Can you trust Australia's star ratings system?

Australia uses a star rating system for energy and water consumption as well as the nutritional value of food. But how do these systems work and can they be trusted?

Consumer group CHOICE recently raised the red flag on the system when it revealed that a washing machine that had a four-star water usage rating, actually used 214 litres of water in a standard single wash.

These three schemes (water efficiency, energy efficiency and food labelling) are all government programs are all government operated, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are not able to be manipulated.

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Water efficiency
The Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (WELS) scheme is Australia’s urban water saving scheme. 

Management of the scheme is the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, working in partnership with industry and state and territory governments.

The scheme specifies and enforces standards for water efficiency and labelling for a range of regulated water-using appliances, fixtures and fittings.

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On the standard water rating label you will find a star rating that allows you to quickly compare the water efficiency of different products (the more stars the better the water efficiency) and the rate of water consumption, such as flow rate, litres per flush or litres per wash.

The water label will also include registration and product details including the licence number and registration number and, for washing machines and dishwashers, the model name and cycle used for testing.

These details can help you decide which product will suit your needs and give you the best water and energy savings.

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Energy ratings
The Equipment Energy Efficiency (E3) program is an initiative of the Australian Government, states and territories and the New Zealand Government. 

These groups combined to deliver a single, integrated program on energy efficiency standards and energy labelling for equipment and appliances.

The E3 Program is managed by the Greenhouse Energy Minimum Standards (GEMS) regulator in conjunction with the Energy Efficiency Advisory Team (EEAT) which is comprised of representatives of the Commonwealth, state and territory governments and the New Zealand government.

Industry and consumer groups also participate in the scheme through a review committee.

Much like the water efficiency label, the energy rating label allows you to compare the energy efficiency and running costs of appliances before you make a purchase.

The star rating system measures energy efficiency and allows you to see how efficient a model is relative to other models of the same size, with most products given between one and six stars.

As products have become more energy efficient over time, however, it is now possible to see up to 10 stars.

The key to using this guide is to choose the size or capacity of the product that you want first, and then start using the star rating system to compare them.

The label also contains information about how much electricity the product uses and is based on standardised testing. This information allows you to compare energy consumption across different models.

Health star ratings
The health star rating is a front-of-pack labelling system that rates the overall nutritional profile of packaged food and assigns it a rating from half a star to five stars.

It provides a quick, easy, standard way to compare similar packaged foods. The more stars, the healthier the choice.

The health star rating system was developed by the Australian, state and territory governments in collaboration with industry, public health and consumer groups.

The number of stars is determined using a calculator designed to assess positive and risk nutrients in food. The algorithm that drives the calculator was developed in consultation with Food Standards Australia New Zealand and other technical and nutrition experts.

Food manufacturers and retailers are responsible for the correct and accurate use of the health star rating system. This includes correctly calculating the health star rating, accurately displaying nutrient information, ensuring consistency of information between the health star rating and the nutrition information panel, and complying with all relevant legislation and regulations.

Can the ratings be trusted?
A lecturer in marketing at Deakin Business school, Professor Michael Callaghan told The New Daily recently that consumers still needed to do their own research.

“While it would be good to trust these certifications, emblems and logos, the consumer is probably best advised to do a little bit of homework,” Prof. Callaghan said.

“Some of these ratings come from the manufacturer so you shouldn’t really trust them. Some come from endorsing agencies, which accept fees.

“The only time I would be trusting them is with safety and health issues.

“For instance, packaging that declares it doesn’t contain nuts. There are huge legal ramifications if it does contain them.”

The health star rating system is even more problematic because it is entirely voluntary meaning some companies don’t use it, while other companies only include the star rating on its products that it knows perform well.

Do you trust the rating system in Australia? Should more be done to make sure these figures are more trustworthy? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

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Written by Ben