ENERGY STAR Fridge Deal A Victory for Consumers

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I’ve written before about the different ways green leaning companies can obtain and enjoy trademark protection for eco-marks (trademarks or service marks that communicate environmentally-friendly products, services or business practices) to promote their green brands. 

But trademark law, unlike other intellectual property regimes, comes out of consumer protection law, and its ultimate intended beneficiary is not the trademark owner, but the consumer.

So I was pleased to learn of the settlement agreement reached by the Department of Energy (DOE) and LG Electronics (LG) about some refrigerator models that had received the ENERGY STAR certification.  The deal is a good example of how certification marks are supposed to work for the consumer. 

The Energy Star program seeks to aid investment in energy efficient products by providing information that consumers and investors can use to research and compare green product or project choices. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) works with the U.S. Department of Energy and manufacturers to award the ENERGY STAR certification to products that meet particular energy savings standards.  The EPA owns U.S. Certification Mark Registration No. 2,817,628 (energy-star-reg.JPG) for its ENERGY STAR design (pictured above). 

Ten of the LG refrigerator models that had received the ENERGY STAR certification evidently listed erroneous energy usage measurements on their labels.  As it turned out, the refrigerators used more energy than advertised and did not actually meet the efficiency standards required to earn the certification.  Clearly, consumer remedies were in order.

As an initial measure, LG has voluntarily withdrawn the subject models from the ENERGY STAR program.  Under the terms of the agreement, LG will offer consumers free in-home modifications to improve the energy efficiency of the products.  LG will also offer a one-time payment to consumers to cover the energy cost difference between the actual energy use of the product and the amount stated on the original label.

Finally, because the modifications to the refrigerators will not bring them up to ENERGY STAR efficiency levels, going forward LG will make payments to consumers each year over the expected life of the product to make up the difference between the energy use as modified and the listed use on the original label.

This is the way certification marks are supposed to work:  the certifying organization actively polices the companies using the mark and demands remedial measures when those companies’ products are not up to snuff.  Of course, DOE has the resources and clout to enforce the ENERGY STAR certification.  It remains to be seen whether smaller, non-governmental certifying organizations can be as effective.

Eric Lane Avatar

Eric Lane

Eric Lane, the founder and principal of Green Patent Law, is an intellectual property lawyer and registered U.S. patent attorney in New York and is a member of the bar in New York and California. Eric has more than two decades of experience working with wind, solar PV, CSP, biofuels, and geothermal, energy storage technologies, carbon capture and sequestration, medical devices, data communications, mechanical, chemical, internet and software.