Energy Star | Department of Energy says EPA labels may be bunk

Energy Star plaque

Getting the Energy Star certification may be too easy. Image from Flickr.

When shopping for a new small or large appliance, the Energy Star label is supposed to be a guide of energy usage. A joint venture of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Energy Department, the Energy Star label currently functions as the guide for millions of dollars of government subsidies, as well as hundreds of thousands of consumer decisions each year. This is why it is especially worrisome that a recent Government Accountability Office audit was able to get over a dozen bogus products approved – everything from a gas-powered alarm clock that would practically require auto financing all the way to a space heater with fly paper attached.

Energy Star approved unrealistic products

When the Government Accountability Office submitted fictional products for approval, they were granted the Energy Star logo 15 times out of 20. Energy Star certifications were offered to products that claimed 20 percent more efficiency than any other product on the market – with absolutely no questions asked. A bogus air cleaner that was really a space heater with a duster and fly paper taped on was also certified.

Energy Star partnerships

Beyond approving products that were bogus or improbably specified, the GAO report on Energy Star also found that companies could easily get certified as partners. Once a company is certified an Energy Star Partner, they are allowed to use the Energy Star logo. This means products that carry the Energy Star logo may or may not have ever been tested by the EPA and Department of Energy. In other words, getting an Energy Star label may be easier than getting instant payday loans.

Energy Star requires outside certification?

For some products, the Energy Star label requires that the manufacturer provides “independent laboratory certification” of their energy savings claims. This includes products such as fluorescent lights and energy-efficient windows. However, fridges, washing machines, dishwashers, air conditioners, water heaters and more are not necessarily verified.

Changes to the Energy Star system

The Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy have both put out statements responding to the GAO report. The Energy Department has “promised to set up a system of independent verification of products.” No matter what happens, it is certain that the Energy Star logo and Energy Star Certification need some serious attention – from regulators, their own government agencies and the public.


G.A.O. Report 10-470