Yvonne Orgill explains how some unusual EU regulations prompted the creation of the European Water Label Scheme.
Exactly 20 years ago in September 1994, the EU brought out Regulation (EC) No.2257/94 which laid down quality standards for bananas.
Oh, we laughed, didn't we?
Bananas must be “free from malformation or abnormal curvature of the fingers” and “the measurement, in millimetres, of the thickness of a transverse section of the fruit between the lateral faces and the middle, perpendicularly to the longitudinal axis.”
It’s a banana - get over it.
Just last week, it was the turn of the vacuum cleaner. From now on, you cannot buy a vacuum cleaner powered above 1600 watts and since most of cleaners are above that, life is going to be a tad more complicated. This new EU directive will also require manufacturers to put an energy rating label on the box and manufacturers have to show the performance on hard floors, carpets, and how much dust is emitted.
And it’s going to get worse. The rules will get even tougher in three years' time since on 1 September, 2017, all vacuum cleaners will have to be less than 900 watts. It won’t be long before all hoovers will be hand pumped; just like the good old days.
It’s obvious that EU regulations are all powerful and have wide ranging effects. They tell us what we can and cannot do; they restrict consumer choice; they have unintended consequences; they create savings in some areas and vast expense and a whole new way of life in others.
It was the prospect of non-bendy bananas and hand-pumped hoovers that inspired the far-sighted members of the BMA into launching its own European Water Label scheme almost eight years ago.
After lengthy discussions, brainstorming and consultation throughout the industry, the entirely voluntary Water Label was quietly launched in 2007. It marked a defining moment in the bathroom industry and the scheme caught on. Manufacturers began labelling their products and listing them in the Water Label database, www.europeanwaterlabel.eu, so that consumers could make their own choice of water consuming product to suit their own lifestyle and budget, and without the red tape lead-weight of the law.
Today the European Water Label is firmly established in 32 countries. It has nearly 70 major bathroom brands with almost 7,000 products listed on its website. The scheme is supported by major builders merchants and retailers, the media, Water Utilities and over 1,000 national stockists. It has won four major sustainably and business awards.
It is supported by our UK government and the European Commission; and they like it because it has no cost to the taxpayer.
The European Water Label was born when manufacturers recognised a concern. They developed it at their own cost, and to maintain standards, and prevent fraud, products listed on the scheme are regularly tested by an independent and internationally recognised laboratory.
But, beware! The bureaucrats of Brussels are on the horizon and they might consider enshrining the European Water Label into a law which dictates to all of us how much water a shower or tap can deliver.
If the Bathroom and Kitchen Industry doesn’t continue its support the existing voluntary scheme then bang goes choice – just like bananas and hoovers.
The development of the European Water Label is one of those success stories which tends to go un-noticed. But it is a major success which is low cost, maintains consumer choice, does what it is designed to do and avoids the bendy banana red tape syndrome.
Yvonne Orgill is chief executive of European Water Label.