According to a report in Business Week last week, some electronics manufacturers are threatening to leave the Energy Star scheme because recent changes have made it too costly.
The Energy Star energy efficiency labelling scheme is a joint program of the US Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy. Energy Star says that the labelling system helped save enough energy in 2010 in the US alone to avoid greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those from 33 million cars — while also cutting nearly $18bn from utility bills.
The main complaint that’s emerged is that products now have to be tested in independent laboratories. Previously they were self-certified by the manufacturers, but in 2010 an investigation from the US Government Accountability Office (GOA) concluded that the self-certification program was vulnerable to fraud and abuse. The GOA managed to obtain Energy Star certifications for 15 bogus products, including a gas-powered alarm clock. As a result the EPA no longer relies on an automated approval process.
But now the Consumer Electronics Association, which represents companies such as Apple and Sony, says that its members are re-evaluating whether it's worth participating. The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers and the Information Technology Industry Council (members include Dell and Texas Instruments) have also apparently complained.
I can imagine that some electrical and electronic equipment manufacturers, with smaller markets and cheaper products, may find the independent testing process arduous and expensive, but I don’t see what the IT companies can complain about. Most have been bending over backwards to be seen as greener than green, do they really want to go back to a system where the labels have been shown to have much less value? I can see the headlines now: ‘Dell opts out of energy efficient products’ – it doesn’t seem very likely.
Also, bear in mind that the Energy Star labelling has been extended to Europe through an agreement between the European Commission and the EPA. The EU Energy Star web site, which is managed by the European Commission, holds a database of products based on the US EPA list, with the addition of EU-registered models. The EU might well think twice about this association if it reverts to self-certification.
Energy Star labelling is used as a selling point for IT equipment, although maybe not as prominently as it should be, for which some blame should go to Energy Star and the manufacturers. But it is helping to improve energy efficiency over time as certification requirements become progressively more strict. All that will be lost if prominent IT suppliers withdraw from the scheme and it would be a black mark against the industry.
I would have hoped, even expected, that respected IT manufacturers such as Dell and HP would be actively campaigning for the labelling to stay as is. Let’s hope so.