The little blue logo that changed efficiency standards

The little blue (and sometimes black) logo with the star inside that you see on all sorts of appliances and electronics has changed the way we view savings through more efficient products.

ENERGY STAR logo

In 2017 alone, Americans bought more than 300 million ENERGY STAR-rated products.

The ENERGY STAR® program claims credit for reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and for saving Americans $30 billion in energy costs. Analysts credit the program with innovating the energy industry as manufacturers set goals of making more energy efficient products than their competitors.

What the program does is make it easy to know whether a product you’re thinking about buying is more energy efficient. Essentially the program looks at the average energy use of each type of product, and awards the ENERGY STAR rating to top performers based on different criteria—a refrigerator needs to be 9 percent more energy efficient than the minimum efficiency standard; a computer needs to use 25 percent less electricity than conventional models and include a power-saving mode option when it’s not being used.

So, if the appliance or electronic device you’re purchasing includes the ENERGY STAR logo, you know it’s among the most energy-efficient products available. That simplicity is the secret to the success of the program that is run by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The program’s effectiveness comes from a complex process of making sure the logo is accurate and trusted—and the numbers show it is trusted. Americans bought more than 300 million ENERGY STAR-rated products in 2017 alone, and an ENERGY STAR study found that three-fourths of U.S. households say the label influences their purchases. According to energystar.gov, the EPA uses the following specifications to determine if products meet the ENERGY STAR standard:

  • Product categories must contribute significant energy savings nationwide.
  • Certified products must deliver the features and performance demanded by consumers, in addition to increased energy efficiency.
  • If the certified product costs more than a conventional, less-efficient counterpart, purchasers will recover their investment in increased energy efficiency through utility bill savings, within a reasonable period of time.
  • Energy efficiency can be achieved through broadly available, non-proprietary technologies offered by more than one manufacturer.
  • Product energy consumption and performance can be measured and verified with testing.
  • Labeling effectively differentiates products and must be visible to consumers.

Today, more than 500 certified labs in 25 countries around the world test more than 1,500 products a year, along with surprise inspections, to manage a list of 60,000 product models. ENERGY STAR runs seminars on how to meet its standards. Those standards require that TVs must use 3 watts or less when switched off; light bulbs must use two-thirds less energy than standard incandescent bulbs; and home furnaces must be between 4 and 15 percent more efficient than standard furnaces.

Tests also require quality standards in addition to just energy efficiency. In general, products must have popular features, like internet connectivity for smart TVs. Light bulbs must last up to 15 times longer and produce 70 to 90 percent less heat than conventional bulbs.

In 2018, ENERGY STAR tested 1,792 models, disqualifying 59 of them. Of the 858 varieties of lighting and fans tested that year, 51 were disqualified. Of the 35 TVs tested, two were disqualified.

ENERGY STAR has caught on because it has something for everybody—ways for consumers to save money; ways for businesses to promote efficient products; online calculators for those wanting deep dives into finding the ideal energy use; and for the rest of us, a simple little logo that tells us we’re buying one of the most energy-efficient products available.

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