Are online retailers stopping you from running an energy efficient home?

Fridges

Fridges on show for potential buyers. Fridge freezers account for about 20 percent of domestic electricity bills.

Recent research undertaken by Ethical Consumer magazine shows that seven major online retailers are ignoring European Union law and not showing energy labels for all required products. JOSIE WEXLER and CLARE CARLILE investigate

Amazon had missing labels on some products and there were energy labels that  been tampered with on other products so that vital energy usage information was missing.

More than half of major home appliances purchases are now made online. We expect to be able to compare brands and models easily and accurately  when we’re looking to the internet for our new fridge, washing machine or cooker. That is one of the reasons we shop online, after all.

For any savvy and ethically-minded consumer, the energy efficiency ratings of these goods are a crucial comparison tool. We want to save money on our energy bills and reduce our carbon footprint - but this might not be as easy as we think. 

What are energy labels and why are they important?

Energy labels were first introduced in 1995 as a way of helping consumers to choose more energy efficient products. This is no small ambition - the European Commission claims that 175Mtoe (million tonnes of oil equivalent) will be saved thanks to energy labelling, by 2020, an average of 16 percent per product.

Providing access to this information means that consumers can make educated decisions about their appliances, decrease their running costs and reduce their environmental impact. In turn, through their collective buying power, consumers can push manufacturers to design more efficient products.

This is working. Particularly in the case of fridge-freezers and washing machines, huge advances have been made in terms of improving energy efficiency. A modern A-rated fridge-freezer today could have a quarter of the running costs of a 20-year old machine - that’s a 75 percent carbon reduction too. 

Energy labels provide a simple A+++ to G energy rating for a easy comparison between products, as well as more detailed information such actual energy consumption in kWh per year, water consumption and noise levels.

Since 1995, shop retailers have had to provide these labels to the consumer at the point of sale. Thanks to strong campaigning by several consumer groups, including Ethical Consumer, it has been law, since 2015, for online retailers to provide these energy labels too.

Online retailers - by European law - must provide the full energy label to the consumer before they purchase. Simple, right? Perhaps not. It seems many online retailers are struggling to provide this most basic level of information to their customers.

Are online retailers hanging energy efficiency out to dry?

From 19-22 January 2018, Ethical Consumer analysed major online retailers to check their compliance with these important rules. Shockingly, we found that seven: Amazon, AO.com, Argos, Curry’s, Euronics, Hughes Electrical and John Lewis were not in full compliance with the rules.

Hughes Electrical had no energy labels at all on its site - and when notified by Ethical Consumer gave no response and made no visible changes to its site at all.

Amazon had missing labels on some products and there were energy labels that had been tampered with on other products so that vital energy usage information was missing. Although they responded and made some efforts to remove the offending products, there were are still products without labels on the website when we checked.

Although AO.com and John Lewis also responded and removed pages, there are still errors on multiple product pages. Curry’s and Euronics failed to respond to our messages and continue selling products in contravention of the EU laws regarding energy labelling.

Retailers have had three years since the rules were first introduced to make the changes to their websites but they still refuse to comply with EU law.

It’s time to use our consumer power

Sadly, there has been some severe cost-cutting when it comes to regulating this legislation: Consumer Direct closed in 2012 and local Trading Standards offices have been shutting down all over the UK. Without enforcement the online retailers are continuing unchecked.

As consumers, we spend an average of £3.4billion a year on electricity for washing and drying clothing, cleaning dishes and cooling food. 20 percent of our electricity bill goes to power our fridge-freezer alone.

These appliances cost us a lot of money to run. We deserve to have some control over that cost, particularly when we are buying new white goods in the hope to save money in the future. We don’t have to let retailers get away with this and we can use our consumer power to change things.

Put pressure on the retailers

In five easy steps we can push the retailers to change their ways:
    1. Demand to have the energy labels when you are making an online purchase. Make sure you are given the correct and full information so that you can make an informed decision.
    2. Share this article and spread the word to get other ethically-conscious consumers to do the same.
    3. Check out our guides to choosing ethical and efficient appliances, from kettles and microwaves to cookers and washing machines.
    4. We’ll continue to campaign on behalf of all consumers to ensure that we all have the information we need to make good informed decisions but we’d love you to join the journey with us. Find out more about Ethical Consumer and our monthly bi-monthly magazine.
    5. And, of course, we need to remember that changing our habits can often make the biggest impact…

These Authors

Josie Wexler and Clare Carlile are journalists with Ethical Consumer. This article is the first published in partnership between The Ecologist and Ethical Consumer.

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