The Energy Star program is in some ways a victim of its own success: As one of the most widely recognized certifications in the market, it has had success that most eco-labels can only dream of; but as a one-size-fits-all standard, there's little incentive for manufacturers to push beyond the minimum required for certification.
The U.S. EPA and Department of Energy are working to change that situation with the launch of the "Energy Star Most Efficient" title, highlighting the highest-performing of the 40,000-plus product models that carry the Energy Star logo.
The designation is initially only being given to the top washing machines, heating and cooling equipment, televisions and refrigerator/freezers; only 5 percent of Energy Star-labeled products in those categories meet the Most Efficient standards. Companies earning the label include Electrolux, Kenmore, LG, Samsung, Insignia, Panasonic, Nordyne and Rheem. The EPA will consider adding more categories later this year.
The Most Efficient standards for refrigerator/freezers require them to be about 30 percent more efficient than standard models and the TV requirements call for 80 percent more efficiency than common products on the market, the EPA said.
"Energy Star is a terrific brand that consumers trust. It not only connotes energy efficiency, but has a halo effect of quality among consumers," said John Taylor, vice president of government relations for LG Electronics USA. "But indeed there are many, many products that rightly earn the Energy Star mark, and the Most Efficient should be a stretch."
The lure of slapping "Most Efficient" on products is also intended to act as an incentive to companies to step up the efficiency of their products to make them stand out from the crowd.
Out of the 1,800-plus refrigerators and freezers that carry the Energy Star label, only 15 are considered Most Efficient. And 18 televisions out of the 1,400 Energy Star TVs are called Most Efficient.
The EPA said performance levels for products will be set on a case-by-case basis, and as the program goes on, it will reassess performance of products on the market and adjust the Most Efficient standards to keep them well above what's typical of consumer offerings.
"It is a high bar today, but our industry and our company have a tremendous track record of continuing to improve efficiency," said Taylor. "As the guidelines for the regular voluntary Energy Star program continue to increase, this no doubt would increase as well."
Talyor wouldn't go into detail on LG's plans for integrating the Most Efficient standards into product development, but said energy efficiency is a core consideration when designing products. LG has eight televisions and five washing machines carrying the Most Efficient title so far, and Talyor said, "More products in more categories are coming from LG in the weeks and months ahead."
Energy Star image CC-licensed by Wonderlane/Flickr