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More must be done to nudge consumers towards efficient appliances

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and department store John Lewis have just reported the results of a trial around in-store behavioural ‘nudges’ aimed at encouraging the purchase of the most energy efficient washers, dryers and washer-dryers in class. The trial compared stores where lifetime running costs in monetary terms were displayed to customers as well as the standard EU energy label and kWh/year figures to stores where only the latter were shown.

It showed a significant impact in reducing annual running costs of washer-dryers for consumers - in part due to the fact that they consume the most energy. This is a useful finding, showing that inroads can be made into reducing the energy consumption of some of the home’s biggest ‘energy offenders’ when consumers are armed with the relevant information to make the right choices.

The trial is certainly a good start in a generally poorly understood area - but there is some significant room for improvement if we’re going to truly see what information makes consumers tick, and how it should be presented. Firstly, the vast majority of appliance purchases either begin or are completed online, and this study didn’t look at displaying running costs on the John Lewis website. A clear opportunity for future trials to enable greater understanding of the role running costs play in decision-making. Secondly, the presentation of the lifetime running costs was quite basic. There could certainly be greater emphasis on making the information more noticeable and appealing, perhaps with more colour and diagrams. Of course, it would be wise to be mindful of bombarding consumers with too much information; something potentially off-putting.

There are other promising projects looking at annual running costs of appliances, such as the Yearly Annual Energy Cost Indicator (YEACI) scheme currently ongoing in 11 EU countries - which also offers consumers a view of water costs in the case of wet appliances. Potentially, the impact of this wide-ranging scheme could be significant, and we are certainly watching with interest. The report gave several nods to our data analysis, consumer insight and training of partners in the trial. Becoming an even more active partner in this kind of work is certainly something we aim to do, whether with big brands or smaller ones. Thanks to our labelling expert Tom Lock for input on this blog.   

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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