60-Second Earth

Can Energy Labels Be Trusted?

Just how good is the Energy Star label? David Biello reports

Gadgets and energy are a big problem. Just by failing to shut down computers overnight, U.S. workers waste some $2.8 billion worth of electricity. Our love affair with the Internet ends up emitting 2 percent of global carbon dioxide—roughly the same amount as air travel.

Fortunately, there's Energy Star, a program from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that sets standards for how much energy a given gadget can use. For example, in order to qualify for the blue and white logo a laptop must use 1.7 watts or less in sleep mode.

According to a new report by the EPA's Inspector General (pdf), an in-house watchdog, Energy Star approves mostly products that meet its standards: 100 percent of DVD players tested, 100 percent of monitors tested and 95 percent of the printers tested.

Unfortunately, however, some products that aren't Energy Star labeled, such as certain DVD players, perform "comparably to, and in some cases better than Energy Star products." And EPA itself does very little testing of gadgets. So did Energy Star really save 180 billion kilowatt-hours for consumers in 2007?

The solution is for EPA to begin testing all products to ensure that the ones that qualify as Energy Star really are the most energy efficient and cost-effective choice, and to make sure that those bearing the brand live up to the hype.

—David Biello

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