Energy Star Approval Gets Tougher

  • This week the EPA and the Department of Energy started requiring complete lab reports to review before approving products for Energy Star labels.(Photo courtesy of Energy Star)

The agencies in charge of the Energy Star Program are making it less vulnerable to fraud. Lester Graham reports, a covert investigation revealed corporate self-reporting could be faked.

Transcript

The agencies in charge of the Energy Star Program are making it less vulnerable to fraud. Lester Graham reports, a covert investigation revealed corporate self-reporting could be faked.

The Energy Star Program certifies whether appliances and other products lower energy costs. But, it was based on the honor system. If the company said its product qualified, it got the Energy Star label.

The Government Accountability Office submitted fake products to the Energy Star program. Jonathan Meyer was one of the investigators.

Meyer: We initiated our work by submitting fairly common products and those made it through the certification process without any real scrutiny, so we increased the level of, you know, ODD products toward the end of our investigation to see if there’s any type of information that would raise red flags.

Even a phony gas-powered alarm clock was certified as Energy Star compliant.

This week the EPA and the Department of Energy started requiring complete lab reports to review before approving products for Energy Star labels.

For The Environment Report, I’m Lester Graham.

Related Links

Greenovation: Eco-Certified

  • When doing home improvement projects, WaterSense, EnergyStar, GREENGUARD, and FSC certifications are some to keep an eye out for. (Photo by Michelle Miller-Freeck, courtesy of FEMA)

When you’re planning a home
improvement project, you can
be overwhelmed with decisions
about the right materials, the
right quality, and the right
design. Trying to keep it eco-
friendly on top of everything
else just adds to the confusion.
Lester Graham reports it can be
as simple as finding a label:

Transcript

When you’re planning a home
improvement project, you can
be overwhelmed with decisions
about the right materials, the
right quality, and the right
design. Trying to keep it eco-
friendly on top of everything
else just adds to the confusion.
Lester Graham reports it can be
as simple as finding a label:

Julia Weinert and her boyfriend like the idea of making their place nice, but even something as simple as painting causes concerns.

JW: “We want to support environmentally friendly options and we just don’t want to be smelling it for three days out and have to be running the fans. We just want it to be convenient and we think it would be an easy thing to do.”

LG: “Well, you’re in luck. We’re at the local Home Depot and we just happen to have Greenovation.TV’s Matt Grocoff here. Matt, you’ve got some advice for her.”

MG: “And it’s really, really simple. When you’re trying to find a paint that’s healthy for you or another product, you shouldn’t have to be a chemist when you go to the store. There’s a really simple thing you can look for. Just look for the simple GREENGUARD label. GREENGUARD is an independent organization that lets you know with a simple label that that product is safe for you.”

So, none of the really strong paint smells that mean polluting chemicals are being released. GREENGUARD Environmental Institute sets indoor air standards for products and buildings. Julia and I sniffed a can of paint WITH the GREENGUARD label, and then one without.

LG: “I’ll let you sniff first.”

JW: Okay. Oh! Yeah! Oh my gosh! That is ridiculous. I mean, it smells so much stronger than this one. You can’t even smell that one compared to this one.”

A gallon of paint with the GREENGUARD label DOES cost a few dollars more, maybe as much as ten bucks.

Matt then herded us to another part of the store, the plumbing section, where Julia and I were confronted by all kinds of shiny chrome and brass faucets.

JW: “There’s a whole wall, a whole aisle of faucets here and I just don’t know which ones to look for.”

LG: “So, Matt. You got any fancy labels here?”

MG: “Absolutely. Again, if you’re looking for that eco-friendly option, a way to save yourself some money and some water, it’s simple. Just look for the WaterSense label. The EPA does EnergyStar labels for appliances. The EPA also does WaterSense label for plumbing fixtures.”

WaterSense means the fixture – whether a faucet, shower head or toilet – will use less water but still works well.

As we wandered over to the lumber section of the store, Matt told us the last label he wanted to show us is the most ignored label – and it might just be the most important one.

MG: “FSC stands for the Forest Stewardship Council. And what that means is they’ve made a commitment that they’re not going to be tearing down forest and clear-cutting them in order for you to build some bookshelves in your home. This is one of the biggest causes of greenhouse gases is that we don’t have these forests capturing this carbon any more. Instead of having to have a PhD in forest management, you can just simply look for a piece of wood that has an FSC label on it.”

So, labels. Julia says, works for her.

JW: “It’s going to be great, taking my boyfriend around the store and showing him all these cool things I can get to make our home improvements a little more cheap and environmentally-friendly.”

LG: “Alright remind me, go over this again. What am I supposed to be looking for?”

MG: “It’s very simple. If you’re looking for paint, look for GREENGUARD. For plumbing, WaterSense. For lumber, FSC, Forest Stewardship Council certified.”

LG: “That’s Matt Grocoff, Greenovation.TV. Thanks again, Matt.

MG: “Lester, it’s always a pleasure. Thank you.”

For The Environemnt Report, I’m Lester Graham.

Related Links

Greening Your Computer Usage

  • Follow the 'turn it off' advice and save, on average, $75 a year. (Source: Julo at Wikimedia Commons)

The average personal computer is a real energy guzzler. Only about half of the power it
uses makes videogames run, or music play, or run office software. The other half goes
up in wasted heat. Shawn Allee found out there are energy-saving PCs, but maybe using
the computer correctly can save the most power and money:

Transcript

The average personal computer is a real energy guzzler. Only about half of the power it
uses makes videogames run, or music play, or run office software. The other half goes
up in wasted heat. Shawn Allee found out there are energy-saving PCs, but maybe using
the computer correctly can save the most power and money:

I want a peek at some energy-saving PCs, so I head to a Best Buy electronics store.


“We’re heading to the computers.”

“Yes.”

I’m with a store manager. He wants me to use his first name, Tim.

Shawn: “When people come to the store, what’s usually the thing they’re asking
about or looking for in their PC?”

Tim: “First thing they look for is memory and hard drive space, that’s pretty much
it, and price.”

Shawn: “So it’s like, what can this thing do, and how much is this gonna cost me?”

Tim: “Exactly.”

Shawn: “How often is it the case someone comes in and says, Tim, which one saves
the most energy?”

Tim: “I have never heard that question asked.”

Shawn: “How long you been doing this?”

Tim: “I’ve been with Best Buy for five years.”

And you know, when I ask shoppers about energy consumption and computers, I just get
blank stares.

Well, Tim’s got several computers that have thumb-sized Energy Star labels.

Energy Star rated computers cut energy use by a third, and they usually cost the same as
comparable models.

This can save an average user maybe $25 a year in energy costs.

There are people who say that’s not enough.

You can actually save three times that by using PCs right.

One guy making this case is Pat Tiernan. He directs the Climate Savers Computing
Initiative, a computer industry group.

Tiernan says no matter how you get a PC – new or hand-me down …

“Make sure power management settings are aggressively set.”

Those are in the computer’s control panel settings.

Tiernan wants people to give power-settings the once-over, just to make certain the
computer can detect when you’re not using it.

“It puts it into a lower energy state like sleep mode.”

That’s if you don’t use the computer for fifteen minutes.

That’s the biggest energy saver.

Tiernan’s next tip is to simply turn off the machine when you’re not using it.

“It’s funny to me, people don’t just leave their cars on when they’re done with them,
right? They don’t leave them running in the garage or on the street. Yet, most
people in the U.S. leave their devices on in one form or another.”

Now, Tiernan says, there’s turning off a machine and there’s really turning off a machine.

“Even though you’ve turned many devices off on your household doesn’t mean
they’re not using power.”

Tiernan says computers always sip a little electricity out of your wall socket.

Printers, computer speakers and monitors can, too.

“Put your devices on a power strip. Flip that switch off and you’ll be doing yourself
and the environment a benefit.”

Now, there are critics of turning off your PC.

Shawn: “I have heard in the past that turning your desktop on and off again is hard
on your hard drive, though.”

Tiernan: “Well, a hard drive is and spinning up and spinning down throughout its
entire use. Does it put added wear on your hard drive? It really depends. Depending
on what you have loaded on it, your disk may be spinning up and down anyway, so
there’s a good argument to be made that turning it shutting it down for 8 hours that
you sleep may be better.”

So, what’s the bottom line if you follow Tiernan’s ‘turn it off’ advice for your PC?

On average, you could save $75 a year.

You can save even more if you use an Energy Star model.

But Tiernan says cutting power doesn’t just help your bottom line.

He says there’re more than a billion PCs on the market.

Cutting their power use can take a bite out of climate change.

For The Environment Report, I’m Shawn Allee.

Related Links

Energy Star Falling Short?

  • The Energy Star Program is "a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy helping us all save money and protect the environment through energy efficient products and practices" (Photo courtesy of Energy Star)

The federal government’s Energy
Star program is supposed to highlight
products that save you energy and money.
Rebecca Williams reports some independent
testers found Energy Star might be falling
a bit short:

Transcript

The federal government’s Energy
Star program is supposed to highlight
products that save you energy and money.
Rebecca Williams reports some independent
testers found Energy Star might be falling
a bit short:

The magazine Consumer Reports tests all kinds of products to see how they
stack up. They were testing refrigerators when they stumbled on something
odd.

Steven Saltzman is a Deputy Editor with Consumer Reports. He says the
Energy Star program relies on government standards that are outdated in some
cases. For example, one standard is to test a refrigerator’s energy use with the
icemaker off.

“But we found that when you turn the icemaker on – the refrigerator actually
used twice as much energy as it would with the icemaker off.”

Saltzman is not saying you can’t trust the Energy Star label. But he says the
tests need updating. And there’s a dark Energy Star secret, manufacturers get
to do their own testing in most cases – so there’s not a whole lot of third party
checking going on.

For The Environment Report, I’m Rebecca Williams.

Related Links

Shining Light on Women Astronomers

  • Matt Linke, the creator of "Women in Astronomy: A History" in the University of Michigan's Exhibit Museum planetarium.

Astronomy historically has been dominated by men, but women have left their mark over the years. A new planetarium show is trying to shine a little light on advances in astronomy that were made by women. And it could be coming soon to a planetarium near you. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tamar Charney reports: