Osram, Ikea and Philips, among others, have all been caught exploiting loopholes in European energy efficiency test for their lightbulbs, misleading customers in the process.
The companies had been taking advantages of “tolerances”, or leeways, in European tests for efficiency, allowing them to claim that their products were much more energy efficient than they actually were.
The Swedish Consumer Association conducted an investigation into Ikea’s practises and found they, along with companies like Philips, had been playing up the energy efficiency claims on their lightbulb packaging by as much as 25%.
Ikea, as a result, issued an official apology and have agreed to offer refunds to any customers who are not satisfied with the performance of the bulbs they’d bought.
This comes not long after both Ikea and Philips joined and international coalition of businesses and governments with the aim of rolling out energy efficient LED lightbulbs across the world.
The problem of manipulating the “tolerance” in these kinds of tests is one that is thought to be industry wide, with various industry expert’s commenting on the fact that they felt that they had to do it if they wanted to compete at all.
“No one is clean” said one industry expert to the Guardian. “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,” he conceded, “if we didn’t, we would be idiots.”
The problem is that what these companies are doing, while underhand, is not technically illegal. And so admittance of guilt and, more importantly, future change of enacted policy, takes a measure of good faith more than anything else.
According to the same source who, himself some ten years experience in the industry, most manufacturers nowadays are simply following the regulations to “the letter”, skirting around certain more stringent restrictions and making light work of others – by exploiting tolerances in tests, for example.
“The net result” he said, “is that consumers are being cheated by the system and I’m fed up with it.”
Currently, EU tests for energy efficiency in bulbs allow for a tolerance threshold of 10% (which makes Ikea’s discrepancy of 25% worse still). More preferable, according to the expert who spoke with The Guardian, would be a threshold of more like 2%. This would be viable to implement and would stop customers from being systematically misled by manufacturers.
Speaking on the loophole, a spokesman for the European commission said: “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… or to claim a pass for a product they measured as failing in ecodesign regulations.”
The spokesman went to to say: “This is not what is meant to be done, but the text of the regulations does not specifically exclude it.”
The European commission does intend to close the loophole, but it is not clear exactly when this will happen.
It is thought that a reform of ecodesign requirements will go through some time next year, but only as it applies to lamps and lights, leaving more room over time for manipulation of test results for a variety of other electrical appliances.