Off standby: How manufacturers are making it easier to turn off gadgets


It has become something of an endangered species in recent years. Once, the on/off button was the only way to switch on the living room's box of delights, but recently it has been banished to a hidden corner of the television set, all but forgotten, thanks to the remote-control stand-by facility. On some televisions, the on/off button has disappeared completely.

There can be few of us who haven't heard by now that leaving appliances on stand-by is a waste of energy - and, of course, money. But, while the will to switch off is there for many green-minded consumers, the technology doesn't make it easy. Why?

According to some television manufacturers, the on/off switch is an undesirable feature that spoils the line of flat-screen or wall-mounted televisions. As well as pure aesthetics, there's an argument that hi-tech digital TVs also require system and software updates that need the TV to be in stand-by mode rather than off. The Toshiba 37 WLT 66 TV is just one flat-screen that has no on/off switch, so the only way it can be switched off - not turned to stand-by - is by turning off the power at the wall socket.

LG once did much the same with its televisions. The company stopped including on/off switches on its products because: "Consumers were using remote controls, so the on/off button wasn't being utilised," according to a source at LG. "But, due to an increase in environmental issues, LG has decided to reintroduce it across its TV range." Off button one, remote control nil.

Leaving electrical appliances on stand-by isn't simply a case of laziness - it's a hot environmental issue. Combined, British homes waste electricity worth almost £1bnevery year, due to people leaving appliances on stand-by, according to the Energy Saving Trust. The good news is that electrical shops and manufacturers are staring to take note. "We're getting more and more people asking about on/off switches and energy saving," says Hamish Thompson from Currys Digital. "We're talking to all of our manufacturers about the potential return of the off switch. An increasing percentage of our TVs are recommended by the Energy Saving Trust."

But, sometimes it's just not possible for consumers to switch from stand-by to off. Anyone who has Sky+ will blanch at the idea of losing their programme settings - the inevitable result of turning a Sky+ box off. Taking note of their customers' plight, Sky this week announced an energy-saving feature that switches unattended Sky+ and Sky HD boxes to stand-by automatically. Sky estimates that their customers could save £7.5m on electricity and that carbon dioxide emissions in the UK could be cut by 32,000 tons every year.

Another company that's committed to creating products that use less power is Pioneer, which is a Sustainable Energy Partner of the European Commission. For the past seven years, Pioneer has aimed to cut power wastage by ensuring that its products use just one watt when on stand-by.

It's not just stand-by that wastes energy, though. Giant plasma-screen TVs are the worst offenders for energy inefficiency - manufacturing one creates 430kg of CO2, and they use four times the amount of energy consumed by a normal TV.

A simple way to find out how much power an appliance consumes is to plug in a wattage and current meter and take a reading. The higher the amount an appliance uses, the less energy-efficient it is. By taking the amount of energy used, consumers can work out just how much they're spending on each item they use.

To make watching the box a more environmentally friendly pastime, choose a smaller television that comes with a big, bold on/off switch. If you already have a TV without a switch, consider using a device like the Bye Bye Standby. This plug-in gadget costs £29.99 and lets you cut the power to any electrical device by remote control, so even the most die-hard couch potato has no excuse but to go green.

Whether you decide to switch off altogether, or swap to a TV with a less wasteful stand-by function, you'll be saving money as well as energy. Not to mention also saving the much maligned on/off button from obscurity.

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