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Energy Star Standards Lax: Consumer Reports

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy must do a better job of updating and upholding Energy Star standards and testing protocols, and manufacturers' self-reported test results should include third-party verification.

That's the conclusion of Consumer Reports, which in its October issue found fault with the 15-year old program recognizing products from 50 categories that are 10 percent to 25 percent more energy efficient. In response, the EPA expressed "disappointment" with the article, saying it "misleads consumers."

For its "Save Energy, Save Money" issue, Consumer Reports tested several Energy Star products and found real-life use of several products sucks more energy that the standards set by the program. The publication concluded the lax standards allowed some manufacturers to benefit from the Energy Star label without providing the associated energy savings.

For instance, an LG refrigerator with French drawers and through-the-door ice and water dispensers claims annual energy consumption of 547-kilowatt-hour. But the testing protocol calls for the refrigerator's icemaker to be off during testing. But an owner wouldn't keep the icemaker off at home because the ice would melt. Testing it with the icemaker turned on showed an annual consumption of 1,110 kWh per year.

"Such a loophole lets manufacturers label products more energy efficient than we've found them to be, and they get the Energy Star and its cachet when you won't see those savings," Consumer Reports wrote.

Consumer Reports also knocked the EPA because in some cases, a large percentage of certain products meet category guidelines. "But until recently, for example, 92 percent of all dishwashers qualified," the publication said.

The EPA defended Energy Star's record, which it said has avoided 40 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions since its inception.

"To accomplish this, EPA initially seeks to have about 25 percent of available models meet the ENERGY STAR criteria when they are first established for a product category," Kathleen Hogan, director of the EPA's Climate Protection Partnerships Division, wrote in a letter to Consumer Report's editor. "Increasing the market share of qualifying products from their initial levels is a goal of the program -- not a fundamental flaw or an indication that the requirements are lax, as the article suggests."

Consumer Reports also included tips for reducing home energy use and product reviews in its October issue.

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