Making a green choice

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The consumer electronics industry has made great progress towards becoming green. Yet energy consumption of CE products is still at the bottom of consumer priorities at the point of purchase. Who should tackle this challenge? asks Anna Ryland.

Leading consumer electronics manufacturers made great strides towards making consumer electronics greener, designing and bringing to the market products which are not only increasingly benign to the environment but also less costly to run.

“Some of the biggest and most quantifiable changes have occurred in the TV market. The growing number of available channels and the success of Smart TV, suggesting that TVs will be on for longer, alongside multiple ownership and the increase in screen sizes, show that the need for greener, more economical TVs will continue to grow,” argues Peter Hunt, GfK account manager for Consumer Electronics.

 “The growth in sales of LED TVs shows a great step forward for energy efficiency. The volume share of LED TVs in quarter four of 2011 was more than double of that recorded in quarter one, at 38.2% of all TVs sold. This has been aided by a drop in average price of a LED TV by almost £300 over the period of October – December 2010 to October – December 2011 from £693 to £399.”

From the manufacturing perspective

The leading CE brands are very proud of their green credentials. Panasonic’s commitment to the environment dates back to 1930s when the company’s founder Konosuke Matsushita said: “The mission of a corporation is to contribute to society, existing harmoniously with each community and the environment.” At its annual conference in Hamburg in February 2012, the manufacturer announced its intention to become the world’s number one green innovation company by 2018.

Panasonic has recently developed Neo PDP technology that greatly increased luminance efficiency through improvements in the cell design, discharge gas, and fluorescent body of the TV panels. As a result the company has reduced the annual power consumption of its 2012 Plasma TVs by 40% compared to the 2010 models.

In 2011, 100% of Panasonic TV models (44 models) met ENERGY STAR requirement  for both on-mode and standby power requirements, while 36 models exceeded the standby power requirement by 80% and the remaining 8 models exceed by 70%. Over 50 of Panasonic 2012 TV models will be A+ energy rated thanks to the energy efficient IPS LED technology.  Panasonic’s new Blu-ray players feature an eco-sensor that activates a quick start mode only when someone is in the room, making approximately 50% energy savings.

“Samsung TVs have energy saving (eco) modes, with four different levels (low, medium, high, and picture off). Samsung TVs also have an Eco Solution mode which includes an Eco Sensor (that automatically optimises TV screen brightness to the in-room lighting) and No-Signal Power Off (which turns the TV off when no signal is received, great for when you turn off everything but forget the TV),” explains Stephen Mitchell, Samsung’s general manager – Marketing, TV Division. “Samsung TVs are also constructed using more efficient technology, fewer components and non-toxic materials, and are therefore kinder to the environment, from manufacturing to usage. The green agenda is a method to drive efficiency and effectiveness through the entire value chain – from design to manufacturing to distribution and selling. Each link in this chain needs to be developed intelligently and directed towards being an environmentally sustainable business.”

Eco thinking has also been incorporated into Sony’s products from the earliest stages of the design process. “This includes ensuring products can be manufactured using as many recycled materials as possible, and the development of smaller packaging that takes less space. We have developed a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) model to measure the green credentials of our products at every stage of their development,” explains Sony’s head of Public Affairs, Adrian Northover-Smith.

The manufacturer is also aiming to reduce the average power consumption of all its products by 30% by the end of 2015. In the recent tests, both the Energy Saving Trust and Which? acknowledged the energy saving performance of BRAVIA televisions. The EST calculated that after five years of using the Sony BRAVIA KDL-46EX524, it would cost around £85 to operate, whereas a 46-inch competitor plasma model will add a £245 to the household electricity bill. Also Which? has presented the Sony BRAVIA KDL-46EX524 with the new Energy Saver award to acknowledge its low power consumption. 

Since 1994, Philips has been reducing the impact of its operations and products on the environment. “In the current EcoVision4 we have committed to a series of measures by 2012: to generate 30% of total revenues from green products; to double investment in green innovations to a cumulative €1 billion; to improve operational energy efficiency by 25% and reduce CO2 emissions by 25% compared with 2007. For over six years, Philips has operated  ‘A Simple Switch’ initiative, which aims to encourage, advise and help consumers to make simple changes in their lives and their appliances to help reduce their overall impact on the environment,” says Tina Withington, PR manager, Philips Consumer Lifestyle.

“With Philips products, the focus remains on lowering the energy consumption, reducing the use of scarce resources and hazardous substances and improving recyclability. Many of the current products have gained the European Union ECO label certification.”

Energy efficiency is an important feature of all Haier’s products. “Haier have made the decision to sell only LED televisions in Europe, as this technology consumes 40% less energy. We have also worked to reduce package size by 30% to emit less CO2 (notably for transport). Haier’s televisions also have a ‘total power-off’ function, allowing consumers to turn their device off completely, rather than continuing to consume electricity when not in use,” said Richard Popple, Haier national sales manger – Consumer Electronics.

Also two leading radio manufacturers in the UK take their environmental responsibilities very seriously.

“We consider the environment in every product we manufacture; every product is part of our EcoPlus initiative and most are recommended by the Energy Saving Trust. Twilight is the most energy efficient product of its kind thanks to its energy saving LED-based light solution, which provides the same light output as a 45W incandescent light bulb for just 5.4W when the lamp is on and less than 1W in standby,” explains Colin Crawford, Pure’s director of marketing.

Also Roberts is continually working to improve the energy efficiency of its products. “All our ecologic radios carry the eco tick logo on the packaging which denotes a minimum standard of environmental performance.  Roberts has also received several awards from the Energy Saving Trust and we continue to have products tested and endorsed by them. The new ecologic range offers class leading reduced power consumption with models now up to six times more efficient than other radios on the market. Typically one of our ecologic radios consumes less power than ten low energy light bulbs. Roberts’ also introduced the world’s most energy efficient DAB radio, the solarDAB,” says Owen Watters, deputy chief executive at Roberts Radio.

Green consumer?

Majority of consumers are familiar with the global environmental agenda and the need to conserve scarce natural resources. With the onset of the recession, an average domestic budget became tighter under the onslaught of price increases in every area but particularly from rising cost of energy. Monitoring energy consumption of all domestic products became a financial necessity. Large domestic appliances such as washing machines, tumble dryers or dishwashers are more likely to be scrutinized first for their energy consumption and their potential to make economies. Yet, consumer electronic products, energy consumption of which is much lower, are not readily considered as tools for substantial economies.

“The current economic situation is probably the biggest obstacle to an even faster uptake of greener technology as consumers delay replacement of big ticket items until their financial futures are more certain,” argues GfK’s Peter Hunt.

But this is not only an issue of the cost of the product argues Samsung’s Stephen Mitchell: “Eco features are readily available to consumers and although TVs aren’t the first product that comes to mind when people talk about ‘green products’, we believe eco features are important to our users and will continue to ensure all our products are also as ‘green’ as possible.”

In fact, the industry surveys show that green credentials have a very low priority for consumers buying CE products. The latest features, technology, associated benefits, sleek design and an all-important ‘wow’ factor drive purchases of televisions, audio and IT products.

This situation is a reflection of a large gap between manufacturers’ environmentally responsible policies and market behaviour and consumers’ stance on this issue. 

The next challenge

“Our survey shows that electronics manufacturers have made demonstrable progress over the past few years by producing products that are free of the worst toxic chemicals, more energy efficient and more easily taken back for reuse or recycling,” said Renee Blanchard, Greenpeace International Toxics Campaigner in 2011. “The next challenge for the industry is to design green products that last longer and can be repaired rather than replaced every few years.”

In the meantime, however, both consumer electronics manufacturers and their retail partners should tackle together the challenge of educating consumers  about green alternatives in many CE categories and the benefits they offer. Building awareness – is the first stage of this process. It is also key that they reinforce the message that green doesn’t have to cost more and in the long term it will definitely save them a lot of money. They should also show that green choices don’t compromise consumer lifestyles but they are a way of ensuing that their standard of life in the future will be better not worse.

Sales tips

•        Sales staff should understand the different screen technologies, for example LED and LCD, and their relative energy efficiencies,  to offer the customer informed advice.

•        Energy labelling should enable consumers to make direct comparisons across the same category at point of sale.

•        Being able to convey the overall monetary saving during the product’s lifecycle is also crucial.

•        Demonstration is key. Retailers can use energy monitors to show the difference between products as well as different settings on the same product, and between the ordinary use and an eco mode.

•        The Energy Saving Trust labels are widely recognized. Use EST’s PoS material such as EST stickers.

•        Draw your customers’ attention to energy saving accessories such as radio rechargeable battery packs, which also save money in the long run.

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