Green

EPA, Energy Dept. sharpen Energy Star's teeth

The Energy Star program has successfully broken into the mainstream consciousness. Most consumers know what the logo looks like, and even make an effort to only buy appliances and other devices that are Energy Star-certified for energy efficiency. But before last year, it seems like the label didn’t mean much.

When the U.S. Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency audited the program in October last year, it turned out that a lot of certified companies and products actually weren’t living up to the Energy Star standard. Regulators failed to follow up with appliance makers to ensure that new models were meeting efficiency specifications.

Two months after the audit, the DOE and EPA stripped the Energy Star label from LG Electronics refrigerators, making good on their promise to be tougher about who gets certified and who doesn’t. LG’s fridges didn’t save as energy or money as the company had promised when it first applied for the Energy Star brand. In fact, they consumed twice as much energy as they were supposed to.

Now the administration is kicking the effort up yet another notch. The program is expanding testing procedures even more. A standard testing process will be used across all products submitted for certification.

There are two phases to this change: Testing and enforcement.

First, the DOE is testing hundreds of models of the most common household appliances — those that account for about 25 percent of people’s energy bills. On top of that, both the DOE and EPA will require all products to be tested and approved by independent and third-party laboratories to ensure accuracy. This isn’t just a one time deal either. Energy Star devices will now need to have their compliance verified at regular intervals.

Strict enforcement will continue as the new testing procedure come online. It was surprising when LG lost its Energy Star status, but now its just one of 35 companies that have gotten similar treatment. In October, the DOE announced the creation of an Energy Star enforcement team within the Office of the General Counsel to make sure only deserving products bear the label.

The DOE and EPA have made Energy Star a priority for two reasons. First off, it is already familiar to and trusted by millions of consumers, who have actually changed their behavior as a result — a difficult thing to do with a simple label.

Secondly, the government wants to demonstrate how serious it is about saving all consumers money during these tougher economic times. As a result, its cracking down on appliance makers that claim to be saving people money off their energy bills without delivering on the promise.

Manufacturers aren’t taking the shift in government policy lying down. When LG lost Energy Star’s blessing, it filed a lawsuit against the Department of Energy, alleging that the department changed the tests it used to originally certify the fridges. There will probably be more, and louder backlash as the program continues to baton down the hatches, but, so far, it hasn’t been deterred.