• Angad Chowdhry

“It is unequivocal.”

Unsplash image by Etwin Kyo

These are the first three words of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

The report goes on to warn that the current state of climate change is a “code red” for humanity:

  • The rate of the sea level rise has tripled with water turning acidic

  • Temperatures are predicted to rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius within the next 20 years.

  • No area or community is spared. Widespread and rapid changes have occured in every inhabited region across the globe.

This is only a peek at a daunting future if we don’t act now.

The report is also certain on one fact: the scale at which humans are pushing the world into an “unprecedented” state.

Energy use - such as electricity, heat, and transport - makes up 73% of greenhouse gas emissions. Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are chemical compounds responsible for keeping you cool on hot summer days, in air conditioners and refrigerators. HFCs represent a small portion of greenhouse gas emissions but they trap thousands of times as much heat in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

As countries endure hotter summers, electricity use for cooling has also increased drastically. Air conditioners are especially exhausting. A small A.C. cooling a single room, on average, consumes more power than running four fridges, while a central unit cooling an average house uses more power than 15 fridges.

Companies are recognizing the harm in cooling appliances and developing energy efficient products. From ACs to fashion - shifts toward sustainable products are taking over industries. With these changes, activists and industries must understand that consumer awareness is at the heart of the solution to the climate crisis. In the case of cooling appliances - people must know what is in their ACs and fridges.

The Quilt.AI team set out to understand consumer awareness of cooling appliances in India. We studied 10,000 searches and 400 Amazon reviews from India to understand attitudes and interest in energy efficiency. This is what we found:

Unsurprisingly, consumer awareness is dismal

The Quilt.AI team analyzed 400 reviews of air conditioners from Amazon India. We sought to understand consumer awareness of 4 and 5-BEE Star Labels.

In India, companies have been mandated to include Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) Star Labels on all electrical appliances - including air conditioners. BEE Star Labels show how much electricity is consumed in a year. Air conditioners are tested in a nationally accredited lab and electricity use is calculated in an ideal room based on average monthly use. The more stars, out of 5, on a BEE Label - the more efficient it is. In a nationwide survey last year, only 25% of people stated that they knew about the BEE Star Labels on air conditioners.

We found that more than half (54.8%) discussed challenges with installation and customer service. About a third of reviews of product features such as time taken to cool a room. Only 10.5% of the reviews mentioned energy efficiency.

Most of the reviews were written a few months after receiving the AC which allowed people to check if the AC saved them electricity. Many cited reduced bill amount and electricity watts used compared to previous ACs or other appliances. However, none of the reviews mentioned the environment or the product being eco-friendly.

The reviews also reflect how a stronger link between saving money and electricity should be made with saving the environment and being eco-friendly. Furthermore, as people are mostly concerned with installation and product features, these can be used as a hook to raise awareness on the environment and advertise energy efficient ACs.

There is momentum to scale consumer awareness

In low and middle-income countries, like India, air conditioners and refrigerators have become an essential appliance and status symbol. Over the years, they have become a norm, leading to a rise of carbon footprints across the country. Now as people continue working from home, the demand for ACs have grown. This is also evident in our analysis of search behavior from January 2019 to June 2021.

We found that keywords related to the pricing of ACs make up 90% of searches, followed by general information (e.g. AC services near me), and eco-friendly ACs.

People’s intention to buy ACs has also increased as searches about pricing have doubled from 69% to 129%. There are spikes in May 2020 and April 2021 indicating the onset of summer. This could also reflect more people working from home during the pandemic and investing in ACs at a higher rate.

Compared to searches about pricing, there is a low volume of searches for energy efficient ACs. However, the category is gradually increasing with a rate of change going from 38% to 46% in the last two years. Keywords that had the highest growth are:

  • “best 5 star ac” - 203%

  • “five star lg ac” - 140%

  • “5 star rating window ac” - 142%

  • “5 star rating split ac 1.5 ton” - 131%

  • “solar air conditioner” - 109%

Companies and activists should leverage people’s growing intention to buy ACs. For example, redirecting people who are searching for prices to websites about the environment and eco-friendly, affordable ACs.

It’s also about recycling - not only purchasing

From production to disposal, cooling appliances are at risk of releasing HFCs. If the appliances are not disposed of responsibly, they will continue to contribute to greenhouse gases even after being used.

However, there is a lack of information on how and where to safely dispose of appliances. When searching for terms related to recycling appliances in India, the top links are American websites such as Climate Experts, LoadUp, and the Spruce.

Local recycling programs should use social media and strategic search SEO to help redirect people to their services. For example, Carrier Midea and companies, such as LG and Samsung, have local initiatives for e-waste recycling that should be promoted.

Quilt.AI looked at search behavior related to recycling cooling appliances in the last 2.5 years. We found that there is growing interest in how to recycle ACs or fridges with a significant spike in July 2020 and an upward trend till June 2021. The highest search keywords that grew at 100% in the last year were:

  • “can you recycle air conditioners”

  • “free air conditioner recycling near me”

  • “recycle air conditioner for cash near me”

These search keywords show that people are looking for basic knowledge on whether ACs can be recycled and intention to do so.

There is no going back

The IPCC report has made it clear that we must stop carbon and greenhouse gases at a rapid rate starting now. Otherwise, we will not be able to slow down the destruction of climate change.

Now is the time for activists and companies to tap into the power and scale of consumer awareness in solving the climate crisis. Millions of people choosing to use sustainable products everyday can make a big difference.

This includes encouraging people to think about their Carbon Footprint through tools like Carbon Footprint and Energy Use Calculator. It also means integrating messages about sustainability into product descriptions that include price and installation.

Decades of data shows us how humans are responsible for causing climate change. Now, we are also accountable for reversing it.