At the end of March 2009, the European Commission submitted for endorsement by the Committee of Member States draft Directives for the energy labelling of household refrigerating appliances, televisions, washing machines and dishwashers. The EU Member States supported the new rules to improve energy performance at the Ecodesign and Energy Labelling Regulatory Committee meeting.

White goods are currently subject to a well known labelling system which classifies the energy efficiency of products by a coloured A-G rating. Such a system was introduced in the mid 1990s. Due to advances in technology and industry competition, most goods now reach the top "A" grade. The new scheme is based on the current methodology. However, it goes beyond the top "A+" rating to allow manufacturers to display how much more efficient than the standard "A" grade their appliances are, for example, "A-40%".

Currently, energy efficiency labelling is required on all household refrigerating appliances, dishwashers and washing machines. Labelling requirements will now also be compulsory on televisions. Minimum energy standards will now also apply to circulators on central heating systems.

The aim of the scheme is to provide credible and comparable information on the performance of products to consumers before they make their purchasing decision. It is hoped that the new label format will encourage innovation amongst manufacturers and help consumers choose the most energy efficient products for their homes which will reduce their energy bills.

The advantages to the new label format are considered to be:

  • the ability for consumers to judge at a glance how much better than "A" a product is;
  • minimising consumer confusion by basing the new classifications on the old system; and
  • minimising the inconvenience to retailers of switching from one system to another.

The new measures are expected to cut the EU's electricity consumption by 51 terrawatt hours by 2020, which corresponds to the combined annual electricity consumption of Portugal and Latvia.

The introduction of the new requirements will be staggered across individual products and will eventually lead to the phasing out of products which fall below the current A+ standard. For example, in terms of refrigerating appliances, the timetable is as follows:

  • 1 July 2010: removal of current classes of B, C and below;
  • 1 July 2012: removal of current class A (current classes A+ will remain); and
  • 1 July 2014: only current classes A+ and above will remain.

Manufactures will be able to display that their appliances are more energy efficient than the top class before the new system comes into force in 2012. A further vote on minimum standards and labelling for dishwashers is expected in May 2009.

Luigi Meli, director general of the European Committee of Domestic Equipment Manufactures has said:

"The new label layout is a winning solution for all parties.

It offers the consumer transparency on the energy efficiency levels that can be gained when comparing appliances, and it offers industry an opportunity to contribute to work toward even greater energy savings and innovation.

Technological competition between industry players will further boost progress on energy efficiency and CO2 emissions."

Defra have quoted that these measures will reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the UK by around 2 million tonnes per annum. They will also deliver a net benefit to the UK economy of around £150m per annum, mostly by the reduction household energy bills.

Some consumer organisations have criticised the new labelling proposals, stating that it should not be down to the consumer organisations to have to communicate the meaning of the new labelling system to consumers, and calling the new system "incomprehensible".

A sample of the new label format and full timetable for the changes can be found at the following link: http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=MEMO/09/144