Tesco moves on energy labels for small electricals

Supermarket giant Tesco has forged ahead of other retailers and the government in labelling the energy efficiency of small electrical goods. The firm criticises the tardiness of government action on these products.

From the end of March, Tesco customers will be able to choose the most energy-efficient set-top boxes because all will carry a label that rates their efficiency and indicates annual running costs.

Tesco hopes to have rated all television sets, DVD players and computers by the end of the year. The intention is to extend energy labelling to all of the small electricals it sells. The labels will carry A-to-G ratings and appear at the point of sale and in print and online versions of its mail-order catalogue.

The A-G energy label was first brought in under a 1994 EC Directive that required standardised energy consumption data to appear on labels for refrigerators and freezers. Other retailers have shown a renewed interest in energy-labelling (ENDS Report 390, pp 30-33 ), but Tesco will be the first to use it for small electricals.

Intellect, the trade association for the UK technology industry, said that while it supported the move it was concerned at the lack of an industry-wide approach. It said it was vital that there was consistency in the marketplace and consumers were not left confused.

The announcement comes just days after the European Commission closed its consultation on proposals to extend mandatory energy labelling to appliances such as televisions (ENDS Report 396, p 50 ). In the UK, limited energy labelling has been in place since 1995 and has been considered extremely successful in bringing more efficient products - especially white goods - to market and in helping consumers identify the most efficient products.

Andy Brocklehurst, Tesco’s green category director, said the decision to use energy labels was driven by this "fantastic" response: "Customers don’t understand the energy usage of appliances and are saying to us they understand energy labelling and can use it to make an informed choice." Research by the Energy Savings Trust has indicated that 90% of consumers want to see A-G energy efficiency ratings on consumer electronic goods.

While Tesco was unwilling to share the thresholds for each of the A-G bandings, it did confirm that A-rated appliances were those that met the Energy Saving Trust "recommended" label criteria. This is set by an independent panel and reviewed annually. C-ratings are based on the government’s Market Transformation Programme (MTP) average projections of energy use.

The firm used data already published by manufacturers in specifications and data from the Market Transformation Programme on the standard energy cycle of specific appliances to decide which energy-banding a product fell into and its annual running cost.

For set-top boxes, Tesco said there was little difference between products but more significant differences would emerge for other products: "We are going to see a much more significant spread for televisions and computers," said Mr Brocklehurst.

Tesco pointed to research that showed that the most energy-efficient 15-inch televisions have an average power consumption of as little as 7 watts, while a 50-inch plasma set could consumer twenty times as much. It said the difference could save customers hundreds of pounds over an average product life cycle.

Labelling goods such as kettles and toasters will be more difficult because data and measurement protocols have not yet been created. Tesco is talking to the MTP to complete these despite concerns from the scheme about the complexity of labelling the appliances.

The supermarket’s move follows growing pressure on retailers to help curb energy consumed by home electrical goods.

Last year, the Energy Saving Trust predicted that by 2020, entertainment, computers and gadgets would be responsible for 45% of the electricity used in the home. Set-top boxes, for example, are expected to rise from around 13 million to over 80 million by 2020, resulting in a 400% rise in the energy consumption by these products compared to 2005 (ENDS Report 390, pp 30-33 ).

The government has been trying to broker an agreement with retailers to "choice edit" products they stock by removing the most inefficient products from sale and promoting the most efficient.

Mr Brocklehurst said Tesco’s decision was not to replace or supplant any on-going work on consumer electronics: "This is something we are proposing to do in addition to the other work." He hinted that data being collected could be used for choice editing in future, but said this was "not the primary motivation".

He also admitted that the firm was frustrated by the slow speed at which the government-led work was developing. The red-green calculator that government has been developing (ENDS Report 386, pp 22-23 ), is not as sophisticated as retailers would like.

"Our approach is a broader one that customers can use now, rather than a product-by-product approach that filters through over time. The government’s approach has been a very time consuming process," said Mr Brocklehurst. "Consumers are telling us more and more they want to have the ability to take action now."

Laurence Harrison, director of consumer electronics at Intellect, said he sympathised with Tesco’s frustration with the process: "We could be moving forward much quicker. The process has been slowed down because discussions have been fragmented rather than industry-wide."

Marks and Spencer announced in February that it has removed the most inefficient large appliances from its product range. It now sells only A-rated cookers, fridges and washing machines. It is now exploring whether to stock only Energy Saving Trust recommended televisions.

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