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The Problem with Energy Star

published: 2014-07-01 16:32

Author: Lauren Monitz

Before I go off on a searing tangent, I want to be clear that I think the idea of the Energy Star program is completely necessary and useful to consumers. It is fully our responsibility to take action in lessening our environmental footprint for future generations. Sustainability is a concept that always needs to be on the forefront of our minds, not something for our neighbors to worry about, not something that might matter in 10 years, but an immediate consideration right now. Every choice in the way we live needs to be a conscientious decision of what impact it will have. It’s the execution of the program that has room for improvement, and where it really fails is in the education of why the program is the way it is. Their methodologies and practices need to be made more transparent and ultimately communicated better to develop more trust in the system.

Energy Star has been criticized before, from giving entirely non-existent products like gasoline-powered alarm clocks the label to lackluster monitoring of partner usage, essentially allowing any brand that’s earned the distinction for one product the ability to download the logo and slap it on any other product they manufacture. In my opinion, the main problem with the Energy Star program is that through their messaging, consumers have come to think of it as the be all, end all in determining if a product is green, meaning good for them and their home. They look at the blue label like a silver bullet; an easy designation to avoid doing the research for themselves about what products will save them money and be better for the environment over the course of their lifetime. Which is what it should be. That sticker should make it easy for consumers to identify products that are best in class.

However, that has been shown to simply not be the case. According to the New York Times, “Reports have suggested that the Energy Star label is not always a complete or useful guide to the best consumer choices. Last October, for example, the inspector general of the E.P.A. said that 100 percent of the computer monitors that carried the Energy Star logo had indeed met requirements. But so did 80 percent of the monitors that did not have the logo; the manufacturers had apparently not sought approval.”

On a broader level, Energy Star can chose to include or exclude entire product categories on a discriminating basis based loosely on the distinction that “they do or do not contribute significant energy savings.” They choose to exclude as much as they include, which creates a false trust that a supposedly unbiased third party is telling you everything. It is absolutely not a universal rating system.

The case for electric fireplaces

Electric fireplaces as a category are 100% energy efficient, requiring just a standard household outlet to operate vs. gas or wood fireplaces, which burn valuable natural resources. However, Energy Star chooses not to recognize that category.  A well-established “green” product, electric fireplaces are widely used in LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) projects to earn sustainable building credits. But if you were to judge heating products based solely on the blue label, you’d never know they were any better than any other space heater. Energy Star falsely promotes that their products “use less energy, save money, and help protect the environment,” but what are they comparing them to, if it’s not every product in the category, or other categories, which fulfill the same basic needs?

The next time you’re looking for a home product, look twice at Energy Star ratings. Or better yet, don’t take them into consideration at all until they actually start to mean something again. I hope the government takes a good hard look at how to correct the program because the idea’s there, it’s just currently failing.

Photo Credit: Electric Fireplaces Direct.com 

Editor’s Note: Lauren Monitz ( laurenm@netdirectmerchants.com ) is the Content and Social Media Manager at Net Direct Merchants. She contributes this excellent guest post regarding the Energy Star program to EnergyTrend, enriching the website’s content from another perspective. We are greatly appreciated.  As the summer comes, we hope this piece can be an informative reference to electronic products with the Energy Star service mark.

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