Green Wednesday: Is the Energy Star Falling?

From on September 10, 2008 in Green Remodeling

energy star After writing oodles of remodeling recommendations regarding Energy Star products, I was rather nonplussed when I read some recent reports regarding the label. And not just any label, the nation’s most widely used and accepted source for eco-friendly advice. It turns out much of the criticism revolves around outdated, unchecked, or irrelevant testing.

According to the Blueprint for Financial Prosperity, Energy Star labels simply cannot be trusted for some products. TVs, VCRs, computers, and air conditioners are among them. Televisions, for example, are rated by how much energy is used when they are turned off. Other items, such as dryers, water heaters, and ovens, carry the label but are not actually regulated. On the other hand, you can trust the label for dishwashers, refrigerators, freezers, and washing machines…according to this article. Inconsistency is the main problem here.

Then I read an interesting article by Consumer Reports. It goes a step further, bringing into question even big items such as refrigerators. According to their report, the Department of Energy’s testing is not reflective of how the appliances will be used at home. For instance, the DOE requires that ice-makers on refrigerators are turned off during testing. This drastically reduces the appliance’s cooling load and, subsequently, its energy consumption; but no one is going to use the fridge at home in such a manner. During their own testing, Consumer Reports found that certain refrigerators used nearly double the annual electricity than what they were rated and Energy-Star-labeled for.

Essentially, CR found three main problems with the Energy Star label:

  1. Testing is outdated. The testing and requirements do not keep up with technology. Even leaders in the organization admit this. Furthermore, it takes a long time to get changes enacted. By the time rules are updated, technology has long surpassed them.
  2. Standards are weak. Energy Star states that about 25 percent of appliances should qualify. Yet 92 percent of dishwashers qualified until recently. That number is down to half, but the problem is not limited to dishwashers.
  3. Testing is unsupervised. The companies themselves are doing the testing on their own appliances. Essentially, the DOE depends on competing companies to tattle on those that are cheating on their tests. But if everyone’s cheating, who’s going to tell?

Okay, now that I’ve berated the Energy Star label, I’ll make up for it a little bit. It is a shame that the country’s most respected green label is, intentionally or not, often green-washed. Energy Star leaders admit that they are behind but are mired in red tape as far as turning things around. Much of this hindrance is a direct result of a sluggish and unwilling DOE. It takes at least three years for the DOE to implement rule changes – slower than any other agency.

I wish I could say I was more surprised at this, but it’s to be expected from a Bush administration that itself would not qualify for an Energy Star label…but, then again, maybe it would!