Lamp suppliers exploiting loophole to issue false efficiency claims

Lamp manufacturers are misleading consumers about the brightness and energy use of their products by exploiting a loophole in European tests, lab results seen by the Guardian reveal.

Major names such as Ikea, Philips, GE and Osram are among those said to be exaggerating energy performance up to 25% higher than that claimed on packaging, according to the Swedish Consumer Association tests. Ikea told the Guardian as a result it would refund customers who were dissatisfied with lamps they had bought from its stores.

The discrepancy is caused by the allowed “tolerances” in the official testing procedures for lamps. The Swedish tests, conducted between 2012-14, found that a 42W Airam halogen lamp consumed 25% more energy than claimed on the label to achieve its declared 630 lumens of brightness.

A GE 70W halogen bulb was 20% less bright than its stated 1,200 lumens. A 28W Philips halogen bulb was found to be 24% less bright than claimed, while Ikea’s 53W and 70W bulbs both underperformed by 16%.

A senior lighting industry executive reportedly told the Guardian that tolerance manipulation was rife, forcing smaller firms to put substandard products onto the market or risk going out of business. “All the major brands are doing it,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

No one is clean on this issue and everyone has to follow suit to compete"

Industry whistleblower

“No one is clean on this issue and everyone has to follow suit to compete. In the past, we declared our measured values on the packaging but when we measured our competitors’ equivalent products we saw that they were declaring higher values on their labels. So we had to play the same game. We’re in a competitive market and if we didn’t, we would be idiots.”

There is nothing illegal about the mislabelling, which cuts across brands and ranges and affects the lamps’ advertised brightness per unit of energy – rather than their A-G energy label ratings.

The European tests allow for a 10% tolerance threshold, meaning a lamp advertised as rated at 600 lumens could in reality be 540 lumens. A 2-3% tolerance threshold would be fairer and easily doable at little extra cost to consumers, the Guardian’s source said.

The European Commission is aware of the loophole and has been working on proposals to close it since November 2012. Staff working documents show that officials knew that firms were exploiting loopholes in the system as far back as 2013.

This is not what is meant to be done, but the text of the regulations did not specifically exclude it.”

European Commission spokesperson 

“The Commission found out that lighting manufacturers were adding the tolerance to the performance they measured for their own lamps, and using this to claim a higher label class than the performance they measured [in their energy] labelling or claim a pass for a product they measured as failing in ecodesign [regulations],” a commission spokesperson said. “This is not what is meant to be done, but the text of the regulations did not specifically exclude it.”

While the commission has moved to close the loophole in energy labelling, lamp ecodesign requirements will not be reformed until next year, the official added.

Efficiency campaigners say that they have been told by officials that a robust proposal to address the problem is “doomed” because of fears in Brussels of attracting headlines comparing it to the VW diesel emissions scandal.

“VW went bang and EU regulators woke up,” said Stephane Arditi, a product expert for the European Environmental Bureau. “The same thing could happen with home appliances, but the commission leadership would prefer to go back to sleep. They should accelerate rather than bury these reforms. Until they do, the playing field will slope in favour of those prepared to deceive their own customers.”

When contacted by the Guardian, Ikea offered full refunds or product exchanges to any customers dissatisfied with lamps they had bought from their stores. “The report refers to halogen bulbs that are no longer sold at Ikea,” a spokesperson for the Swedish firm said. “Since September 2015, we switched our entire lighting range to LED for our customers to live a more sustainable life at home.”

Philips said that the firm complied with all relevant standards and was committed to accurate labelling.  “Lamp performance can differ per bulb,” said a spokesperson. “This is the nature of the product and is especially true of halogen bulbs due to the tungsten coil. On average our bulbs meet the specs well within the allowed 10% tolerance range.”

Osram described the issue as “not company-specific but an industry topic” and deferred to the LightingEurope trade association. LightingEurope welcomed the initiative of the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) that the use of tolerances should be subjected to improved governance.

“In 2012 LightingEurope informed the European Commission and others stakeholders, including the EEB, that we see the current regulation is not practicable” said Diederik de Stoppelaar, secretary general of LightingEurope. The European Commission is planning a harmonisation of all existing lighting regulation and LightingEurope sees this as the right moment to address this matter again in the ongoing regulatory process.

LightingEurope argues that its members strive to operate strictly within the regulations. “We want to ensure a level playing field,” said de Stoppelaar. The association calls for the EC and the market surveillance authorities of member states to improve the governance of the relevant regulations to create a level playing field for compliant businesses.