Energy Star Ratings, For More Efficient Greenwashing

A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report has exposed fatal flaws in the government’s Energy Star ratings program. Jointly managed by the EPA and Department of Energy (DOE), Energy Star ratings since 1993 have been granted to products presumably based on how efficiently they use energy. More efficient products (usually products that use 20-30% less energy than required by law) can get an Energy Star label that tells consumers, “this product saves energy and helps lower your utility bills.”

But according to the GAO report, Energy Star oversight is so lax that in some cases, the ratings are nothing more than a way for companies to create the impression of energy efficiency, without any actual efficiency gains. The GAO found that “…Energy Star is for the most part a self-certification program vulnerable to fraud and abuse.”In other words, many unscrupulous companies are abusing this lax oversight and turning Energy Star into nothing more than an efficient greenwashing tool.

Have you purchased Energy Star rated products believing that you would save energy and money, but now suspect you may have been hoodwinked? See how you can help CEH expose Energy Star greenwashing.

To investigate Energy Star ratings, the GAO created four fictitious companies and submitted twenty phony products for Energy Star approval. Fifteen of the products were granted Energy Star status, including a “gas-powered alarm clock.” A GAO official noted that in some cases, Energy Star ratings were granted to products within minutes, showing that there is no oversight or verification when companies submit their claims.

That’s right: cheating companies can claim that their products meet Energy Star criteria and have their products immediately granted this nationwide “certification” without any independent verification of their claims.

It’s bad enough that the phony products created out of thin air by the GAO were granted Energy Star ratings, but according to Consumer Reports, many actual Energy Star-rated products sold don’t live up to their energy efficiency claims in real world conditions. The magazine says that “refrigerators generally use about 20 percent more electricity in our tests than their yellow EnergyGuide labels indicate.”

In their most recent review, the magazine’s testers found four refrigerators that fell far short of their Energy Star claims. These refrigerators used between 33% to about 50% more energy than claimed by the models’ Energy Star rating:

  • LG LFX21975[ST]
  • Kenmore 7973[7] (made by LG)
  • Samsung RFG298AA[WP]
  • GE Profile PFSS9PKY[SS] (made by Samsung)

If you purchased one of these refrigerators or another Energy Star rated product believing that you would save energy and money, but now suspect you may have been hoodwinked, see how you can help CEH expose Energy Star greenwashing.

In their response to the GAO report, the EPA/DOE say they are working to fix the system, starting by stopping all new approvals and shutting down the “automated qualification system” permanently. They also say that independent testing will be required for “new” Energy Star submissions by the end of the year.

It’s nice to know that after more than fifteen years of Energy Star greenwashing, the government agencies in charge are considering making this program something more than a complete fraud. In the meantime, check out Consumer Union’s Energy Savings Center and the UK Energy Saving Trust for real energy efficiency solutions.