Dyson, the European Court of Justice, and energy labels – political change rather than legal challenges please
This week the company, in European Court of Justice Case T-544/13 Dyson Ltd v Commission, Dyson lost its action for annulment of the Regulation on energy labelling of vacuum cleaners. The ECJ’s summary of the outcome is here (PDF), and the decision was reported by The Guardian and, with some more detail, by the WSJ’s Real Time Brussels blog. The Guardian’s story even says that Dyson is considering appealing the decision [UPDATE 13.11.15, 1200: some EU nerds reckon an appeal is not possible actually].
I have sympathy for Dyson’s case, but not for its tactics.
There are three parts to Dyson’s issue with the Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) No 665/2013 (legislative file here):
- a vacuum cleaner’s energy use is measured with an “empty receptacle” and this does not fairly portray its real-life performance, where its receptacle or bag will likely already be partly filled with dust.
- the resources used to produce vacuum bags and filters are not included in the calculation of the overall energy consumption.
- testing vacuum cleaners in their “pristine state” means the “loss of suction due to clogging” is not accounted for, and this impacts cleaners with bags more than its bagless rivals.
All of these seem to be sensible concerns.
However to seek to throw out the whole energy labelling system for vacuum cleaners as a result strikes me as exceptionally stupid – especially in Dyson’s case.
First, energy labels are appreciated by consumers, even if consumers do not fully understand them (see this detailed study by Verbraucherzentrale Rheinland-Pfalz about this – English PDF here) – 88% of German consumers are aware of the energy label system. 70% of those that Verbraucherzentrale asked were in favour of recalibrating the label, removing the A+++ and returning to a A-G again – a reform that the European Commission is currently pursuing.
Second, as James Dyson’s own comments about ecodesign have demonstrated (see end of this story for example), and the company’s submission (PDF) to ECEEE on the subject also underlines, his company is at the forefront of producing the most energy efficient vacuum cleaners in the market anyway. In other words his own company benefits from customers making energy-conscious choices, and his company then seeks to throw out the only real system customers have to work out what’s efficient or not.
If Dyson were sensible it would not appeal in its ECJ case, but would work constructively for the reform of the EU’s energy label system instead. An important line in the ECJ judgment was that there was an “absence of reproducible tests conducted with a loaded receptacle” – so if Dyson could work out a way to make a reproducible test then it should be onto something. Plus with the heightened political attention to big firms cheating on green tests in light of the Volkswagen scandal (something Dyson is also aware of in its allegations against Bosch), the political environment in Brussels would currently be favourable for Dyson (working with others) to get what they want through the regular legal process. So rather than paying lawyers to fight for him in the European Court of Justice, James Dyson ought to throw some money at the ECEEE [UPDATE 13.11.15, 1200: Cool Products would also be worthy of a donation – via Michael Warhurst] or make a donation to the European Climate Foundation and get them to push for political action. Yes, he would have to get his hands dirty in the political process, but – like one of his famous bagless cleaners – it might actually work better than what’s been done until now.Jon