UK’s love affair with appliances and gadgets threatens green targets

Published on Friday, 07 October 2011 15:42
Posted by Scott Buckler

Britons’ love of electrical appliances and gadgets could see the UK miss its carbon emission reduction targets for domestic appliance electricity use by as much as seven million tonnes.That is the stark finding of a new report by the Energy Saving Trust, the independent body set up to help householders reduce their energy bills and combat climate change


It reveals that the UK will miss its 2020 target of a 34 per cent reduction in domestic appliance electricity carbon emissions from 1990 levels by up to seven million tonnes unless we ramp up our efforts now. The Energy Saving Trust runs an Energy Saving Recommended scheme, a UK-wide labelling programme which tests appliances on strict criteria and rewards the most energy-efficient models.The report reveals that if every household in the UK replaced just their old fridge-freezer, washing machine and dishwasher with the most efficient Energy Saving Trust Recommended models, they could collectively save £585m on their fuel bills, and prevent two million tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere – enough to fill Wembley Stadium 257 times!

The report – The Elephant in the Living Room: how our appliances and gadgets are trampling the green dream – shows that in 2009 the average British household contained a staggering three-and-a-half times as many gadgets and appliances as it did in 1990. Three of the worst offenders, the so-called Elephants in the Living Room, are: large plasma TV sets; large fridge-freezers with an ice-maker; and tumble-dryers. The report also finds that despite householders’ best efforts to switch to energy-efficient products, we are actually consuming more energy than five years ago.

Report author Dr Paula Owen said: “Although the findings of our study do make for stark reading, our message is that our domestic choices and behaviour in our homes can make a bigger impact than people think. Our love affair with domestic gadgets and gizmos has to change, just because you have bought an efficient appliance, doesn’t mean you can use it carelessly and never switch it off.

“We need to ask ourselves is that ice-maker in the fridge a necessity? Do I need to leave those chargers on the whole time? Do I need a 50+ inch TV screen? There’s more to this issue than using energy-efficient light bulbs. Not only can people cut their carbon footprint, but they can also bring down their electricity bills considerably.”

“Almost a third (29 per cent) of the UK’s CO2 emissions come from the home. While many of us feel industry is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, it is behaviour on the home front that could make a difference in the UK hitting its overall national carbon emissions reduction target.”

Acclaimed British designer Wayne Hemingway MBE, who has worked on award-winning eco-friendly housing projects, has backed the Energy Saving Trust’s findings and insists it is not too late to act.

He said: “This report is clearly a kick up the backside to all of us who imagine that we are taking big steps to a more sustainable future. Clearly we are not going to reverse, nor do we want to reverse the tremendous technological strides that mankind is making, but we must harness all this creativity to ensure that we are not storing up an environmental time bomb that will lead future generations to regret our technological advances.

“The Government must continue to apply pressure on manufacturers to make their products more efficient through regulation and legislation. More must also be done to provide consumers with information on which products use the least electricity, and the benefits of using those products responsibly.

“But ultimately it is down to designers and scientists to push things forward and for the public to choose products that are responding to the issue. Together with industry, people must also do their bit to ensure we meet the UK’s carbon emissions reduction target for domestic appliance electricity use by 2020.”

The Elephant in the Living Room is the successor to the Energy Saving Trust 2006 study entitled: The Rise of the Machines. It finds there has been good progress since 2006 in improving standards and legislation such as banning patio heaters and incandescent lightbulbs. But the findings also picked up worrying trends in consumer energy usage.

Experts point to the popularity of such devices as computers and all the extra gadgets that go with them: in 1985 only 13 per cent of the population owned one but by 2009 ownership levels had topped three-quarters. Leaving your printer on 24/7, even though you only use it for a few minutes a day, can add lots to your electricity bill unnecessarily.

Although many household appliances such as fridges are now more energy efficient than in 1990 this is being undermined by our preference for larger US-style products, and such extras as ice-making machines, and even inbuilt TVs, on large fridge freezers which then use more energy that has nothing to do with cooling our food.

Similarly, our move towards larger washing machines has the potential to reduce energy use if this means fewer washes – but often no change in washing behaviour makes them a bigger burden on household bills.

In the report, the Energy Saving Trust makes a series of recommendations on how best to fight climate change on the domestic front.

Policy interventions and product technology improvements can only go so far when it comes to making deep emission reductions. There has to be a concerted effort to change the way people use electricity at home within this decade.Labelling needs to be made clearer and more consistent so that consumers can tell which products really use the least electricity in their class, and which will save the most money on their energy bills.
Consumers need proper advice at the point of sale so they can buy the most efficient item for their needs.

Source: EST

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