Most Americans are familiar with the blue-and-white EnergyStar logo, which has an almost 20-year history of helping consumers “save money and protect the environment through energy efficient products and practices.” Jointly managed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, the EnergyStar program encompasses more than 60 different products from refrigerators to computers. In the past year and a half, EnergyStar’s ability to ensure that products bearing the EnergyStar logo provide the intended energy savings has come under increased scrutiny. As a result, EnergyStar has announced new measures to strengthen the trusted EnergyStar symbol.
In May of this year, EnergyStar proposed what it describes as a new plan for “enhanced testing and verification” designed to “ensure that EnergyStar remains a trusted symbol for environmental protection through superior efficiency.” New measures include requirements that:
* Energy efficiency test results are submitted to and approved by EnergyStar prior to labeling a product with the EnergyStar logo
* Testing of energy efficiency must be conducted at a certified laboratory. In addition, certain products must be tested at a laboratory independent from the manufacturer
* All products are subject to additional ongoing testing in order to verify that products sold on the market are energy efficient; when possible, products for testing will be obtained directly from stores.
This move by EnergyStar is timely — a provision in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 granted nearly $300 million in rebates for the purchase of EnergyStar-labeled products. The sweeping changes planned for the EnergyStar program are in part intended to ensure that US taxpayer dollars are being spent on truly energy efficient products.
The speed and comprehensiveness of Energy Star’s proposed changes were prompted by a series of government audits and a number of news articles that questioned the ability of EnergyStar to guarantee the energy efficiency of EnergyStar-labeled products. For example, a 2008 Consumer Reports article showed that some models of EnergyStar-endorsed refrigerators did not meet the EnergyStar requirements. A 2009 Office of the Inspector General audit found that EnergyStar had not developed a “formal quality assurance program” in order to ensure the energy efficiency of EnergyStar-labeled products. Most recently, a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) audit indicated that Energy Star is susceptible to fraud. During the course of the audit, a number of fictitious products from nonexistent manufacturers were registered with the EnergyStar program and gained approval to use the logo. EnergyStar has responded by proposing these measures in order to ensure the integrity of the EnergyStar label.
The response from the energy efficiency community has been positive. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) stated, in comments submitted to EnergyStar, that they were “very supportive of the direction EnergyStar is taking to increase the effectiveness of its program.” EnergyStar has already implemented the requirement to pre-register products. A final version of the plan will be released in July or August and should include a timeline for implementation of the other measures.
For more information on EnergyStar’s plan for “enhanced testing and verification” visit EnergyStar’s website.
Article by Christopher Wold, writing for the Energy Efficiency Markets newsletter
photo: Tom Raftery