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Are our energy-guzzling gadgets killing the planet?

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that gadgets are more important today than for previous generations, but a recent report shows the impact this is having on the environment. Is it time to buy with efficiency in mind?

I’m not just talking about the newest must-haves like iPhones, tablets and ebook readers – though these are clearly popular in many homes. Even household staples like printers were relatively rare a decade ago – at least compared to today.

In fact, a recent report from the Energy Saving Trust (EST) reveals just how much our love of gadgets – and consequently our energy usage – has soared. There are 65 million home computing devices in British homes – and ‘peripherals’ like scanners and printers rose from 30 to 65 million between 2000 and 2009.

Energy-guzzling gadgets

But that’s just the beginning. Between 1970 and 2009, electricity consumption by consumer electronics rose by over 600%. In fact, 29% of the UK’s emissions come from the home – a figure that rises to 47% when you add personal travel to the equation.

That’s probably enough shocking stats to paint a suitably dim picture of how our consumerist tendencies are growing. But are they really affecting the environment that much?

According to this report, yes. It says there’s an elephant in the room – and it’s a big green one. Not only is our ‘gadget addiction’ one of the reasons why our energy bills are rising, it’s apparently going to stop us from reaching our 2020 emissions target.

Manufacturers and retailers need to improve

There are some rays of light, though it seems that manufacturers and retailers have a lot of work to do. EST recommends that:

  • Inefficient products are banned from shops – they cite the controversial banning of incandescent light bulbs as a good example.
  • Voluntary agreements are made with retailers – such as an initiative where eight leading retailers agreed to remove the worst-performing TVs from their ranges.
  • Better energy efficiency labelling is introduced – a clear, simple, index-linked indication that a product is “best in class”.

These all sound like sensible suggestions to help us buy the most energy efficient products we can. But, judging by the negative reaction we had on a previous Conversation about phasing out incandescent light bulbs, I can’t help but wonder if people will see some of these measures as limiting their choice rather than expanding it – nannying them, even?

Is energy-efficiency important to you?

Do you think that manufacturers and retailers have a role to play in helping us buy products that are truly energy efficient? Personally, I’d like to be better informed before I part with my cash, so any extra information has to be helpful.

In a rather timely coincidence we’ve just launched our new Energy Saver logo. It’s given to Best Buy products that meet our own energy-efficiency criteria and is designed to help you choose items that use less electricity.

Would that kind of label be enough to help you buy, or would you like to see the EST’s recommendations adopted too? Do you consider energy efficiency when you’re buying a new gadget – or are other factors more important?


I agree that appliances need to be more energy efficient, but I don’t agree with the comment:

“Not only is our ‘gadget addiction’ one of the reasons why our energy bills are rising, it’s apparently going to stop us from reaching our 2020 emissions target.”

Gadget addiction is not causing energy bills to rise, my bills are exponentially rising yet I have all the same “gadgets” that I always used to have. In many cases, the gadgets use less power than before.

By gadgets I mean toasters, microwaves, mobile phone, computer, electric drums, NAS drives.

I think the energy efficiency logo is an excellent addition to the Which website, however, this should not be used as a means of keeping energy prices high. We are all doing our utmost to lower our power usage, everything has been done in recent years to improve energy efficiency within electronic devices and homes yet prices continue to rise.


Hi Dean, That comment you quoted is based on the EST’s findings. Of course, not everyone’s usage has increased, but overall this statement is true about the UK as a whole.


Hmm, statistics 🙂

Well, I think it would be nice to see exactly what dates they are comparing them to, what they call a “gadget” and what particular demographic was surveyed.

Unless these are quantified, the comment I quoted is a sweeping generalisation. Considering that this forms the basis of this topic, some more information about the survey should be divulged.

I personally will never trust an organisation that is “fighting man-made climate change”, but that’s another story….


You’re probably right to be suspicious of stats! The full report is quite detailed though – you can download a PDF here – it tells you all the products/dates etc you’re questioning: http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/Publications2/Corporate/Research-and-insights/The-Elephant-in-the-Living-Room



Interesting that they name plasma tvs as the worst culprit without actually comparing them to a CRT or showing ANY reference to how it was tested. All they say, in all departments is, energy usage has gone up by x amount since 1970. I am now going to apply to the queen to ensure that the person who commissioned this report gets an OBE. A truly top piece of research…….

I’ve only skim read it and there is no specific mention to specific devices themselves, as mentioned in the “conclusion”. One strapline was

“Between 1970 and 2009, electricity consumption by consumer electronic goods rose by well over
600%, from 3.2TWh to 20.8 TWh.” – well duh, next they’ll be teaching my grandma how to suck eggs….

It’s all sweeping statements about how energy usage has gone up, since 1970. Considering what was available in 1970 I am not surprised. If you take it back that far then of course it’s going to give you a favourable result.

A more pertinent comparison would be CRT’s to plasma’s/LCD/LEDs, nokia 3210 vs iphone, pre-cfc fridge vs todays fridge etc etc

The report is just one big sweeping statement telling us what we already know, maybe Which should show them how it should be done, or would this go against government policy if the results were less favourable and showed that this government commissioned (taxpayer funded) report is a load of old twaddle?


Sorry folks

It is excess population that is killing the planet. World Population has doubled in just 50 years.

It may be a hard bullet to bite – but unless the world population is REDUCED – the end is relatively near.


A further thought.

In pure energy terms – the sun generates far far far more energy than we could use – The technologies are here already but not perfected. But it won’t be energy per se that will kill the planet – but the sheer escalation of overpopulation.


Richard I totally agree.
But of course the subject of population level is “the elephant in the room”.
Lots of people moaning about things like biofuel reducing food production well if it wasn’t for massive over population there wouldn’t be a problem.
People feel sorry for and try to help starving African children, so do I, but reality is if you live in a desert, have no commerce or industry and you are destitute is it a good idea to bring eleven children into the world? I’d call it parental cruelty.
If the planet is to have any chance at all we need global birth control to get population down to a sustainable level over time. If we don’t do it ourselves in a civilised way the planet will do it for us and the way that will happen doesn’t bear thinking about.

Nothing to do with energy-guzzling gadgets killing the planet I know, sorry, but perhaps closer to the real reason we seem to be on the brink of doom.