Knowing how to consume sustainably: EcoTopTen, OekoTop100 and the EU energy efficiency categories

Consuming sustainably – that’s a desire that many consumers currently have. Products for sale on the markets today offer many opportunities to consume sustainably. Numerous labels pledge that the purchase of products bearing such labels is more environmentally friendly and socially fairer than is the case with a rival product. In addition, very diverse web-based platforms recommend brands and products which incorporate sustainability factors during production. But the large number of labels is confusing for both consumers and those responsible for public procurement.

One label for all?

The introduction of one general sustainability label for all products is therefore often demanded in political discussions. This label would concisely signal to consumers that all important sustainability criteria are fulfilled by the product. In an expert report conducted for the Office for Technology Assessment of the German Federal Parliament (Bundestag), Oeko-Institut has analysed the feasibility of a label of this kind.

The question of the criteria and indicators on which such a label is based is highly complex since products and services have different effects and life cycle phases. So, for example, the energy consumption of large household appliances in the usage phase is a crucial sustainability criterion whereas in the case of food important effects arise in the production phase and have a wider range: soil and water pollution, impacts on biodiversity and, particularly in developing countries, working conditions.

Consumers can, of course, also make conscious purchase decisions on the basis of current labels. The EU energy efficiency label and the Blue Angel label are both well-established labels for sustainable products.

A+++ to D – the new EU energy efficiency categories

The label showing energy efficiency classes from A+++ (lower consumption) to G (higher consumption) are known to most consumers from having seen them on refrigerators and washing machines. It’s obligatory for some energy-consuming appliances – at the moment, refrigerators and freezers, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, and washing machines, tumble dryers, electric ovens and televisions, air conditioning systems and household lamps – and increases the transparency of the available products. By choosing a product which has the best energy efficiency class, e.g. an A+++ refrigerator, consumers can make an easy sustainable choice. Alongside electricity savings, the greenhouse gas emissions from power generation are reduced and the corresponding costs saved.
 
Come-On Labels can help sellers

The Europe-wide comparability of products has become simpler – in particular following the revision of the EU energy label scheme in 2011. Since then, the label has been purely pictorial and language-neutral. Furthermore, standardization of this kind simplifies the awarding of label. Within the scope of the Come-On Label project, Oeko Institut had made information available to sellers on the correct labelling of appliances. Together with its project partners Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) and the consumer centres of Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, the institute is providing support for the introduction of the new energy label in participating EU member states.

More information on the Come-On Label project can be found here
 
Purchasing recommendations at ecotopten.de

Oeko Institut is continually providing transparent and explanatory information and specific purchasing recommendations for consumers on two web-based platforms. The goal of both websites is to motivate consumers to make their behaviour more sustainable so as to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Now, as before, private consumption gives rise to more than a quarter of Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions.

On the EcoTopTen website (www.ecotopten.de), an Oeko-Institut webbased platform, consumers are provided with an overview of particularly energy-efficient appliances on which they can base their purchasing decisions. The website offers recommendations from experts on leading-edge environmental products and services, including household appliances, televisions, e-bikes, cars, lamps and heaters as well as the best ecoelectricity services. The minimum criteria which the products have to fulfil to feature on the lists can be viewed on the site. As a rule such criteria encompass the energy consumption, a reasonable selling price and, depending on the product group, additional environmental criteria. EcoTopTen takes into ac-count existing labels as well as the results of other tests, in particular the energy efficiency categories of the EU energy label. In the case of combi fridge-reezers, for example, only those appliances are recommended which have an A+++ energy efficiency.

“Blue Angel” criteria at oekotop100.de
 
On Oeko Institut’s TOP 100 website (www.oekotop100.de) consumers can find information on what criteria a product has to fulfil to be awarded the “Blue Angel” label, a German certification for eco-friendly products and ser-vices. The label can nowadays be found on approx. 11,700 products and services ranging from printers and upholstered furniture to household varnish and newsprint paper. But not all products which fulfil the “Blue Angel” criteria carry the label. On the oekotop100.de website consumers can find helpful guides, by means of which the 100 best household consumer goods which fulfill the "Blue Angel" criteria can be ascertained – irrespective of whether they actually carry the label or not.

In future the product manufacturers can request the “Blue Angel” label and use of the “protects the climate” tagline. If even more manufactures decide to get their products certified in future, it would further help consumers by making it simpler for them to identify – and choose – sustainable products.
 
Further information on the “Blue Angel” label is available on Oeko Institut’s homepage and at http://www.blauer-engel.de/en/index.php.