The industry needs to ensure the low carbon products and services it supplies actually do what they claim
I want to talk about vacuum cleaners, not because they are a particular interest of mine, but because they illustrate the importance of making sure the interests of consumers are protected.
For those who do not follow vacuum cleaner news, and there can’t be many, the provisions of the EU Energy-Related Products legislation relating to vacuum cleaners came into force on the 1 September. These have limited the power of the motors allowed in vacuum cleaners to 1600W, a value that will fall to 900W by 2017. This is good news for all, as it will reduce energy use across Europe but let’s hope it doesn’t reduce cleanliness as well. It will also force manufacturers to improve their products as they will no longer be able to rely on sheer power to suck up all that dirt and dust.
However, Sir James Dyson, one of the UK’s truly innovative engineers, and admittedly not a disinterested party, pointed out that the tests used to determine the energy efficiency rating of each product did not reflect the impact of dust build-up on performance, so the energy efficiency of each vacuum cleaner will be tested and measured in a clean state.
We should always remember that unless there is strong, informed consumer representation, self-interested parties will always seek to protect their own interests.
I read the testing procedure and it allows for five double strokes forward and back on a Wilton carpet (the British contribution to this EU venture), using evenly distributed standard dust. It would not differentiate between products that maintain their cleaning power over time and those that loose it. Sir James’ complaint is that the testing devised by the industry has been set to give the appearance of giving consumers a better and more efficient product, but in reality has been designed to protect the incumbent industry giants.
Of course, it’s not a trivial task to devise a representative “road test” that reflects the true in use performance of a vacuum cleaner, but it can be done. It wasn’t in the interests of the majority of EU manufacturers to have a test that disadvantaged them against the plucky UK competitor with the bag-less machine. I guess compromise is the name of the game in the EU. However, it would have been in the interests of the consumer and of the environment if a rating system favouring inherently efficient designs was used.
I think we should always remember that unless there is strong, informed consumer representation, self-interested parties will always seek to protect their own interests. Delivering products that purport to do one thing, but in reality deliver something less is, I would suggest, fairly common and adds to disenchantment with “big business”.
For us in property and construction there are parallels with zero carbon buildings. The development of the allowable solutions approach is reasonable and justifiable from the perspective of the industry, but from that of the user will be nothing of the sort. The industry will need to make sure its marketing of zero carbon buildings to the public truly reflects what the consumer will actually get.
Nick Cullen is a partner at Hoare Lea