Scrapping Energy Star labels leaves a vacuum in Europe

A peeling Energy Star logo in sepia tones.
The Energy Star logo has seen better days.

Energy Star is perhaps one of the most recognizable environmental labels in the world. It was developed over 20 years ago by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and covers a wide range of energy-related products.  

Its continual revising of energy performance thresholds — particularly effective in fast-evolving products such as ICT — has maintained the value of the label by restricting it to the top 25 percent of energy efficient products. It's an approach supported by manufacturers and generally viewed as a resounding success and a significant driver in cutting energy use. 

The EU Energy Star program followed an agreement between the European Union and U.S. government to coordinate energy labeling of office equipment, such as computers, displays, imaging equipment, enterprise servers and uninterruptable power supplies. It was managed by the European Commission and complemented, rather than competed with, its own Energy Labeling program. 

In 2012, the commission reported that impact assessments had indicated that the labeling scheme had been successful in Europe: It had reduced the electricity consumption of office equipment sold in the previous three years by around 11 terawatt-hours — 16 percent — saving businesses $2.38 billion and averting 3.7Mt of carbon dioxide emissions.

It also confirmed, in the preamble to a 2012 regulation introducing some amendments to the legal text on Energy Star, that "at least two years before the expiry of the new agreement it will analyze possible options for addressing the energy consumption of office equipment, including replacing Energy Star with alternative policy instruments."

So, it's worrying that on Feb. 20, 2018, the agreement between the United States and European Union quietly lapsed without any consultation with stakeholders and without an alternative policy mechanism. 

It means the logo can't be used on any products, apart from those in stock already labeled, and can't be shown on websites. An EU database which listed qualifying products will feature only archived reports.  

The EU Energy Efficiency Directive required central governments to procure office equipment covered by the agreement and must not demand products less efficient than the relevant Energy Star specifications. However, in a subsequent Q&A, the commission recommended it no longer should be referred to in procurement tenders, nor should the logo be required from suppliers.

It is true a very live debate in the United States is underway at the moment about the future of Energy Star. You won't be surprised to hear that the Trump administration is seeking to cut public support for it. Trump's recent fiscal 2020 budget proposals, "A Budget for a Better America" (PDF), looks to make deep cuts to the EPA and the energy efficiency programs at the Department of Energy's Office for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. But it remains to be seen whether the budget proposals will pass Congress. Even if it did, such is the support for the label from manufacturers it seems inconceivable that it will disappear entirely. More likely is that it will continue under another model, perhaps self-financed by its users.

It is conceivable that the commission feels uncomfortable in renewing its agreement in the context of these debates and intends to fill the gap by broadening its own energy labelling to these products. For example, the commission is looking at introducing a new energy label for computers, yet, realistically, it is likely to be three to four years before it could be introduced. New energy labels have been agreed for display but won't come into operation for two years. Imaging equipment is subject to a voluntary agreement under the Eco-Design Directive and does not have an EU energy label, as the sector was relying on Energy Star. 

So, we now have no efficiency program that encourages greater efficiency procurement and use in the absence of Energy Star — and we won't have for several years to come. This leaves procurement managers in the public sector and business without a means to identify the most efficient products on the market.  

We believe that an agreement should be renewed to fill the gap. And that there is no time to waste.

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