In defense of Energy Star

When it comes to trusted, on-the-shelf green product branding, there is Energy Star, and then there is everybody else. That’s not a very controversial statement, given the program’s 16-year track record.

So when the well-respected Consumer Reports magazine writes the headline: “Energy Star has lost some luster,” it’s an important story.

But it’s the wrong story—and an especially misleading headline.

In its article, Consumer Reports pointed to what it described as lax standards and out-of-date testing procedures in the federal program administered by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy. But here’s the thing: those areas aren’t in Energy Star’s orbit.

Criticizing Energy Star for whatever inexactness exists in the testing programs is akin to criticizing MapQuest for traffic jams.

The Department of Energy (DOE) controls minimum standards programs. The Federal Trade Commission oversees the EnergyGuide label that estimates energy consumption of various products. And Energy Star identifies—on a purely objective basis—extra levels of energy efficiency that will save customers money.

“Where they really got it wrong was blaming us for the testing procedures,” said Maria Vargas, of the EPA’s Energy Star program. Plus, Energy Star’s data show recognition of the brand among consumers is at an all time high—74 percent.

Then there’s the standards issue. Consumer Reports points to what it believes is an excessively high percentage of Energy Star products qualifying for the logo in certain categories, and it concludes that the standards are too easy. Perhaps. But these high percentages are more likely to result from Energy Star’s consumer acceptance. In some categories, such as the ones with more than 50 percent Energy Star qualification, the manufacturers understand its power on the shelf. What could be better evidence that the program is working?

In the spirit of full disclosure: Home Channel News turns to Energy Star and the EPA regularly for information, but HCN doesn’t receive a nickel from the agency.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy objects to the idea of lost luster. “While there are a few problems with the Energy Star program, overall the program is achieving large energy savings as it motivates manufacturers to produce and consumers to purchase products that are more efficient than would be produced and purchased without Energy Star.”

And in an interview with Home Channel News, deputy editor of Consumer Reports praised the program. “The [Energy Star] has done a lot of good,” Steven H. Saltzman, deputy editor of Consumer Reports, told Home Channel News. “We tout it, frequently as everyone does in the industry. We want it to be as effective as possible, it needs to be updated.”

Perhaps it can benefit from a graded scale of qualification, whereby products would be recognized for extra levels of energy efficiency. But let’s call a star a star.