Freezer Greenwashing Suit Invokes Federal Appliance Law

 

In a recently-filed suit, Plaintiff Christopher Collins seeks to add another weapon to the greenwashing legal arsenal. 

The proposed class action, filed in federal court in Oakland, California, invokes the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act (NAECA) in allegations that Haier America Trading (Haier) made false representations about the energy efficiency of certain freezers.

The NAECA is a federal law that created mandatory standards for energy efficiency of certain household appliances to ensure that products continue to operate at the maximum technically and economically feasible energy efficiency levels. 

The statute prohibits manufacturers from making any representations about an appliance’s efficiency unless the product has been tested by the federal procedures and the manufacturer discloses the test results.

The NAECA applies to a variety of household appliances including refrigerators, freezers, room air conditioners, dishwashers, clothes washers and dryers, and kitchen ranges and ovens.

According to the complaint (Collins-Complaint), Haier and GE (which sells certain Haier freezers under its own brand name) affixed ENERGYGUIDE labels (shown above) to certain Haier freezers that substantially understated their actual energy consumption and showed levels that complied with the NAECA.  

Independent testing conducted by Consumer Reports, the complaint says, demonstrated that the labels were false, and the mislabeled freezers consume substantially more energy than what was represented on the labels.

In particular, the actual energy consumption of the freezers exceeds the maximum permitted under NAECA by between 163 and 202 kWh/yr: 

Collins alleges that, had the true energy efficiency data been disclosed, he would not have purchased a GE Model FCM7SU freezer and neither Haier nor GE would have been permitted to sell the freezer.

Collins works the NAECA argument into Count 5 of the complaint, which alleges violations of California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL).  Specifically, Count 5 asserts that by selling the mislabeled freezers in violation of the NAECA energy efficiency standards Defendants have engaged in “unlawful” business practices under the UCL.

In addition to the NAECA ground, the complaint sets forth state and common law bases typical of greenwashing complaints such as false advertising, consumer protection violations, and unjust enrichment.  Common law fraudulent concealment and nondisclosure are also raised in connection with the alleged false energy efficiency data.

Interestingly, this post from the Class Action Blog presages Collins’ complaint, though the Meiselman Denlea firm that authors the blog is not the firm handling this case.

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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.