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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?

Comments
Profile photo of dean
Member

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.

Profile photo of Hannah Jolliffe
Member

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.

Profile photo of dean
Member

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….

Profile photo of Hannah Jolliffe
Member

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

Profile photo of dean
Member

Cheers.

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?

Profile photo of richard
Member

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.

Profile photo of richard
Member

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.

Profile photo of ChrisGloucester
Member

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.

Profile photo of richard
Member

Chris

The problem really is high birth rates used to be matched by high death rates especially in infants – Sadly this is no longer the case – The birth rate far exceeds the death rate – result massive and increasing overpopulation.

I personally will not donate to any human charity on the grounds we have far too many of them at any age.

I do donate as heavily as I can to animal charities – because it is not their fault.- whereas it is always some human’s fault we have too many humans. – And we have FAR too many all over the place.

Without action soon the overpopulation will completely destroy the planet. THe destruction of wildlife habitat is totally disgraceful – Sadly the only way that population “control” is acceptable is by WAR. Something I’m not looking forward to – I had enough of WW2

Member
Sophie Gilbert says:
10 October 2011

Is there a possibility that gadgets (I would argue that toasters and microwave ovens aren’t gadgets) and power (electricity, gas, petrol) are in fact too cheap?

Profile photo of dave d
Member

I absolutely agree with Sophie, and I also feel that many gadgets are bought as novelties because they are cheap enough to regard as ‘disposable’ and then are either used to excess or abandoned / dumped, both of which result in excess pollution in one form or another.

Profile photo of rarrar
Member

I would suspect that as electronics actually becomes more energy efficient – better power supplies etc – energy consumption by gadgets may actually have dropped over the last couple of years.
Very difficult to measure of course – look how much effort goes into measuring CPI with a regularly changing “shopping basket” to reflect current consumer spending. Something similar could be done for gadgets but more difficulty given the lifetime of some devices.

Profile photo of Hannah Jolliffe
Member

Hi rarrar, Yes I think this is the point the report was making – energy efficient gadgets are being developed and increasingly becoming more available, but how educated are people about the issue? It’s not an important enough consideration to most people, purely because it’s not on their radar. Until we all prioritise it when buying goods our energy consumption is unlikely to drop – unless retailers and manufacturers take much more radical steps.

Profile photo of dave d
Member

It defies logic, but the EST wrote to me in 2009, after I complained about a product which they endorsed as Energy Efficient (and which Which? listed as a Best Buy in 2008) which turned out to use more than 4 times the amount of energy as it’s 23 year old equivalent which I had owned since 1985 but which had finally worn out. In EST’s Letter they state categorically, and plainly, that “we know that all modern [product type] use MORE electricity than older models, this is due to the additional features in new [product type]”. They go on to explain that they endorse only the most EFFICIENT of currently available appliances and to elucidate on the subtle but highly important difference between EFFICIENT and ECONOMIC.
Bearing this in mind, I’m afraid we can’t (or at least IMHO we shouldn’t) assume that modern gadgets are bound to be energy efficient nor that energy efficient is the same as (more) economical.
🙁

Profile photo of rarrar
Member

“we know that all modern [product type] use MORE electricity than older models, this is due to the additional features in new [product type]“.

Out of interest what “product type” is being referred to ?

The question of what “energy efficient” means or how it is measured is a minefield.
There are the cost of purchase, running costs and “whole life” energy consumption .
All of which have differing importance to different people.

Profile photo of dave d
Member

The [product type] that I wrote to EST over and experienced was washing machines.

In the course of our correspondence it transpired that EST takes the same view on LCD TV’s and Gas Boilers.

Because I discovered it applied to at least 3 [product types] I felt it was better to be non-specific.

Member
Longley Shopper says:
14 October 2011

I wonder how many other [product types] it also applies to? I remember reading about Dave’s horrible experience with his washer and thinking at the time that the reason behind this is probably why my fairly new portable digital radio uses so much power it has to be mains driven whilst my trusty 1990’s “ghetto blaster” VHF Radio / CD will run (radio only) for about 10 days, all day each day, on one charge of the batteries.
I seem to think Which? was investigating the A to G energy rating scheme too – isn’t it about time that the law was changed so that the A to G rating was based on actual energy use, and not on *efficiency*? I know I have been taken in many times by thinking that A+ energy efficiency must make an item cheap to run but then read the small print and seen that annual projected running costs were higher than older items I already own that have a lower rating.
Sounds like a marketing trick to me.