'Don't you think that if we could make our machines more efficient, we would have done so?'.
Nürnberg, Germany, 1993: A dozen CTOs of major European brands trying to convince a technical consultant of the futility of his mission. The message was clear: Washing machines, dishwashers and laundry driers don't need a mandatory Energy Label.
But opponents became allies and the allies became the new pioneers realising ground-breaking innovations in the so-called 'wet appliances' sector. Today, the Energy Label is one of the main market-drivers for consumers buying these 'wet appliances' and, politics allowing, the industry hope it will stay that way. The appliances themselves still look roughly the same, but washing machines consume half the amount of water and 40% less electricity. Dishwashers are saving even more resources. For laundry driers, the hunt for an 'A' Energy Label brought about a ground-breaking European innovation: a 'heat pump laundry drier' . This new concept overstepped the physical boundaries of the conventional drying process and uses less than half of the electricity at affordable prices to the consumer, thanks to the mass-production that the Energy Label brought about. And, unlike several other EU industry sectors competing in a global market, the European whitegoods industry still exists, has a strong market share and still provides over 200 000 direct industrial jobs and many more indirect jobs.
The process to get where we are now involved a myriad of 'stakeholders': individuals and groups, policy makers and manufacturers, company directors and engineers, consumers and shopkeepers, NGOs and Member States, Commission consultants and lobbyists. Moreover, there are a host of instruments, not just mandatory Energy Label and Ecodesign measures, but also better test standards and subsidies, technology procurement and (other) promotional activities at all levels.
Recognizing all that, the quality and background of the consultant does matter. Being design engineers ourselves, with hands-on experience in the difficulty of trying to introduce 'new things' within a company, we spoke the language of those Heads of R&D in Nürnberg and could communicate also the opportunities of legislators and product developers working together. We know e.g. how to calculate integral product costs for mass-production, including investment costs in tooling, production development, test facilities, etc.. We have a notion of what it takes for product developers to get general, financial and marketing managers on board and know the crucial role that legislation can play in that process.
We are trained to design for users, which means having market analysis skills and empathy for functional and other needs of consumers. Basic products must remain affordable and economical, taking into account price and running costs ('life-cycle-costs'). At the same time, labelling should help innovative manufacturers to realise a price premium for new, advanced products for those buyers that have the means and the motivation. These are the principles laid down in the Ecodesign and Energy Label Directives, but also principles to which we very much agree. All in all, we are proud of our small part in the 'wet appliances' success story. VHK Research brings to the Ecodesign and Labelling policy process -always from the perspective of the design engineer- multiple relevant disciplines we believe that can help policy makers and other stakeholders to make their case and make well-founded policy decisions.
Under contract of the Dutch energy agency, called 'Novem' at the time, we were the technical consultant for the 1993-1995 Wet Appliances study by the Group of Efficient Appliances. This study led to the first Energy Labels in 1996 for these appliances, specifying not only energy use but also cleaning and related performance characteristics. This study also led to setting the bar for an 'A' energy class laundry drier at the heat pump level, thus leaving the best existing ones at only 'C' or 'D'. VHK technically assisted Novem in the 1992-1998 IEA Annex on Technology Procurement, run by the Swedish Energy Agency called NUTEK at the time. In that context and following the Swedish example, we helped organised the IEA's European Competition for the most efficient laundry drier, won by prototypes from AEG. VHK worked again as a technical consultant in the first update of the Wet Appliances study in 1998. At the end 1990s we assisted both washing machine manufacturers in CECED and detergent manufacturers promoting low-temperature washing in AISE in partitioning their 'claim for glory' as regards the drastic energy savings that had been realised in laundry washing.
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