Appliance labels deliver savings in the home
Several countries have introduced or are considering water-efficiency labeling for products as a cost-effective way of influencing purchasing decisions and changing consumers’ water
In an effort to bring about a change in the kind of water-using appliances people buy and how they use water, some countries are implementing legislation, including compulsory labeling of products.
In the UK, Waterwise has launched an annual water efficiency marque to help consumers choose better products. A select number of Waterwise Marques will be awarded each year to products that demonstrate superior performance.
Waterwise director Jacob Tompkins says the need to save water has been emphasized by the two-year drought in south-east England.
“This is the first scheme in the UK to highlight water-efficient bathroom, kitchen and outdoor products. Many other jurisdictions, including other European countries, Australia and the United States already provide consumers with information on water saving, and it is time for the UK to take action.
“The Waterwise Marque, once awarded, may be used by the winner to provide clear, independently endorsed point-of-sale information to the buyer, indicating that the product is particularly water efficient, is widely available on the UK market and is of good quality and design.”
In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has introduced the WaterSense program to promote water-efficient products and services. It is aimed at developing public-private partnerships to encourage water conservation among manufacturers, developers and consumers.
Under the program, product specifications will be developed and products evaluated and independently certified by a third party to ensure conformance with EPA criteria for efficiency and performance, prior to receiving the WaterSense label. There are costs for manufacturers in obtaining product certification but not for using the label or developing partnerships.
EPA assistant administrator for water Benjamin Grumbles says the program has established specifications for high-efficiency toilets and professional certification for irrigation professionals.
“Manufacturers can receive a WaterSense label for toilets that provide a flush of 1.28 gallons or less, whereas current ‘low-flow’ toilets use 1.6 gallons and older toilets can use up to six gallons.
“Toilets carrying the WaterSense label go on sale in mid-2007, and other products will follow.
“Builders that install products carrying the WaterSense label in homes can also benefit by earning points towards green building certification, as communities around the country recognize the importance of water efficiency.”
To help consumers with their purchasing decisions, products carrying the WaterSense label will be listed on the WaterSense website at www.epa.gov/watersense
California-based environmental consultant John Koeller says there are several regional programs in the US, including WaterSmart Homes for Southern Nevada (Las Vegas), Florida Water Star, California Friendly, Build-It-Green (California), and California Water Star and WaterSmart (both run by East Bay Municipal Utility District in California).
“All of these programs except California Water Star label new homes. Only California Water Star provides the opportunity to actually label a product,” Koeller says.
“Establishment of the EPA WaterSense program is a welcome development that will provide a strong national focus for water-saving action.”
The Australian Government, in conjunction with the States and Territories, has introduced the Water Efficiency Labeling and Standards (WELS) Scheme to give consumers information on the water efficiency of certain products.
Launched on 1 July 2005, the WELS Scheme requires new taps (over basins), toilets, showers, urinals, clothes washing machines and dishwashers to be registered and labeled with their water efficiency. Registration of flow-control devices is optional.
WELS encourages water conservation by providing water-efficiency information at the point of sale. This enables consumers to compare products and purchase the most efficient product for a particular purpose. WELS products are labeled with information based on the results of laboratory testing.
The two main features of the WELS label are a star rating that allows a quick comparison of the product’s water efficiency, and a figure showing either the water consumption or flow. The star ratings range from zero to six stars, with more stars meaning the product is more efficient.
Water-efficiency information is obtained from testing the product in accordance with the WELS Standard, AS/NZS 6400:2005 Water Efficient Products – Rating and Labelling. Products must be tested at a National Association of Testing Authorities accredited laboratory, or at one approved by the WELS regulator.
Once registered, products are listed online in the WELS product data base.
The New Zealand Government has indicated it also intends to implement the WELS scheme. More information on the WELS Scheme in Australia is available at www.waterrating.gov.au
Although the WELS scheme aims to better inform buyers, it has created some uncertainly with consumers as well as the plumbing and building industry.
While a product can carry a WELS label, that doesn’t mean it is always acceptable under ‘fit for purpose’ product Standard requirements by which regional water authorities around Australian work.
A product can carry a low-ranking WELS label, for example with a zero or one-star rating, leading the consumer to assume that as the product is carrying a performance label, it complies with all the requirements, which it may not.
This industry is still working through this complication.
The five Nordic nations – Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland – have adopted the Nordic Swan eco-label, which is used to indicate that a product is a good environmental choice and to encourage manufacturers to develop environmentally friendly products and processes.
The Nordic Swan is available for about 60 product categories. Water-using appliances include closed toilet systems, washing machines and vehicle wash installations. All products must comply with quality and performance requirements.
The Nordic Swan is administered by a board in each Nordic nation and co-ordinated by the Nordic Eco-labeling Board, which includes industry, consumer and environmental group representatives. Product criteria are generally revised every three years, and products that get the logo may carry it for three years. After that, the manufacturers must reapply.
Application fees vary from nation to nation, and manufacturers must seek and pay for third-party testing of their products to verify their claims. Further information is available at the Swedish website of the Nordic Swan at www.svanen.nu/eng
In Ireland a scheme to promote water conservation and help consumers to make informed purchasing decisions has been launched by the City of Dublin in collaboration with the Dublin Region Water Conservation Project.
The voluntary Water Conservation Label has been developed as a pilot scheme and initially covers dishwashers and washing machines. It is a unique scheme in that it has been introduced at city level rather than across the country. Further information is available at www.dublinwatersave.ie
Acknowledgement: The provision of information by Waterwise in the UK is gratefully acknowledged by WPR in the preparation of this article. Waterwise is undertaking a project reviewing global eco-labels that include or are exclusive to water-using products for the UK’s Market Transformation Program, which is funded by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Information on the role and activities of Waterwise is available at www.waterwise.org.uk