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EU’s General Court Rules Against Current Energy Labelling of Vacuum Cleaners

It is reported that on 8 November 2018, the EU’s General Court, located in Luxembourg, repealed the EU’s Energy Labelling Regulation for vacuum cleaners. This follows a heated and long-standing dispute between the European Commission and Dyson over the EU’s energy labelling requirements.

Hong Kong’s household electronics suppliers will very likely already be aware that the EU’s framework energy labelling law ranks home and professional appliances by giving them energy efficiency labels. The fundamental reasoning behind the law is that consumers should be made aware of their products’ energy consumption, which in turn might impact their purchasing choices by avoiding the most energy-wasteful products, while also saving money on household electricity bills.

Dyson, however, argued that the testing process within the laboratory, which is intended to determine the efficiency and in turn the grading of vacuum cleaners, is faulty.

Dyson lodged its complaints back in 2013, contending that the rules are flawed, as they lead to the testing of vacuum cleaners with empty dust bags. However, in such a scenario, a machine can be given a higher efficiency rating, even though such a result does not reflect real-life conditions. The company held that products have to be tested in real-world conditions because vacuum cleaners using bags and filters can become clogged; this, in turn, leads in some cases to a loss of suction power. Therefore, a consumer would be fooled into thinking that he is buying an A-rated product, while in reality it could drop to G-grade efficiency when used in the home.

The problem, according to Dyson, is that such rules discriminate against its own products: Dyson only produces bagless vacuum cleaners. The testing procedure, even though authorised, could be considered by some to be reminiscent of the Dieselgate scandal, i.e., the Volkswagen emissions scandal, where Volkswagen cars had a “defeat device” - or software - in diesel engines that could detect when they were being tested, changing the performance accordingly to improve results.

A spokesperson for Dyson has, indeed, commented that “in these days of Dieselgate, it is essential consumers can trust what manufacturers say about their products. But the Commission endorsed a measure that allowed Dyson’s competitors to game the system”.

The spokesperson added that the Regulation on energy labelling “benefited traditional, predominantly German, manufacturers who lobbied senior Commission officials. Some manufacturers have actively exploited the regulation by using low motor power when in the test state, but then using technology to increase motor power automatically when the machine fills with dust – thus appearing more efficient”.

Pursuant to the General Court’s ruling, campaigners are concerned that eliminating the relevant Regulation completely would be harmful for the consumer and the environment. It is thought that the Regulation (despite any flaws it may have) does deliver valuable benefits to consumers and the economy.

Chris Spiliotopoulos, a policy offer at ECOS (a European environmental organisation), which is a campaigner for more efficient products, has commented that “the Ecodesign and Energy Labelling Regulations for vacuum cleaners are expected to save 19 terawatt hours (TWh) per year by 2020, equivalent to the electricity produced by 26 medium size coal power plants.

Nonetheless, the same spokesperson highlighted that test methods ought to better reflect the way in which products – and consumers – behave in reality. “Policy-makers need to fix this imminently and harmonise a test method which takes into account real-life considerations”.

The European Environmental Bureau’s Stephane Arditi has also claimed that energy labelling is extremely necessary – along with ecodesign requirements – to produce more resource- and energy-efficient electronic products. These, in turn, would assist in achieving the EU’s climate targets. He reasoned that “Perhaps this could be an opportunity to improve the labels and the way we conduct lab tests. But any amendments to the regulation must be approved as quickly as possible to ensure people can benefit from the projected savings”. 

Given that the court has only just ruled on annulling the energy labelling of vacuum cleaners, it is still unclear as to what happens next. The European Commission may be considering whether or not to appeal the General Court’s ruling. Indeed, it has been reported that the label will continue in force for a period of time so as to allow time for appeal. BSH Hausgeraete, the group which stemmed from a joint venture between Robert Bosch GmbH and Siemens AG, has stated that it would “thoroughly analyse the decision and what this will mean for manufacturers of vacuum cleaners”.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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