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Our commitment to sustainability

Here we explain how we’ll be helping consumers make sustainable choices, and how we’re challenging ourselves to be a more sustainable organisation.

22/04/2021: Manufacturers and supermarkets must do more to help consumers join refillable revolution

Today we’re urging manufacturers and supermarkets to do more to make refillable products widely available and clearly labelled to help shoppers save money and the environment.

Our research shows there is demand and savings to be had for consumers who switch to refills. However, many shoppers have trouble finding them on supermarket shelves and a lack of clear labelling means consumers may be unaware that a refillable option is available.

We want brands and supermarkets to make refillable products more widely available to customers. Recycling labels should also be provided on all grocery products so that people know how they can responsibly dispose of the items they use.

Are you more likely to buy a product in a plastic bottle if you know a refill is available?
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10/11/2020: Our commitment to sustainability

We know that consumers want to spend their money responsibly. They want to opt for goods and services that prioritise sustainability, and that make less of an impact on our planet. But policymakers and businesses haven’t always made this easy.

As the UK’s consumer champion, we want to change that. We’ve made a commitment to helping consumers make more sustainable choices and to making our organisation more sustainable.

To do this, we’re focusing on three key areas:

1) Being a credible source

We’ll share expertise with international consumer organisations, and invest in editorial and online content focused on sustainability, including an ‘eco column’ in Which? magazine.

2) Helping consumers, businesses and policymakers

We’ll highlight sustainability in our reviews and acknowledge the most eco-friendly products. We’ll also work with policymakers and businesses to prioritise sustainability, focusing on the key areas we’ve identified in energy, transport, products and services, food and plastic.

3) Reducing our own impact

Our plans include finding more ways to offset our carbon emissions and producing less waste.

We’ll be discussing more about our commitments later this week. Watch this space.

25/03/2019: Product sustainability

Interest in ethical and environmental issues has never been greater. Our reviews need to change. Here’s why we can’t ignore product sustainability.

Which? has been testing products for more than 60 years. With our rigorous reviews we’ve helped generations of consumers make the right choices – no doubt you have a few cherished Best Buys around your house.

As head of product testing, I’m very proud of this wonderful heritage. But we’re faced with a difficult and uncomfortable question.

Are our reviews fit for our times, for our readers today and the consumers who will use Which? tomorrow? The truth can be as uncomfortable as the question.

Sustainability is an increasingly important factor in buying decisions, and we need to respond to this change. In our test labs we’ve developed new packaging tests and piloted repairability assessments, and we’re finding new ways to analyse our reliability data.

Removing and replacing batteries

For example, in cordless vacs tests, we’re rating how easy it is to remove and replace the battery, the availability of spares and the ease of maintenance.

For washing machines and tumble dryers, we’re developing a basic repairability assessment. Among other things, it asks whether you can get the back off a machine – is it ‘screw or glue’?

We’ve also started to record the amount and recyclability of packaging – both in everyday and big-ticket items.

Environmental and corporate social responsibility

There are also calls to assess the practices of the companies behind the products, following the shift in consumerism towards brand values.

Is this trend relevant for us? In a 2018 survey, we asked 1,400 of you whether we should include brand environmental and corporate social responsibility credentials in our reviews. Two thirds of you agreed.

Of course, this doesn’t mean we stop testing. We know the value of our unique Best Buy verdicts. But if we can offer more, from better insights into durability and longevity, to advise on the wider sustainability practices of the brands behind them, that’s an ambition we think is worth striving for.

Should we be doing more? That’s not a question I ask myself. It’s a question I ask the Which? reader of tomorrow – my smart and courageous 13-year-old daughter, with her whole life ahead of her. Her answer? ‘What are you waiting for, dad?’

This contribution to Which? Conversation first appeared in the April 2019 edition of Which? Magazine (page 15: ‘Inside View’).

Comments

A Which? press release:

Consumers could save £3,360 in a decade by switching to more energy-efficient appliances, Which? reveals
4 November 2021
Consumers could save £336 a year – more than £3,000 over a decade – on their energy bills and help reduce their carbon footprint just by switching to more energy efficient appliances when their old white goods need replacing, Which? research finds.

The consumer champion’s newly-launched running cost tools aim to help people save money on their bills by calculating the energy efficiency of tumble dryer, washing machine, fridge freezer, oven and dishwasher models Which? has tested against the energy price cap.

The least efficient models in each category would collectively cost an eye-watering £490 a year to run. Consumers could save £336 annually by opting for the most energy-efficient appliances – which cost just £154 a year to run.

Which? energy cost data comes from independent lab testing and is based on real-world scenarios. It often reveals big differences between A-rated machines, and that in some cases B and C-rated machines can actually cost less to run.

While some of the most efficient appliances may be more expensive up front, Which?’s research has found they are cheaper over the average product’s lifetime due to their lower running costs.

For example, the most energy-hungry vented tumble dryer the consumer champion tested, the Hoover HL V10LG-80, costs £260 to buy while the most energy-efficient, the Miele TCB140 WP, costs £800.

However, the Miele tumble dryer costs just £29 a year to run – if drying roughly three loads a week – compared to £135 for the Hoover model. Factoring in the cost of both tumble dryers, consumers would save £1,580 over the course of the appliances’ lifetimes if they opted for the Miele machine due to its lower running costs.

Heat pump tumble dryers tend to be both more energy efficient and pricier than cheaper condenser and vented models but can easily pay for themselves in energy savings. On average, condenser dryers cost £109 per year to run whilst heat pump models cost just £42.

Consumers also stand to make big savings by choosing carefully when they buy their next fridge freezer. The least energy-efficient fridge freezer tested, the Hotpoint FFU3DX1, costs £134 in energy bills a year. People could cut this cost by £104 by using the LG GBB92MCBAP, which runs up just £30 in annual energy bills.

The type of fridge freezer people opt for will also have an impact. On average, a freestanding fridge freezer will add around £61 per year to people’s energy bills, while a large American-style fridge freezer will add around £92 per year.

Consumers could also save £55 a year by choosing a more energy efficient washing machine when they need to replace their existing model. On average, a washing machine will add £46 per year to people’s bills, but running costs can vary from under £20 to as much as £70 per year if running four 40°C washes per week.

The most efficient washing machine model tested was the Ebac AWM74D2H, which costs just £15 a year to run, while the least efficient model, the Haier HW100-B14876 costs £70 annually.

However, washing machines which use more energy tend to wash better. Which?’s Eco Buy reviews highlight the products which are long lasting, energy and water efficient and easily repairable while still doing their job well. People should check Eco Buy reviews before purchasing new appliances to make sure the appliance they choose is also high performing.

Ovens are not typically as energy-hungry as other large appliances such as fridge freezers or tumble dryers, but it is still worth checking out their energy-efficiency before buying. On average a built-in oven costs £53 a year to run.

The least efficient built-in oven the consumer champion tested was the Smeg Dolce Stil Novo SFP6604WTPNR – costing £73 to run a year if used for about five hours per week at 170°C. Consumers could save £39 a year by opting for the most efficient oven tested, the Beko BXIF35300X – with just £34 of annual running costs.

The least efficient dishwasher Which? tested, the Candy CYF 6F52LNW-80, would add £78 to people’s annual energy bill if running five washes per week. However, the most efficient full size, the Bosch SMV68ND00G, costs just £46 to run a year – resulting in an annual saving of £32. On average a full-size dishwasher costs £63 a year to run.

Which? is advising consumers who are looking to cut their energy bills to use its running cost tools to check the efficiency of appliances before purchasing new white goods.

While many white goods already come with an energy efficiency rating, Which?’s surveys have found that UK consumers use appliances differently from the official rating tests. For example, the ratings for washing machines are mostly based on washing at 60°C, but most people wash at 40°C.

The consumer champion’s running cost tools calculate the energy efficiency of appliances based on how consumers have told Which? they use their white goods. However, as the tool only looks at the energy efficiency of appliances, people should also check Which?’s Eco Buy reviews to ensure the appliance they choose is high performance and offers the best possible value for money.

Lisa Barber, Which? Home Products and Services Editor, said:

“Choosing the right appliances for your home could cut hundreds of pounds a year from your energy bills and reduce your environmental impact.

“This is crucial at a time when most of us are already facing higher energy bills and having to tighten the purse strings.

“Which?’s running cost tools allow consumers to easily compare the energy efficiency of popular household appliances – helping them buy better and choose the best product in the long run.”

I’m glad this article mentions replacement of appliances with more efficient products when their old white goods need replacing. I wish that advertising would do the same because replacing working products with ones that are a bit more efficient does not help our carbon footprint.

There is no doubt that heat pump dryers are considerably more efficient than condenser and vented dryers and perhaps these will be phased out soon in the same way that halogen bulbs are being phased out in favour of LEDs.

This is a link to the full press release https://press.which.co.uk/whichpressreleases/consumers-could-save-3360-in-a-decade-by-switching-to-more-energy-efficient-appliances-which-reveals/
This includes more details together with responses from some of the manufacturers.

Energy use is not the sole criterion that should be used when making a purchase; performance is equally important, as the release points out. As is product life, as an efficient appliance that is not durable is neither a good buy nor energy efficient, as energy is used to make the replacements.

Product evaluations do need to include energy performance, functional performance and durability for a good purchasing decision to be arrived at.

Maybe the cost of appliances is one area where government incentives could be extended. In much the same way that EVs are subsidised, maybe efficient appliances should carry a lower rate of VAT.

There is already a lot of whinging from pressure groups about condenser dryers only being affordable by the better off, so we could start there and cut the amount of emissions on two counts.

*by “condenser” dryers, I of course mean the type that use a heat pump to cool the exhaust air and recycle the reclaimed heat. Not to be confused with conventional condenser dryers that simply collect water from the excess water from exhaust.

Indeed. All the Which? Best Buys are now heat pump dryers. Perhaps there is a good case for different taxation for products that are significantly better or worse. It would be simpler to charge the manufacturers of products that are not up to decent efficiency standards.

There are still people who are using halogen light bulbs and even ones who have stockpiled them. I was looking at recent Energy Performance Certificates for local houses, which illustrated the point.

I would prefer to look at whether you can avoid using electric clothes dryers as a routine. That would save more energy. Many with outdoor space and a clothes horse in the house would not need to use a tumble dryer three times a week.

I still have some halogen light bulbs in the house and will continue using them until the stock is used up. As they are in a cooker hood and bathrooms they are little used so consume little energy. It must be remembered that, rather than energy rating, energy consumption (rating x time) is what matters, particularly looking at payback.

I don’t have a tumble dryer but for anyone living in a flat without a drying room or small home they can reduce the risk of condensation and mould, which are not good for health. White goods have become more efficient over the years but heat pump dryers represent a considerable improvement over their inefficient predecessors.

Whilst drying clothes outdoors makes sense when the weather conditions permit, I am not convinced that drying clothes indoors in winter makes any energy saving at all.

The process of drying needs water to be vaporized – and vaporization requires energy in the form of heat. Where clothes are hung up to dry, that heat is drawn from the air, thus cooling it. An equivalent amount of heat needs to be replaced to prevent the air temperature from dropping.

Drying clothes effectively requires an elevated temperature, but it is wasteful to heat an entire room to that temperature just for a few items of clothing. If the house is being heated in winter using fossil fuels, then there is a resulting release of CO2 greater than from using an electric tumble dryer.

The damp air generated also has to be removed, both because the evaporation will eventually reach equilibrium and the drying will stop regardless of temperature, and for health reasons. This requires further ventilation with cold air drawn from outside, more so than using a dedicated heat pump drying appliance, which removes a lot of the humidity from the air without venting.

Because air drying is such a slow process, these effects may not be obvious. It is called latent (“hidden”) heat of evaporation for a reason.

I have an airing cupboard and heat the tank to 65°C, usually every two days. Although the tank is foam-insulated enough heat escapes to dry my washing quite quickly. If I have had visitors I might use a bathroom with a large heated towel rail and an extractor fan to deal with the excess but normally the airing cupboard suffices. My home is reasonably well ventilated and I don’t have a condensation problem, so I have not bought a tumble dryer. You are right, of course, about latent heat of evaporation and I’ve taught many students about it, albeit in a very different context. If I had to do washing for a family I would invest in a heat pump tumble dryer. My present solution works fine because I have inexpensive gas heating.

We tend to do the laundry when it will be possible to dry the washing outdoors. We also like to do the ironing when things are still slightly damp, so achieving complete dryness is not necessary. Of course, not everyone has the time and facilities to operate like that and a dryer is probably a must for a busy working household. The airing cupboard doesn’t have a hot tank in it but a combination boiler; we put clothes and bed linen in there after ironing.

To demonstrate the energy needed to dry clothes, mentioned by Em, compare the frequency that the ‘heating’ light on an iron comes on when ironing damp clothes compared with dry ones. Children can learn from simple experiments carried out in the home.

From an economic point of view the additional cost of a heat pump dryer needs to be offset by the electrical energy saved; that depends upon how often it is used. Which? seem to base use on 3 times a week but for many, who have the small space needed outdoors for a rotary dryer, much less expensive and free to run, let alone those who dry washing on a clothes horse in the winter, they are not cost effective.

Therefore, as with many such issues, the question is reducing energy use to save the planet. If we tackle green and renewable energy generation properly and promptly, through nuclear, tidal, more wind and solar, and possibly geothermal, then we should not have to be so concerned about energy use – providing we can afford to pay for it.

The government’s job is to coordinate and manage new energy generation to ensure we have a reliable supply to meet all our future needs. If they do not we will be cold and miserable and drying clothes will be the least of our worries.