Rift develops over energy label redesign proposals

The UK government is one of a number of countries rejecting the European Commission’s latest compromise on the appearance of energy labels. However, manufacturing countries are digging in their heels.

The UK, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden are challenging the European Commission’s proposed energy label redesign. They have warned the Commission that the new version risks leaving consumers confused.

The redesign has emerged alongside implementing measures published for a number of the product groups being considered under the eco-design of energy-using products (EuP) Directive (see pp 50-51 ). It has been the Commission’s intention to harmonise its energy labelling system, which is currently being recast, with relevant eco-design measures that set progressively tougher performance standards.

One of the big problems with the EU framework Directive on energy labelling has been that labels have had an indefinite shelf life with no set dates for revision, despite technical advances that make the original ratings scheme seem ever more irrelevant.

The impact of this on the market is clear. For white goods 80-90% of all products available on the UK market are rated an A. For washing machines, 98% are A-rated, according to the Environment Department (DEFRA).

During the energy labelling Directive’s 2002 review, some member states wanted the A-G ratings rescaled but the white goods sector strongly opposed the move because it would imply existing stock was inferior (ENDS Report 330, pp 53-54 ). Member states reluctantly continued discussions on the basis of an A+/A++ approach (ENDS Report 330, pp 53-54 ).

An initial rescaling of the labels seems now inevitable, according to the draft implementing measures that have recently emerged under the EuP Directive. Under current proposals, a year after the measures come into force A-rated freezers will become C-rated appliances, A-rated dishwashers will become B, and A-rated washing machines will become B-rated - an approach supported by the UK government.

However concern has emerged over the Commission’s plans to update the label in line with the tightening of performance standards under the EuP Directive.

Rather than continuing to rescale appliances so A-rated equipment is then B-rated, the Commission is proposing to open up new classes above A - A1, A2 and A3. These will be formally opened up at set times, but manufacturers meeting these standards will be allowed to label their products under these classes in advance.

The Commission’s proposals are widely seen as a concession to manufacturers that are already concerned about the economic impact of A-rated appliances dropping to a C-rating if energy labels are rescaled.

In a statement, CECED, which represents the household appliance manufacturing industry in Europe, warned that such a rescaling "would undermine the capacity for industry to invest in further innovation."

But a survey, published by the government’s Market Transformation Programme, reveals that consumers would overwhelmingly prefer sticking to just an A-G rating scale. The survey was carried out by polling agency Ipsos Mori in six EU countries for the UK government, Sweden and the Netherlands. It shows consumers find the Commission’s proposal to label products using a combined alphabetical and numerical ratings too confusing and unnecessarily complicated.

To address this, the UK along with Denmark, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden have put forward an alternative approach. They are calling for the Commission to retain the focus on A-G, agree classes and planned revalorisations in advance, allow manufacturers to claim rewards on products better than A by opening up an A+ class and to state the validity period on the label.

But it is not at all certain whether it will be adopted and accepted by other member states. Manufacturing countries such as Poland, Spain and Italy - and to some extent Germany - strongly support the Commission’s proposals.

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