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How Civil Society Groups Can Help Expand Energy Efficiency

WRI's new report, Robust, Recognizable, and Legitimate: Strengthening India's Appliance Efficiency Standards and Labels through Greater Civil Society Involvement, will be formally launched at a national workshop on “Strengthening Civil Society Involvement in Energy Efficiency Standards and Labels” on Friday, December 20th at the Hotel Royal Orchid Central, Bengaluru, India. The workshop will convene leading think tanks, advocacy groups, and other civil society organizations in India to discuss current successes and limitations of India’s standards and labeling (S&L) program. It will also identify ways to strengthen the current S&L process with more transparency, accountability, and participation by civil society representatives. Learn more about the event.

Everyday items like fans, televisions, air conditioners, refrigerators, and room heaters account for nearly 18 percent of global energy consumption. Making these appliances more efficient can yield substantial energy savings and greenhouse gas emissions reductions. More efficient appliances can also reduce costs to the consumer. Within the major developing countries around the world alone, EE standards programs could save 1,500 Terawatt hours of energy and save consumers US$ 1.5 trillion by 2030.

Yet despite their “win-win” nature, the purchase of energy efficient appliances remains low in some countries—including in India. This is in part due to low levels of involvement by local civil society organizations (CSOs) in the energy efficiency standards and labeling (S&L) process.

Limited Civil Society Involvement in Energy Efficiency Labeling Programs

WRI’s new report, Robust, Recognizable, and Legitimate: Strengthening India’s Appliance Efficiency Standards and Labels through Greater Civil Society Involvement, examined energy efficiency S&L programs in 10 countries: Australia, Chile, China, the European Union (EU), Ghana, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, Thailand, and the United States. We found that although S&L programs aim to influence consumer behavior, civil society organizations and consumers are often overlooked in the design, implementation, and monitoring of these programs. This lack of public participation and consumer input leads to a lack of consumer awareness and limited purchasing of energy-efficient appliances.

Take India, for example, where potential impacts of S&L programs could be significant. Research has shown that over a three year period, if all appliances purchased were energy efficient, India could avoid building a new capacity requirement of more than 25,000MW (close to one-eighth of India’s total installed capacity). The country established an appliance efficiency S&L program in 2006 through its Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) and has notched up impressive energy savings, primarily through BEE’s partnership with leading manufacturers of a few widely used appliances. However, label recognition in the country is still quite low at 19 percent, and the purchase of EE appliances is not increasing by the magnitude it could be. Examples from the 10 countries demonstrate that India’s S&L program could be significantly broadened and scaled up with civil society and consumer involvement.

Learning from the Success Stories

There are many countries around the world experiencing success with their energy efficient S&L programs. Examples from these countries demonstrate that CSO engagement can make S&L programs more robust, recognizable, and popular amongst consumers. For example:

  • Australia’s S&L program, E3, has been in place since 1992, and has been improved through the involvement of the consumer organization, CHOICE. CHOICE established a series of testing laboratories and home monitoring systems to help track and evaluate appliance manufacturers’ compliance with the national program. CHOICE publishes the results of these tests in its consumer magazine, which reaches 160,000 members. When results reveal non-compliance, CHOICE informs the country’s regulator. This CSO-led effort has benefited E3 by increasing its integrity and reach among the population.

  • Since 2005, Ghana has put in place its Star Rating Labeling program, which currently includes two products: room air conditioners and compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs). Ghana’s Energy Foundation has worked alongside the Ghana Standards Board to conduct market research and consumer surveys to improve the design of the EE label. The redesigned labels led to greater consumer understanding of a product’s energy use and increased sales of EE appliances.

  • The EU has a mandatory labeling program in place for 10 household appliances. Since its inception in 1995, the EU’s labeling program has led to improvements in appliance efficiencies. The European Consumer Group on Standardization, ANEC, has played a key role in influencing label design by voicing consumer preferences as energy efficiency labels evolve.

3 Recommendations on Expanding CSO Participation

The findings of our report reveal insights for countries such as India, which currently envisions broadening and strengthening its own standards and labeling programs. Three lessons come to light:

  • Governments must create enabling policies for CSO participation: Enabling policies that establish participatory forums--such as expert sub-committees and public hearings—and that encourage CSOs to participate in decision-making processes make it easier for them to be involved in S&L program development. Getting their voices involved in the process can eventually lead to greater consumer interest.

  • CSOs must understand the benefits of energy efficiency: On their end, CSOs must make an effort to understand the environmental and economic benefits of energy efficient appliances. They are critical communicators in explaining these benefits to consumers.

  • Donors must support CSOs to help improve their capacity: Once CSOs gain access to the S&L development process and have demonstrated their commitments to energy efficiency programs, they will require assistance from donors to build their capacity.

Energy efficiency standards and labeling programs are a critical part of ensuring low-carbon, affordable energy for all. But they’re only as good as their popularity with consumers. Getting CSOs involved in the process can help bridge the gap between energy decision-makers and the consumers themselves, ultimately leading to greater awareness and greater uptake of energy efficient products.

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