Energy label A+ system on its way to disappear

The goal from the EU is to change consumers’ behaviour when purchasing white goods to save energy

By Émilie Bergeron and Clara Ribera

BRUSSELS – The European Commission considers the energy labelling scale – which ranges from A+++ to D – as confusing. The lack of clarity in this scale could result in citizens buying less energy efficient products. In order to have a greater influence on consumers’ choice when it comes to the time for them to buy a product, whether it be a television or a refrigerator, labels are important for their energy consumption to be comprehensible.

Thomas Nielsen, owner of a home appliances shop in Denmark, finds it hard to explain the difference to his customers between two devices that are in the top class A+++, but in fact, have very different energy consumption rates. “We have to tell them, for example, that it is A+++ minus 50% and that is not that precise.”

Currently the scale goes from A+++ to D, which corresponds from dark green to red colours. All A classes are marked with different green tones. This can make the consumer understand any device with an A is energy efficient. Nevertheless, the gap between A+++ and A++ is bigger in terms of energy efficiency than between A and B. The fact that all A categories are green, leads the consumer to the conclusion that any device in A to A+++ is environmentally friendly.

The Commission, in a proposal submitted last July for reviewing the current legislation, suggests moving from the current A+ system to the old A to G one. Monique Goyens, director General of BEUC (European Consumers Organization), welcomes this change that would enter into force in 2017, according to the proposal. “We have been waiting for this proposal for a very long time and now we are content that it is at this stage. We hope it will continue to be as ambitious as it is now as we believe the A to G scale is the most appropriate for consumers”, Goyens says.

“Although this may seem like an easy exercise to rescale it is not so in practice”, notes Sigrid Linher from ORGALIME, a EU-wide association of engineering industries. The majority of the products are classified as A++, but with the re-evaluation most of the models will fall to C and D categories. Linher is concerned about how this will affect the behaviour of consumers – however, Andras Toth, from the Energy directorate-general (DG Energy) of the European Commission, defends the suggestion on the basis that it has worked before. Toth does not see a problem with A and B classes being empty for a period of time.

A better timing

In 2008 the European Commission proposed a revision of the labelling legislation but faced a strong opposition from the industry. At that moment it was considered that problems regarding labels could be handled in each product’s specific regulation.

The white goods industry lobbied against a rescale, as Claude Turmes reiterated, defending that a change would end up by confusing consumers. “The European Parliament was against the addition of more higher end categories. Member States were stupid enough to join the industry. They moved Europe towards a system which is very difficult to understand for consumers” he says.

Eventually in 2010, on top of A class there was not enough scales for the most items that exceeded the top A class in efficiency. Instead of a rescale, the industry pushed to add A+ to A+++ above the existing categories at that time. They were very sceptical regarding a whole review of the scale.

However, manufacturers and retailers have softened their positions along the past years. In the 10th Anniversary of Ecodesign Directive Conference which took place in Brussels at the beginning of October, many representatives from the white goods industry expressed their positive attitude regarding the current negotiations concerning energy consumption.

According to Andras Toth, it is not necessary the industry’s fault that labels have become such a complex issue. It is more about technological progress running faster than legislative updates.

Contrarily, Christel Schaledemose, Member of the Parliament for the Social Democrats and Consumer Protection Committee, blames the industry for “trying to make the scale as complicated as possible”. She thinks that companies who do not produce efficient equipment “are not interested in energy labels.”

An up-to-date system

The current labelling system is now inadequate to classify newer technologies. For instance, in the refrigerator sector, A+ is the lowest class, meaning that the current A to D categories no longer exist, as they were banned by European legislation. But this is not shown in the label on the device. The consumer is only able to see that the product is an A+, without knowing it is actually the least efficient class of energy consumption available in the market.

A+++ to A+ will no longer apply from 1st January 2017

In order not to repeat such inadequacies in the market, the Commission proposes a periodical review of the white good models so that they keep degrading their efficiency classifications in order to make space for the newest and most efficient products in the highest classes. This means to keep the A to G scale without having to add other categories to make technologic innovation fit the system.

“We hope that with the new scale people will focus on a more cost efficient product during its whole life rather than just on a short scale investment”, Schaldemose says. 

Towards a greener future?

This energy label review marks an achievement for efficient energy consumption in the upcoming conference on climate change (COP21) that will take place in December in Paris. The European Union regulations tend to influence internationally – lots of countries have followed the example of classifications after they were employed by the EU.

Europe has technology enough to lead and to move towards a more efficient lifestyle. Now the main challenge, as Marie Donelly, Director of DG Energy, says is “to get people to open their minds. We have technology. But the single biggest challenge is to change citizen’s behaviour.”

Related content

Time for the Parliament to adjust energy labelling legislation

Energy labelling revision: Parliament tries to avoid further involvement of new euro-sceptic group