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Business Will Feel the Pain if Energy Star Is On Trump’s Chopping Block

The manufacturers that make energy efficient products, as well as the big box retailers that sell them, may be hurt if the Trump administration takes an ax to the Energy Star program.

To use a well-worn phrase, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy says that it is penny-wise and pound-foolish. It points out that the Energy Star program cost roughly $50 million a year and that it has saved businesses $34 billion in electricity cost a year — and $430 billion since the inception of the program in 1992.

“This is a government program that helped consumers know what products are energy efficient,” says Lowell Ungar, senior policy advisor, for the council, in a phone interview. “When you walk into a Loews or a Best Buy, you don’t know which products are the most energy efficient. Manufacturers, meanwhile, want to make a product with advanced technology and they need to be able to market it with a symbol that is recognized around the globe.”

Over 25 years, it has prevented nearly 3 billion tons in greenhouse gas emissions while it is also recognized by nearly 90% of all consumers, he adds.

Energy Star is a program that got its legs in 1972 but which didn’t really come into its own until 1992. According to its web site, it certifies commercial and municipal buildings as well as consumer products that meet certain standards of energy efficiency. About 450,000 buildings, for example, have this certification. And more than 5 billion products have this stamp of approval: refrigerators, washers and dryers, dishwaters and televisions, to name a few.

So why has this become an issue? At this point, it’s no secret that the Trump administration is thinking about submitting a budget that would cut EPA’s budget by 25%, or from roughly $8 billion a year to $6 billion. The news outlet E&E News got its hands on a document that said the Energy Star might eventually get cut altogether. (It would still get a nominal degree of funding from the Energy Department.)

But that wouldn’t necessarily spell the end of this type of certification. After all, industry has similar certifications for various green efforts. Why not do something like that for this program?

While he says that he is not an expert in the field of energy efficiency per se, or this Energy Star program, Joe Gimenez says that other industries do the same thing for their products absent government involvement. The PR expert from Austin, Texas says to look at the LEED program set up by the US Green Buildings Council, which encourages sustainable design in that field.

That is a third party effort that certifies commercial buildings that meet certain thresholds when it comes to energy savings, water efficiency and buildings materials. It also looks at external emissions as well indoor air quality, and maintenance solutions.

“Perhaps Energy Star could work with industry to design and maintain the standards?” Gimenez politely asks, again under the auspices that the Trump administration would cut EPA and specifically the Energy Star program. He said a trade group like the Edison Electric Institute could provide valuable insight.

But that won’t work for Energy Star, insists Ungar, with energy efficiency council. With 5 billion different products that have at one-time received such certification, it would require too many private players. That would just confuse consumers, who may need to learn a whole new set of green labels. It is the manufacturers of the products and the retailers who sell them that are asking for a centralized place to go to for this information.

“People rely on this program,” he says. “It would not be easy for someone to take over this whole program. There are dozens of green labels. Consumers don’t know which ones to trust. Energy Star is a common brand. It is independent. It has gained more trust and it works.” 

In an energy-conscious world, the manufacturers and the big box retailers want to rise above the fold. They don’t want to just sell the cheapest commodity on the market. They want to deliver value — to meet a market expectation: creating high quality products that are both sustainable and affordable.

Measuring those qualities, though, is a subjective task. While it could be done by the private sector, the charge here is just too vast given the number of products that seek such a label. The good news is that it is already being done by the public sector in a way that gives taxpayers a return on their investment.

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