Consumer Reports‘ recent investigation into the Energy Star program reveals that lax standards and out-of-date test protocols plague the federal program. The report notes that the percent of products that qualify for Energy Star is increasing because standards are too easy to reach, and federal test procedures haven’t kept pace with new technology. In addition, Consumer Reports‘ tests found the energy consumption claims reported on some products’ EnergyGuide label to understate significantly what consumers are likely to experience.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), about 25% of products in a category should qualify for Energy Star. But until recently, for example, 92% of all dishwashers qualified. Under a tighter standard, it’s now about 50%.
What’s more, it usually takes the Department of Energy (DOE) three years to publish new rules – a period that includes comments from manufacturers, organizations such as Consumers Union, and others – and another three years for the updated standards to take effect. Input into the rule-making process by those who have a vested interest in easy-to-meet standards, such as manufacturers, can also dilute those standards.
Energy Star is a 16-year-old federal voluntary program administered by the DOE and EPA that covers more than 50 product categories. The program grew out of efforts by the federal government to forge a set of nationwide guidelines and create a logo that clearly indicates energy-efficient products. Qualifying Energy Star appliances and consumer electronics should use less energy – about 10% to 25% less than the DOE’s maximum allowed amount for that category.
No Independent Verification
Consumer Reports notes another flaw with the Energy Star program. To qualify, many companies must self certify that their products comply with the standards. The DOE does not test products for compliance with Energy Star standards. There’s often no independent verification of what manufacturers report. Instead, the government relies mostly on manufacturers to test their competitors’ appliances to the same standards and report back on results of suspicious energy-use.
Consumers Union has made some recommendations that can help fine tune the Energy Star program, including:
- Testing procedures should be brought in line with the technology available in consumer products. The DOE and EPA should more frequently review procedures and standards as new technology and products hit the market.
- The DOE should require some independent verification of test results.
- The program should consider a graded qualifying system that uses letters.
- Federal officials need to better police companies and enforce standards, including increasing spot checks of Energy Star-qualified products.
The full report on the Energy Star program is featured in the October issue of Consumer Reports. The report also contains a guide to help consumers interpret the EnergyGuide label, nine myths about compact fluorescent light bulbs, and Consumer Reports‘ first ever ratings of tankless water heaters.