Consumer information

Lifespan label for electrical products

The federal government has committed to promoting sustainable consumption, environmentally-friendly production and waste prevention. Some political measures are targeted at different actors, for example producers or consumers, others are targeted at product groups such as construction waste, packaging or waste paper.

Sustainable consumption

Sustainable consumption

Photo: Getty Images/iStock/Martinan

Electrical and electronic devices are a versatile and dynamic group of products which is characterised by ever decreasing life cycles, increasing sales figures and high recyclable material content. The Electrical and Electronic Equipment Act, amended at the end of 2015, governs the placing of these devices on the market, their withdrawal and their environmentally friendly disposal, for example.

Other measures could take action by means of transparent and easily comparable information for consumers, which can be relevant for the purchasing decision. This includes the lifespan of electrical products, which is difficult for the consumer to estimate. The Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Construction and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) is therefore discussing the possible introduction of standardised product labelling with the lifespan of electrical products in the “Interministerial Committee for Sustainable Consumption”. This indication would be for information purposes only, direct legal rights such as warranty rights may not be derived from it. The focus is on the aim of creating transparency through explicit specification of the lifespan and thus promoting the demand for and production of more sustainable products.

In order to provide evidence for the political decision-making process, the current study is investigating the following question:

What effect does lifespan information on electrical devices have on consumers’ purchasing decisions? What effect do possible alternative provisions have?

The effect of a label indicating the lifespan of electrical products is investigated using the purchasing decisions in a simulated online shop situation with a representative sample of 10,444 consumers. The following regulatory alternatives were tested:

  • Voluntary and mandatory labelling with a lifespan label
  • Mandatory labelling with a lifespan label and total costs per year
  • Mandatory labelling with a guarantee

The lifespan label was developed on the basis of insights from behavioural science such that the information about the estimated lifespan is presented clearly and in an easy-to-understand manner.An alternative label which creates greater transparency for the consumer with regard to the relationship between price and lifespan by providing additional information about the average total cost per year was also designed.

  • The results of the study show that products at the same price were purchased more often if they have a longer lifespan. However, consumers were only willing to choose a more expensive product for the benefit of a longer lifespan to a limited extent. The purchase of products in a higher price-lifespan segment increased by three percent in comparison with a reference group with no lifespan information.
  • The combined indication of the lifespan and average total cost per year for acquisition and operation had a more marked effect on purchasing behaviour. It increased the purchase of products in a higher price-lifespan segment by five percentage points.
  • In contrast, an obligatory guarantee on the lifespan of the product did not increase the consumers’ willingness to purchase a product in a higher price-lifespan segment.

The results indicate that the lifespan is not able to prevail over the price in purchasing decisions. The additional indication of the total cost, in which the lifespan information is included in the cost consideration, suggests itself as an alternative regulation. This cost transparency allows for a price-performance comparison beyond the lifespan and thus makes it easier to compare products.

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