May 4, 2009
Regarding ‘EU lawmakers reject revised energy labels‘:
The current dispute concerning the Energy Labelling Directive between the Parliament on one hand and the Commission and the Council on the other, is taking a theological course along the lines of ‘how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?’.
All parties agree that due to technical advances, the current system needs to be amended – urgently. So far, so good.
The new system needs to have two core features: on the one hand, it needs to be easily comprehensible by people purchasing products. On the other, it needs to be easy to administer and up-date, so that the labels remain relevant. It might also be nice if the directive lasted a reasonable length of time.
The idea of attaching a date to the ‘A’ label is not a bad one, but implies a regular updating of what exactly constitutes an ‘A’ product (across an ever-expanding range of products). In turn, this raises questions on how often the ‘A’ label would need to be revised. Yearly? Every two years? Every three?
No doubt somebody somewhere has a crystal ball that can predict the rate of technological change in a range of products and thus arrive at a good frequency (for those that missed it – that was ironic). Summary: easy-to-understand system, tricky to administer.
The idea of placing a number, -20%, -30%, etc., after the ‘A’ label may be a bit clumsy, but has the benefit of ease of administration. Once the ‘A’ label is defined (or for that matter the B, C, D, etc.), it is a relatively simple matter to decide if a product is exactly ‘A’ or -10% or -20% in terms of the energy that it uses.
At this point, I become genuinely curious with respect to the issue of ‘confusion’ amongst shoppers with respect to this approach.
If I see a label that says ‘30% off’, I usually interpret that as 30% off the price. I think it would be reasonable to extend this view of things to perhaps 99% of the EU population. Likewise, if I see an energy label (they are somewhat difficult to miss) and next to the ‘A’ I see -30%, I have two choices – it is either 30% better in its energy performance, or 30% worse than the standard ‘A’ label, assuming it is ‘A’ labelled.
Oddly, in places selling products with energy labels, I have noticed a life form called ‘salespeople’. They seem to alternate between being helpful and irritating. Nevertheless, for those confused by what -30% means, I will charitably assume that staff training will equip the salespeople with sufficient knowledge to answer the question in a comprehensible and hopefully comprehensive fashion.
Moving back to the EP vs EC dispute. I wonder if anybody has actually given some thought to the sales process and the fact that most of the time, salespeople tend to be around to answer questions. Or is the dispute more about the EP ‘flexing its regulatory muscles’ and getting some payback for the fun and games we all saw with the ‘package’ in December. In which case, we are certainly in the territory of angels and pin heads.
Plugging one gap – in the case of Internet sales, if you have the brain power to select and order a product over the Internet, I can assure the EP that the people so doing will have the intellectual capacity to work out what an energy label means, howsoever revised.
The revised Energy Labelling Directive is the work of the EC. If it does not work, then ‘they own the problem’. If on the other hand the EP pushes the EC into implementing a revised directive that has its origins in EP ideas then, in the event of failure, it would be fair and reasonable for the EC to say to the EP, ‘told you so’ and ‘you own the problem now, baby’.
Suggestion to the EP: in terms of legislation, make sure the EC does not lose its grip on common sense, otherwise, take a more strategic view of things. If not, then – as is common – EU citizens will ask why their elected representatives are arguing over the number of angles dancing on the head of a pin (or in the case of the Dutch – ants and their reproductive habits).