Energy Star labels are one of the most well-respected and looked-for labels among green consumers. The government rating system, developed by the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, identifies those models that use less energy than their counterparts, and provides useful information about how much electronics, kitchen appliances and other common products cost to keep electrified each year.
Or, that's what we thought.
Consumer Reports has identified two flaws in the Energy Star rating system that cast doubt on some of the 50 product categories labeled with the Energy Star symbol.
The energy use estimates on some products, like refrigerators, aren't always based on tests using real-world conditions. Actual energy use may be as much as double, according to Consumer Reports testing. Further, some tests just haven't kept up with new technology used in products, the companies perform and report their own testing (as opposed to being subjected to independent third-party testing), and the bureaucracy of the Department of Energy slows down the process of improving testing.
While only 25% of products in any given category should qualify as Energy Star, the government labels 60%, 70% or even more than 90% of products as energy efficiency leaders, suggesting that the standards need to be set higher to raise the bar.
Thanks to Consumer's Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports, for identifying these issues. Now, let's see the bedrock consumer efficiency labeling program improved.
Update: The government has responded to the Consumer Reports analysis, saying that the increased market share of energy-efficient products should be seen as a success, not as a weakness of the program. Here's the EPA response, and you can find the magazine's response to it here.
The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, meanwhile, basically agrees with Consumer Reports, but notes that Energy Star has generally proved an effective self-correcting program.
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