Sustainability, energy saving, consumer behaviour and the role home appliances can play in achieving net zero targets were just some of the key themes explored at an industry conference organised by AMDEA, in association with OPSS (Office for Product Safety and Standards) and City, University London.
Attended by 150 delegates, the 2050 – Appliances of the Future: The Road to Net Zero conference took place on September 21, at City, University of London, in Northampton Square. It followed on from last year’s event, which was focused on the fridge of the future.
Divided into three sessions – The Net Zero Transition Pathway, Owner Behaviours and New Business Models, and The Circular Economy Challenge – the conference saw keynote speakers giving their views on the topics, as well as guest panellists, who discussed the issues highlighted.
The first speaker of the day was City, University of London’s executive dean of School of Science and Technology, Professor Rajkumar Roy, who introduced the conference and told delegates that many universities, including City, were carrying out essential research into the energy of the future.
He added: “The theme of the day is sustainable appliances – this is at the heart of what AMDEA is trying to promote in the industry sector, and we, as a university, are researching. City is very much into sustainable technology, engineering and appliances. The OPSS perspective comes from standards and regulations to support that development.”
The conference’s opening address came from Professor Paul Monks, BEIS (The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), chief scientific adviser.
He said that one of the challenges on the road to net zero was how to make appliances of the future more energy-efficient but also ensure they were ready to recycle, refurbish and reuse, without producing any extra costs. “The win-win would be to have green devices that reduce cost,” he said.
AMDEA chair, Teresa Arbuckle, managing director of appliance manufacturer Beko Plc, UK and Ireland, focused her keynote speech on how Beko and its parent company, Arçelik, are tackling issues such as sustainability.
She said: “There are opportunities for networking and collaborating. It’s not about being in silos. Government, business, manufacturers and retailers – all of us – need to work with consumers to try make a difference in the world that we live in.”
On recycling, she said it will become more ‘on-trend’ for people to get electrical products repaired, but that it was important to point out that using an old appliance can be much more expensive for the consumer and less eco-friendly than using a new one.
Ms Arbuckle said appliances accounted for 13-15% of carbon emissions in consumers’ homes and highlighted how tumble dryers are the worst offenders in that sector.
She explained how heat-pump tumble dryers are much more efficient to use than condenser models and urged the industry to educate consumers on the benefits of using heat-pump dryers.
In his keynote speech on the transition to net zero, Paolo Falcioni, director-general of APPLiA, said that legislation should set the target and allow the industry to find the best way to hit it.
He said that ecodesign and water usage are key.
“We have to offer better products with benefits,” said Mr Falcioni. He explained how when he’d visited the IFA technology trade show in Berlin earlier this month, he’d seen products that were made with up to 65% of recycled plastics.
Mr Falcioni also highlighted how the quality and supply of recycled plastics for the manufacturing of appliances has to improve.
Addressing the topic of consumer behaviour in her keynote speech, Fiona Dear, co-director of The Restart Project, shared statistics that showed how e-waste (electronic) is the fastest growing waste stream. In 2019, the UK was the second biggest producer of e-waste, behind Norway, she said.
Ms Dear highlighted how the majority of people support the idea of repairing products, but that consumer behaviour doesn’t reflect that.
She identified some of the biggest barriers to repairing products as cost and also how appliances are made.
“We have the right to repair but parts aren’t available for all products, and, increasingly, software is an emerging concern,” she said.
Ms Dear also said that consumers are used to seeing adverts for new products and extended warranties, which means that repairing their old appliances isn’t a priority.
“We’ve just got out of the habit of repairing – it’s not such part of our culture anymore,” she said.
She suggested that to encourage consumers to keep products in use for longer, we need to change what options are available to them and get the message across at the point of sale in retail.
The final keynote speaker, Mark Miodownik, professor of materials and society, UCL, tackled the challenge of a circular economy.
“Recycling is great, but repair and maintenance are the biggest wins,” he said, adding when people think about 2050 and the future for them and their children, they will want appliances that won’t make the world a worse place.
“It really is absolutely urgent – we can’t play around with letting the market make a decision on it. The market will turn to consumers and externalise the waste – that’s what markets do. You need some regulations and a level playing field for people to get circular, and you need to emphasise repair and maintenance,” he said.
Mr Miodownik also suggested that consumers need more information at the point of sale on the expected life of an appliance. Sustainability information is marketable he said, adding: “It can’t be cheaper to buy new than repair.”
The final word went to Graham Russell, chief executive of OPSS, who, in his summing up, said collaboration is key, but there are also conflicts – or ‘creative tensions’ – to consider – the answers aren’t just a small step away. He also posed the question ‘Is there a danger that we’re creating more complicated products that are harder to reuse, recycle and repair?’
“We can solve the challenge we face together – not just the people in this room, but the people that we represent and who we connect with in our wider network,” he said.
A full report of the conference will follow in October.