The Swedish EU Presidency struck a deal on 17 November with the European Parliament on a new energy label for household appliances which will add more classes to the closed A-G format.
After months of wrangling over the format, EU lawmakers settled on an energy label to which additional 'A' classes can be added on top of the traditional best-performing 'A' category. The highest possible class will now be A+++.
Updating the scale became necessary because a large number of products have ended up in the highest energy-efficiency class after years of technological development. The Parliament fought to retain the closed 'A to G' scale, which has become familiar to European consumers, but industry and some member states were adamant that their efficiency rating should not be downgraded.
MEPs managed to limit the additional 'A' classes to three, but the solution was nevertheless criticised by environmentalists and consumer groups as confusing for consumers. The compromise deal stipulates that the new scale will be revised once "a significant number of products" have reached the top two classes.
The different classes will marked with a colour code ranging from dark green for most efficient products to red for most wasteful ones. This is designed to help consumers navigate their way towards the most efficient products.
Extending to energy-related products
The agreement also extends energy labelling from household goods to all energy-related products, like windows and outer doors that do not directly use energy but help to save it. Energy-consuming commercial and industrial products like cold storage rooms or vending machines will also come with an energy label in future.
Label to be included in adverts
The agreement requires advertisement promoting the price or energy efficiency of white goods to indicate the product's energy class. In addition, all manuals, brochures and other technical promotion will have to indicate the product's efficiency class or energy consumption to allow consumers to make energy-saving purchases.
Member states were also urged to consider energy-efficient products in public procurement, but the new directive will not include any binding requirements.
EU ministers must formally approve the compromise agreement before the Parliament can sign it off at the beginning of next year.
Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs argued that the new Labelling Directive will contribute significantly towards the EU's energy savings target. "This agreement paves the way to adopt legislation on a wide range of products in the future that helps us to honour our commitment on the reduction of CO2 emissions," he said.
Green MEP Satu Hassi regretted that even if the European Parliament managed to restrict the A grades to three above a standard A, too many products will still be awarded an A grade of some sort. "It devalues the difference between the better energy efficiency performers - equivalent to replacing Olympic gold, silver and bronze medals with gold+, gold++ and gold+++," she pointed out.
Hassi added that the provisions for public procurement were disappointing: "Member states have the scope to require that public procurement contractors use the most energy-efficient products and I call on them to take this easy step to boost climate protection efforts in their countries."
MEP Lena Ek (ALDE, Sweden), shadow rapporteur on the file, is convinced that the directive will improve energy efficiency standards in the industry. "An eco-efficient economy will only be possible where consumers have the power to make informed choices. That is what we have fought for," she said.
WWF accused decision-makers of buying time until the 2014 revision with the three additional A-grades. "Already now, the text introduces a possibility of reclassifying the labels during the next revision – which clearly shows a lack of confidence in the new system. We can only hope that despite all the back and forth on labelling, consumers will learn to identify the most efficient products and even more so, buy them," said Mariangiola Fabbri, energy policy officer at WWF.
Which?, a UK-based consumer association, argued that rescaling the closed A-G label would have been the simplest option for people to understand. In September 2009 a survey conducted by the group found that the traditional scale was the preferred option among the majority of respondents, with 86% ranking it 'very easy' or 'fairly easy' to understand.
European publishers’ associations FAEP (magazines) and ENPA (Newspapers) condemned the agreement by underlining the potential backlash on the advertising revenues of print and online newspapers.
According to the two associations, forcing advertisers to show the label for every product they publicise would cause a drop in advertising revenue. Since newspapers and publishers are at the forefront in raising awareness on these matters, by losing vital revenues they would not be so adamant in informing about climate change as they were in the past, they claim. They hence urged MEPs to vote against the agreement in the second reading.