Greening consumer electronics

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What is the impact of the burgeoning CE industry on climate change and the environment? What are the key selection criteria for consumers buying a new TV set? How to influence consumers to adopt responsible attitudes towards energy consumption? What roles do retailers play in this process? These were the main questions which the speakers at this year’s GfK conference were attempting to answer.
The event was also an opportunity for GfK, the word’s fourth largest market analyst, to reveal for the first time the results of some of its latest research conducted in five European countries: UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain.
Energy hungry
It is estimated that €656 billion will be spent on consumer electronics products in Western Europe in 2008. Televisions will account for 46% of this expenditure, cameras and camcorders for 15% and personal audio for 7%. Among the biggest energy users will be TV sets, set-top boxes, video recorders and home audio equipment. The fast-growing television sector will be the main contributor to the dramatic increase in energy consumption of consumer electronics. However, the rapid growth of screen sizes of flat panels will also be an important factor. In 2006, 31% of TV sets came in a 32in size; by 2009, 62% of flat panel TVs will be 32in. As a result, in 2007, the energy consumption of European sets increased by 33%, with the average consumption of a TV panel rising by 22%. Notably, the energy consumption of a Plasma TV is almost 200% higher than a LCD TV (see Table on page 28).
Although the progress of TV technology is gradually reducing the power consumption of televisions ‘per square metre of glass’, the multiple ownership of TVs (estimated at 2.5 per household in the UK) and a growing number of hours when the sets are on (the European estimate is 229 minutes per person daily) are driving power consumption upwards.
In this context, the main challenge for the industry is the ability to manage consumer behaviour and demand for CE products with the need to reduce energy consumption, suggested Jurgen Boyny, global director of CE at GfK.
The green message
The level of consumer acceptance and understanding of the need to reduce energy consumption was assessed by Fran Franz, GfK marketing manager, CE.  He demonstrated that the importance of energy savings differs in the customer’s mind with the type of product. For example, energy consumption is extremely important for 55% of Brits buying washing machines but for only 39% of TV purchasers (see Figure 1 on page 28).
GfK research also showed that the energy consumption of TV sets is more important for women and for middle-aged people who currently are replacing their CRT sets with flat panels and actively searching for information about their features and benefits.
Overall, energy efficiency is still relatively low on the list of priorities for potential purchasers of TV sets in Europe. Picture quality was regarded as the most important criteria (94% of respondents regarded it as ‘extremely important or important’); with price and energy consumption indicated by 88% and 74% of respondents respectively.
At the same time, 74% of Brits are saying that they never leave their sets on stand by, although 12% admits to always doing this.
An interesting insight into the intended consumer behaviour gave a piece of research examining the following question: ‘What amount of annual energy cost savings would it take for you to purchase an energy saving television earlier?’ In Britain, 73% of respondents would be willing to do this if the energy savings amounted up to €50, with the next 27% willing to do this when the savings reached €100 or more. 
Selling energy efficiency
Do retailers actively promote energy efficient products? This new area of research for GfK was presented by Dr Michael Sauter, marketing manger, Retail Services. The situation in the UK is pretty uniform across the retail sectors, with 83% of both independents and multiple retailers saying that they are actively doing so. When asked about the ways in which they promote energy efficient CE products, European retailers said  that this is done by using price labels (55% respondents said so), by displaying product information added by retailers (33%), by displaying product information added by manufacturers (53%), using in-store displays (24%), advertising in print media (21%) and advertising on the Internet (18%).
Moreover, 47% of European retailers believe that lower energy consumption is very effective or effective as a sales pitch, while 21% don’t find this effective at all. The GfK study also showed that primary sales of TV sets are supported by energy efficiency as a sales pitch, while peripheral products, such as DVD or set top boxes are supported by it to a much lower extent.
The main source of knowledge about energy efficiency which retailers pass on to their customers are public sources of information – 73% (eg. brochures, the Internet) rather than retailer-specific information (52%) or retailer training (32%). 
Finally, the introduction of a CE energy efficiency labelling system, similar to the white goods label, is expected by seven out of ten electrical retailers.
A wake up call
The current green climate, a growing number of industry initiatives and a mounting pressure from legislators are slowly shaping consumer attitudes towards use and energy consumption of consumer electronic products. Both manufacturers and retailers have an important role to play in this context, by informing consumers about choices while buying CE products and options open to them when using them – in order to minimise their impact on the environment. As the number of CE products in every household is only going to increase, this education should begin now.

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