the data are correct. The data are declarations made by the manufacturers and only reviewed at random when the products are already on the market. According to the EU, 20 per cent of the products do not meet the ecodesign and energy labelling requirements. As a consequence ten per cent of the saving potential for consumers is lost. Therefore the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy took an important step at the beginning of this year when it commissioned the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM) to examine the ecodesign and labelling testing methods to protect consumers against fraud.

A reform of the energy label at EU level is being prepared right now to make it a reliable consumer information instrument again. This also includes that the data must be correct and take more account of actual consumer behaviour.

Mr Klaus Müller is Executive Director of the Federation of German Consumer Organisations (vzbv).