Tim Somheil, Editor
It takes a lot of money and resources to continually create more energy efficient products, but there’s also a great deal of satisfaction for European appliance engineers who see their hard work pay off in the form of a label with a dark green, top-level A efficiency rating.
Can you imagine the frustration of the same engineers when they find a competitor’s product on the market with obviously inferior energy efficiency but the same top-level energy rating on the label?
Members of European industry association CECED have watched it happen for years, and see the problem getting worse. While members pour resources into environmental innovation, others have gone to certain markets with little more than fake efficiency credentials. And nobody tries very hard to stop them.
“Politicians set rules, expect companies to abide by them and then fail to invest the resources needed to stop the lawbreakers,” said CECED President Magnus Yngen of Electrolux after a meeting of an association steering committee in Brussels, Belgium. With Yngen were committee colleagues Marco Milani of Indesit Company, Philip Doorduijn of Philips and Alain Grimm-Hecker of Groupe SEB. At the meeting, CECED announced it wants to put a halt to the continual updating of voluntary agreements that the association started a decade ago.
Europe has consistently been a global leader in environmental advancement of consumer products. Long before the buyers in other appliance markets, European consumers were spurring environmental product development with their votes and their pocketbooks. The European appliance industry was eager to keep pace with green consumers and launched many energy efficient and water-saving technologies that would later spread around the world. In the 1990s, the European industry took voluntary steps to guide its environmental efforts with pro-active standards.
CECED’s voluntary energy efficiency agreements advanced huge performance improvements and are estimated to have helped cut 17 million tons of CO2 emissions in Europe. Five such agreements—for washing machines, refrigerators, freezers, dishwashers, and water storage heaters—cover 90 percent of the European market for large appliances and required industry investment of about 10 billion euros (approx. U.S. $13.3 billion) over 10 years.
That’s a substantial R&D investment, and the industry leaders don’t regret spending it—they just want to do business on a level playing field, in which their R&D investment isn’t negated by dishonest appliance sellers. That requires taking action against the perpetrators, and that’s in the hands of the European governments.
To help make it happen, the association is calling for legislative measures on energy performance standards as an alternative to the continued updating of CECED voluntary agreements. Association members believe this is more likely to create an environment in which the EU energy-labeling scheme will be enforced.
In fact, it is vital for Europe to reform enforcement of product labeling. At stake is the credibility, to consumers, of the labeling scheme; the result of lost credibility may be customer apathy, which could undermine environmental progress made so far.
Europe’s enforcement challenge is not unique. There is a belief among industry players that few major global markets enforce environmental standards as well as they should. China is often signaled out as the worst offender, if for no other reason than its explosive growth and early industrial developmental stage.
European authorities must act upon the message CECED is sending. They must take action to stop the companies that are cashing in at the expense of the environment, the consumers, their more scrupulous competitors, and the integrity of the industry itself.
How can we expect developing markets to cultivate a respect for legitimate standards if even Europe, a global green leader, allows unscrupulous players to exploit the system for quick profits?
Europe needs to set itself up as an example of how the system should work, and inspire developing markets to do the same.
“European manufacturers are as committed as ever to designing and marketing energy efficient appliances because it is the right thing to do and consumers expect that of us,” said CECED President Yngen. “But governments must guarantee fair competition by enforcing the law and ensuring that product declarations are genuine—or our investment in high-performing products is compromised.
“The next round of improvements,” Yngen said, “needs to be driven by legislation that applies to all and is enforced on all.”