James Dyson is an engineer who founded the Dyson company. He is best known as the inventor of the Dual Cyclone bagless vacuum cleaner technology.
Like legislation on light bulbs, the EU’s bright environmental goals for vacuum cleaner design risk becoming gloomy.
As with fridges and washing machines, energy labels for vacuum cleaners are coming. It’s an important step, for a big motor does not mean a better vacuum. But there is a problem.
The Energy Label will show how much power a vacuum consumes, but the proposed tests do not measure performance in the real world of household dust. The majority of manufacturers refuse to allow their machines to be tested pre-loaded with dust, insisting on using brand new filters or bags during laboratory tests. Hardly an indication of how they will handle everyday dirt and grime.
The proposed regulations are designed around an older generation of vacuum cleaner – old bag technology – cultivated by some German manufacturers in the past. And it encourages vacuum cleaners that are extremely difficult to push. Engineers will be straitjacketed into “developing” machines of yesteryear.
Stifling invention is one thing, misleading people is another. People will be confused into choosing the wrong vacuum, and the environmental impact of vacuum cleaners will grow rather than lessen. Not the intent, one must assume.
My vacuum story began thirty-five years ago. As I bought a Hoover Junior, I was told I was buying ‘the best.’ Yet as I used, it immediately lost suction, the bag’s tiny pores clogged with dust. Suction for a sale in the store, lost its puff in the home.
So I invented something different. It took time (5,127 prototypes over five years), but my invention, the cyclonic vacuum, maintained constant suction. We could, at last, say goodbye to the bag and old vacuum technology.
Or so I thought.
Some things remain unchanged. Many vacuums are deceptively marketed on motor size: bigger motor, better machine they boast. It simply is not true.
Rather than investing in research and development, manufacturers can simply increase motor size. Caps will put a stop to this practice, saving energy, cutting back on carbon emissions – a measure Dyson strongly supports. By 2020 the legislation could be save 19TWh of energy every year – enough to power the London Underground for twenty years.
Regulation on catalytic convertors, unleaded petrol and the aerospace industry encouraged efficient engineering. Good for the environment. Good for us.
Get it right and people quickly make the change. Unleaded petrol was adopted, because laws changed and cars did too. No change in performance. The aerospace industry engineered planes to fly faster, more efficiently. People get on those planes because they still fly as fast and as far. Not because they’re greener. Electric cars are stuck in the pits because they are not ready to race. Until they do, they will remain a shunned novelty because people need technology to deliver.
The vacuum cleaner energy label factors environmental impact and performance too. The challenge is coming up with a representative and fair measure. As it stands, people are likely to relive my 1970’s experience – buy the “best”, experience the worst.
Which?, Britain’s renowned consumer review magazine, demonstrated the problem. Its tests proved that most vacuum cleaners rapidly lose suction. In fact, when a bagged vacuum is less than a quarter full, it fades. Who buys a new bag that often?
We’ve been here before. Light bulb regulation phased out incandescent bulbs. Neither the legislation nor the new bulbs were quick or bright enough. Performance was relegated to second place, to the detriment of the regulation and its public acceptance.
Dyson invests £1.5m on research and development each week. Our machines undergo thousands of tests to prove that they can live up to the expectations of real people in real homes. Yet, the proposed regulation neglects to measure failing performance as the vacuum cleaner is used.
Unchallenged, the Energy Label risks creating a perverse situation where manufacturers are encouraged to tweak performance to pass unrepresentative laboratory tests. Rather than investing in new ideas and invention, manufacturers will merely rework old designs to tick boxes. The environment won’t benefit. And people sold vacuums that quickly dwindle will be annoyed by the unintentional label swindle.