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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Big brands 'cheating' with false energy efficiency claims
BREAKING NEWS... from The Guardian... VW mark II?

Lightbulb manufacturers are misleading consumers about the brightness and energy use of their products by exploiting a loophole in European tests, lab results seen by the Guardian show.

Ikea, Philips, GE and Osram are among the companies exaggerating energy performance up to 25% higher than that claimed on packaging, according to the Swedish Consumer Association tests. Ikea told the Guardian as a result it would refund customers who were dissatisfied with bulbs they had bought from its stores.

The discrepancy is caused by manufacturers taking advantage of leeways – known as “tolerances” in official testing procedures for bulbs.

The Swedish tests, conducted between, 2012-14, found that a 42W Airam halogen lamp consumed 25% more energy than claimed on the label to achieve its declared 630 lumens of brightness.

A GE 70W halogen bulb guzzled 20% more energy to reach its stated 1,200 lumens. A 28W Philips halogen bulb was found to be 24% less bright than claimed while Ikea’s 53W and 70W bulbs both underperformed by 16%.

A senior lighting industry executive told the Guardian that tolerance manipulation was rampant, forcing smaller firms to put substandard products onto the market or risk going out of business.
“All the major brands are doing it,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“No one is clean on this issue and everyone has to follow suit to compete. In the past, we declared our measured values on the packaging but when we measured our competitors equivalent products we saw that they were declaring higher values on their labels.

“So we had to play the same game. We’re in a competitive market and if we didn’t, we would be idiots.”

There is nothing illegal about the mislabelling, which cuts across brands and ranges and affects the lightbulbs’ advertised brightness per unit of energy – rather than their A-G energy label ratings.

But the same whistleblower, who has two decades of experience in the industry, said that many companies manufactured products with lower-grade components knowing that they would fall short of the required wattage and lumens specifications, as his firm was now reluctantly doing.

“The industry just follows the letter of the regulations, and they’re not in line with today’s technology,” he explained. “The net result is that consumers are being cheated by the system and I’m fed up with it.”

The European tests for bulbs allow for a 10% tolerance threshold, meaning a bulb advertised as rated at 600 lumens, a measure of brightness, could in reality be 540 lumens.

A 2-3% tolerance threshold would be fairer and easily doable at little extra cost to consumers, the Guardian’s source said.

The European commission is aware of the loophole and has been working on proposals to close it since November 2012. Staff working documents show that officials knew that firms were exploiting loopholes in the system as far back as 2013. But plans for a legislative proposal are still gathering dust.

“The commission found out that lighting manufacturers were adding the tolerance to the performance they measured for their own lamps, and using this to claim a higher label class than the performance they measured [in their energy] labelling or claim a pass for a product they measured as failing in ecodesign [regulations],” a commission spokesperson said. “This is not what is meant to be done, but the text of the regulations did not specifically exclude it.”

While the commission has moved to close the loophole in energy labelling, lamp ecodesign requirements will not be reformed until next year, the official added.

This would leave the tolerance loophole in place for other home appliances such as TVs, water heaters, dishwashers, washing machines, fridges and air conditioners.

The cost to consumers across the home appliance industry range could be as high as €2bn a year, when other home appliance product ranges were factored in, the campaign group Coolproducts said.
Viktor Sundberg, a vice-president at Electrolux said that tolerance loopholes should be closed across all product ranges. “I would like the EU to go ahead with a clarification to make the law clearer to everyone at the beginning of next year,” he said.

Efficiency campaigners say that they have been told by officials that a robust proposal to address the problem is “doomed” because of fears in Brussels of attracting headlines comparing it to the VW diesel emissions scandal.

“VW went bang and EU regulators woke up,” said Stephane Arditi, a product expert for the European Environmental Bureau. “The same thing could happen with home appliances, but the commission leadership would prefer to go back to sleep. They should accelerate rather than bury these reforms. Until they do, the playing field will slope in favour of those prepared to deceive their own customers.”

Raw data from the 2012 and 2013 tests has been published on a blog.

When contacted by the Guardian, Ikea offered full refunds or product exchanges to any customers dissatisfied with lightbulbs they had bought from their stores.

“The report refers to halogen bulbs that are no longer sold at Ikea,” a spokesperson for the Swedish firm said. “Since September 2015, we switched our entire lighting range to LED for our customers to live a more sustainable life at home.”

Jo Picardo, a spokesperson for Philips, said that the firm complied with all relevant standards and was committed to accurate labelling.

“Lamp performance can differ per bulb,” she said. “This is the nature of the product and is especially true of halogen bulbs due to the tungsten coil. On average our bulbs meet the specs well within the allowed 10% tolerance range.”

Osram described the issue as “not company-specific but an industry topic” and deferred to the Lighting Europe trade association.

Diederik de Stoppelaar, Lighting Europe’s secretary-general, said that the industry was aware of the problem and that his association’s tests had found discrepancies of up to 35% in stated lightbulb performances, mostly involving bulbs manufactured outside the EU.

“The allegations are not new to us as in our market surveillance programme we had the same findings,” he said. “We found mistakes in lumen output mainly.” His preferred solution though was for a simplified label, rather than an end to the current tolerance threshold.

“We need a reasonable tolerance and in principle, tolerances of 10% are accepted in international standards,” he said. “I believe that all the major suppliers are within the limit. Once or twice you might get an occasional difference but that can also be a manufacturing issue, or an exceptional case.”
De Stoppelaar declined to share information about the performance of EU-based companies in Lighting Europe’s surveys.

This article was amended on 17 December 2015. An earlier version showed a photograph of a fluorescent, rather than halogen, bulb.