EnergyStar keeps consumer trust, despite bumps

Dan Weissmann Jul 21, 2014
HTML EMBED:
COPY

EnergyStar keeps consumer trust, despite bumps

Dan Weissmann Jul 21, 2014
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Whirlpool Corporation is reportedly threatening to back out of the EnergyStar program unless Congress grants it— and other manufacturers— immunity from consumer lawsuits demanding compensation for EnergyStar products that don’t measure up. A voluntary program run by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, EnergyStar’s credibility took a hit four years ago, when the Government Accountability Office successfully scammed it into certifying bogus products.

The report was a doozy. GAO investigators submitted an application for a gasoline-powered alarm clock. It got listed. They submitted a “room air cleaner,” and linked to a picture of an electric space-heater with a feather duster attached. That got listed too.

“Really, EPA wasn’t looking at every application,” says Shanon Baker-Branstetter, an attorney with Consumers Union. “The manufacturers were self-certifying.”

EPA made changes, says Ann Bailey, who runs the EnergyStar products program for EPA. “Since then, we’ve dramatically improved the rigor of the certification process and we’ve instituted third-party certification.”

Manufacturers now submit their products to an EPA-approved lab, like Underwriters Laboratories, which signs off. The third-parties also pull a few products off the shelf every year to see if they measure up to the claims. That led to 62 products getting disqualified last year.

“I think EPA has done a good job addressing the concerns that GAO had,” says Steve Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

Nadel thinks the current standards are high enough that he supports the proposed legislation, which would protect companies like Whirlpool from some consumer lawsuits, in cases where EPA has done a review.

“I think consumers tend to trust EPA,” says Nadel. Sales figures collected by EPA seem to back him up. Even in the years after the GAO report, the number of EnergyStar products sold continued to increase.


CORRECTION: The original version of this story gave the incorrect name for the Government Accountability Office in a caption. The text has been corrected.

We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.

Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.

In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.

Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.