DOE and EPA Try to Restore Energy Star’s Shine

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I’ve written before about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Energy Star program, which promotes investment in energy efficient products by providing information that consumers and investors can use to research and compare green product or project choices.

The EPA works with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) 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).

Certification marks differ from ordinary trademarks in that they certify that goods or services meet certain quality or manufacturing standards instead of indicating the commercial source of a product.  Certification marks are owned by the organizations that set the standards and used by companies that meet the standards and earn the certifications.

The certifying organizations are responsible for formulating, administering and policing their certification standards.  Failing to do so can undermine the credibility and damage the reputation of the organization and its certification.

The EPA and DOE recently announced that they would expand testing and enforcement to strengthen the Energy Star program.  This comes as the program’s star has dimmed after publication of a study performed by Congressional auditors at the Government Accountability Office to test the program’s certification process (see NY Times article here).

The GAO auditors created fictitious companies and sought Energy Star status for some conventional and unconventional devices, submitting phony data purporting to show the products were energy efficient.  Among the study’s highlights (or lowlights, as it were):

most of the products, including a “gasoline-powered alarm clock” and an “air purifier” consisting of a feather duster pasted on top of a space heater, were approved without challenge

some approvals were issued by an automated system without human review

once a company got approval for one product and became an Energy Star partner, the company could download the logo and paste it on products that had not been approved

As part of the overhaul, DOE recently began testing the six most commonly used appliances – freezers, refrigerator-freezers, clothes washers, dishwashers, water heaters and room air conditioners – and, with the EPA, is developing a system to test all products that earn the Energy Star label. 

In addition, DOE and EPA will require manufactureres to participate in an ongoing verification testing program to ensure continued compliance and are stepping up enforcement by taking action against manufacturers whose products do not comply with the requisite standards.

Like all certification marks and programs, the Energy Star brand is only as good as its administration and policing so let’s hope it regains its shine.

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.