Are Energy Efficiency Ratings Helping to Reduce Energy Consumption?

by JP Kiefer

The institute for Environmental Decisions in Zurich, Switzerland researched the effect that the energy efficiency ratings displayed on appliances in the European Union have on helping consumers to conserve energy. Since 2010, the European Union has standardized an energy label for more than 10 product categories, allowing each product to be rated with a letter ranging up to an A+++ and down to a D. While other information is displayed alongside the letter grade of each product, members of the Institute for Environmental Decisions feared that consumers did not know how to interpret the number of kWh used per year by a product, and that they instead focused only on the arbitrary letter grade. The institute describes an “energy efficiency fallacy” in which consumers assume that a high-energy efficiency rating automatically implies low energy consumption. This could be a problem if consumers unnecessarily buy larger versions of a product- say a large television- because it has the same energy rating as a smaller television, despite using substantially more energy. Consumers also might be more willing to leave appliances on when not in use if it is believed the electronics are energy efficient. Research suggests that while consumers are willing to pay more money for appliances with higher energy efficiency ratings, there is little correlation between a consumer’s willingness to purchase an energy efficient appliance and their attitude towards other sustainable behavior.

The energy efficiency fallacy could contribute to the current trend towards larger products, which led to an increase in absolute energy consumption. A system that was designed to help reduce energy consumption might actually be increasing it by misleading consumers into thinking large products are okay. The Institute for Environmental Decisions calls for a redesign of the energy rating system that can help lead consumers towards sustainable purchase behavior and away from large appliances.


Waechter et al., 2015. The misleading effect of energy efficiency information on perceived energy friendliness of electric goods. Journal of Cleaner Production xxx, 1-10

Science Direct (

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