If voluntary compliance fails, we must have laws
Regulation does not sit easily with Hong Kong's free-market principles. Buyer beware and voluntary compliance with codes of conduct are preferred. But sometimes we need rules for our own good, as with tough anti-smoking and anti-littering fines - and now household energy-saving laws to protect the environment
From tomorrow, appliance stores will have to display energy-efficiency labels on refrigerators, air conditioners and compact fluorescent lamps, or face fines of up to HK$100,000.
The launching of a mandatory labelling ordinance comes 13 years after the start of an ineffective voluntary scheme covering washing machines and television sets.
Remarkably the switch to compulsion has been almost seamless, even if the appliance sector did have a year's notice. A South China Morning Post survey of 15 outlets operated by three appliance chains found that almost all stocks not only had energy-efficiency labels, but most refrigerators and air conditioners rated one or two at the top of a scale of five. Few labels were to be found, however, on washing machines and television sets.
It is difficult therefore to disagree with environmental activists that legislation worked where market forces failed, or argue with their call for the government to bring more appliances under the law. There is a stronger case now for including television sets than there was with the voluntary scheme 13 years ago.
It may come as a surprise that televisions now add more to Hong Kong's household electricity bills over a year than most other common appliances, except for air conditioners and refrigerators. This is partly because few households need more than one refrigerator, dryer, toaster or rice cooker, while multiple televisions and peripheral products, such as video players and game consoles, are becoming increasingly common.
Energy labelling would not only enable consumers to make better informed choices, but also increase awareness and encourage other good conservation habits, such as turning off televisions and peripheral equipment when they are not being watched or in use.