When a US Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation of the EPA’s Energy Star certification program last spring found that a room air cleaner with a feather duster and fly strips taped onto it qualified, you just knew there was going to be trouble.
And trouble there is. The March GAO report highlighted how vulnerable Energy Star’s self-certification program was to fraud and abuse. The GAO got Energy Star certifications for 15 bogus products, including the air cleaner and a battery-powered alarm clock the size of a small generator.
Although Energy Star was already moving toward more third-party certification of products, the scathing report lit a fire under EPA officials. They immediately stopped the self-certification process and started reviewing every application before listing the product on the Energy Star Website and allowing it to sport the “Energy Star” label. The other shoe drops January 1, when the program starts requiring manufacturers to submit test results from a third-party, accredited lab.
Manufacturers complain that the new system will be slower and more costly because it involves a third party. In fact, according to spokesmen at the Consumer Electronics Association and the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), it will be so burdensome that some technology companies may pull out of the Energy Star program.
In fact, as of a Nov. 30, 2010, deadline, less than 50 percent of Energy Star participants had signed up for the revamped program, according to Katharine Kaplan, EPA team lead for Energy Star product development. The EPA was trying to encourage more companies to sign up, but those that don’t will be dropped from the program at the start of the year, says Kaplan.
Those companies that want to stay in the program are pleading for more time to prepare. While it seems simple enough to submit products to a certification body for testing, the global nature of the supply chain complicates things. The new rules require manufacturers to use EPA-approved
What’s more, most US technology companies use Asian partners to build and test their systems, and there are even fewer approved certification bodies in that part of the world, says Ken Salaets, director of global policy at the ITI in Washington. “Under the new system, there will probably be very few eligible certified labs anywhere near [our partner’s] facilities,” he says. On top of that, the requirements keep evolving, and manufacturers are confused about how the testing is supposed to work.
Is getting the Energy Star label on your product really worth all this trouble? When the program first launched, in the early 1990s, energy consumption was not a big factor in the computer purchase decision. Part of the program’s goal was to increase awareness of how much energy this equipment used. That goal has been reached. Today, energy consumption is a major consideration, at least for corporate and government buyers. Buyers don’t need Energy Star to give them a “green light” on energy savings; they are going to check out those power consumption numbers themselves.
How important is the Energy Star label to your company’s products? Will you continue to participate in the program? Or has the program outlived its usefulness and relevance?
— Tam Harbert has been covering electronics since the dawn of surface-mount technology. She lives online at Tam Harbert.com.