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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) introduced the ENERGY STAR program in 1992 to encourage the production and use of energy-efficient devices in more than 60 different product categories. Program results have been dramatic—a desktop computer that once consumed 30 watts in sleep mode now uses only 4 watts—with estimated savings of more than 213 billion kilowatts and $12 billion during the program’s first 18 years.
Moreover, 30 percent of these savings are estimated to come from consumer and home-office electronic products, including audio and video components, battery chargers, computers, printing and imaging equipment, set-top and cable boxes, telephony, and other devices.
American consumers are becoming more aware of their carbon footprints and are looking for the ENERGY STAR label not just for environmental considerations, but for cost savings on their energy bills as well; the savings can be substantial when aggregated. For example, according to the ENERGY STAR website, if only ENERGY STAR-labeled home office products were purchased in the United States in a given year, the country would require 700 million kWh less energy, saving as much as $75 million and preventing 1 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions—the equivalent of the annual output of 90,000 cars.
Energy–saving is also becoming increasingly important in the corporate world. In 2008, 31 percent of IT managers purchased ENERGY STAR devices. That percentage almost doubled the next year, rising to 57 percent in 2009, indicating the strength of the trend towards energy efficiency.
The cause for this trend is easy to see. ENERGY STAR devices are cost- and energy-efficient, and becoming more so every day. Indeed, a recent study about television energy efficiency conducted by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) revealed that plasma and LCD TV manufacturers are making great strides. The study states that 2010 LCD televisions use 63-percent less active power than 2003 models, while 2010 plasma TVs use 41-percent less than their 2008 versions. At this point, a new TV consumes less power than a standard 100-watt light bulb.
Although more ENERGY STAR products are making it to the field, consumer electronic and information technology (IT) products are making the most significant gains, to the point where the ENERGY STAR products’ rising share of market has led to the domination of particular product categories. According to the EPA, in 2004, 14 percent of home theater systems shipped featured the ENERGY STAR label; by 2009, that share was four times as large at 58 percent. The 52-percent market share that ENERGY STAR DVD players enjoyed in 2004 rose to 80 percent by 2009.
ENERGY STAR-marked cordless telephones outsold non-marked phones by more than 2 to 1 in 2009, virtually the opposite of the 2004 figures, while labeled televisions, which already enjoyed an 83-percent market share by 2004, had grown to 95 percent by 2009 (see figure 1).
Technology changes can sometimes make it difficult to make a meaningful analysis for certain categories. For example, virtually no labeled VCR units and only 7 percent of stand-alone fax machines were shipped in 2009, but that is most likely a function of waning overall demand for such products. However, ENERGY STAR labels figure prominently on the products that are replacing the older technologies: 42percent of the multifunction (fax/scan/copy) residential devices that were not available in 2004 were ENERGY STAR-labeled in 2009, while 48 percent of such devices intended for office use were labeled.
Two-thirds of all printers and 97 percent of all scanners intended for both home and office use shipped in 2009 were ENERGY STAR products. While as a whole, ENERGY STAR-labeled computers accounted for only 55 percent of all of the units shipped, three out of four laptops, the faster-growing segment of the market, featured the label.
Although voluntary, the ENERGY STAR label carries great weight due to its brand equity. A 2010 national-awareness study performed the Consortium for Energy Efficiency found that nearly four out of five households recognized the ENERGY STAR label, and that the brand had strong recognition, marketplace clout, and influence over purchase decisions for energy-saving products. The study further revealed that 83 percent of U.S. households recognize the label, up from 41 percent in 2000, and that 43 percent of all households had knowingly purchased an ENERGY STAR-labeled product within the prior 12 months (see figure 2).
ENERGY STAR label usage has increased consistently, and the value of the brand has risen over the years. In order to maintain this growth, the EPA and its partners must guarantee that the ENERGY STAR label delivers on its promise.
To help manufacturers drive down development costs, the EPA and Department of Energy (DOE) are forming alliances worldwide to promote the ENERGY STAR specifications. Agreements such as the China Standard Certification Center (CSC) has helped harmonize energy-efficiency standards, as has the European alliance made by the Action Plan for Energy Efficiency, which has been promoting the ENERGY STAR program since 2006 for EU office equipment. These partnerships allow manufacturers to sell their products globally, strengthen their offerings, and follow a single set of energy-efficiency qualifications.
Manufacturers looking to acquire the ENERGY STAR label on their consumer or home electronics products have three choices with regard to how to test for ENERGY STAR certification. They may use in-house testing, an EPA-recognized laboratory, or an EPA-recognized certification body (CB) with testing capabilities.
In-house testing is acceptable, provided the manufacturer’s laboratory is enrolled in an EPA-recognized and CB-supervised or witnessed manufacturers’ testing laboratory (SMTL/WMTL) program, which includes demonstrating compliance with ISO 17025:2005. Typically, the potential cost savings offered by in-house testing are more than offset by the increased overhead costs and capital expenditures required, making the use of an accredited facility more cost effective.
An EPA-accreditation body—such as the Standard Council of Canada (SCC), the ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board (ACLASS), or other international bodies—has the authority to accredit both testing laboratories and CBs. Many manufacturers find that using an EPA-recognized CB with testing capabilities offers the easiest solution because the results provided by both in-house testing or from a certified laboratory still need to be reviewed by a qualified CB before it can issue the ENERGY STAR logo.
Regardless of the manufacturer’s choice of laboratory, a certified body must verify that the test data come from an EPA-recognized laboratory in accordance with ISO/IES Guide 65, and that the test data are compliant with the relevant product features. Once a product qualifies, its information is sent to the EPA and placed on the Qualified Product List. Outside of testing time, which varies, a certification can typically be completed within two to five business days, depending on product complexity.
In order to protect the value of the ENERGY STAR brand, products that have previously been awarded the label are required to be reverified. Verification testing must be done by an EPA third-party-certified laboratory.
Products are randomly selected from throughout the distribution chain and their compliance to ENERGY STAR requirements are verified. These samplings are done at the discretion of both CBs and EPA and can be done quarterly, biannually, or annually.
Challenge testing is another important service provided by a CB. Typically initiated by a competitor that has in-house-tested a product under question and received different results, the CB must inform the manufacturer of this challenge, the model that has been selected, and the criteria for testing that has been established. Figures 3 and 4 illustrate the differences between the two processes.
When it comes to home electronics and IT devices, today’s hot new products are tomorrow’s recycled content. Blue-sky ideas turn into slick new products seemingly overnight, rendering established mainstays obsolete almost as fast as one can say “product life cycle.”
As products change and markets adapt, regulations and requirements also change. As this document is being written, so too are new ENERGY STAR specifications for many home electronic and IT products. Figure 4 below shows the current status of revised specifications for eight product categories.
The best way for a manufacturer to keep current is to develop a strong partnership with an EPA-recognized CB or laboratory because it can guide manufacturers through new and often changing requirements. Further, not only can a good relationship help answer a manufacturer’s questions and concerns; it can also open up new opportunities.
For example, the Climate Savers Computing Initiative—a nonprofit group of eco-conscious consumers, businesses, and conservation organizations started by Google and Intel in 2007—has started an ENERGY STAR Low Carbon IT campaign as they work to promote the use of more energy-efficient computers and increase the usage of computer power management (e.g., stand-by systems or hibernation features). A strong partnership with a CB or laboratory up to date with the requirements for this initiative can result in additional marketing opportunities for a manufacturer.
In this energy-conscious and cost-saving economy, attaching an ENERGY STAR label to a product is a competitive advantage as well as a market differentiator. When manufacturers associate themselves with an EPA-recognized laboratory or CB, they can see clear benefits such as global reach and shorter product life cycle. Today, manufacturers can add the brand awareness of the ENERGY STAR label on their equipment in a cost-effective and timely manner, with the right partner.